THE BLOG

Does the Kitchen of the Future Already Exist?

05/18/2015 10:44 am ET | Updated May 18, 2016

The kitchen of the future - that's an idea that conjures of images of futuristic devices that beam whatever type of food we crave into a simple-to-retrieve box or having domestic robots that do all of our work for us.

Unfortunately, right now, that instantaneous convenience doesn't quite exist. Home cooking will always take effort. In the current state of the kitchen, any cooking that occurs requires some level of human effort to get it done. Even in homes where an all-in-one cooking machine is present (oddly, it seems, only outside the USA!), a human still needs to collect and prep some of the ingredients and, of course, add them to the machine. In the broader sense of food prep, shopping for ingredients and cleaning up are still a large part of the effort. The former is improving as delivery services flourish and get more personalized, but the latter still looms large.

It's a noble goal to get more people to cook at home, but the shopping and clean up may be two of the hardest barriers to entry to remove. I'm a strong believer that cooking simple meals isn't (and shouldn't be) hard, and that the act of cooking is less of a barrier than the other two. It simply isn't difficult to add oil to a pan and then add ingredients in a certain order with some intermittent stirring. Sure, some dishes are complex, but the goal of getting more people to cook at home does not necessarily equate to having haute cuisine or restaurant level food in the home. It equates simply to having fresher, better tasting, and nutritious meals.

Living in the technology-filled world that we do, I often wonder if technology could reduce the effort it takes to cook to its barest minimum - say all that is left after a meal would be to load the plates and forks into the dishwasher and wipe the table. Could the kitchen of the future do this? And is it possible to get to this state of kitchen automation before the 24th century? I love the idea of a Star Trek meets Jetsons kitchen future, but do we really have to wait? Or could there be a way to structure a kitchen and leverage currently existing technology to make this happen now?

All-in-one cooking machines (bowl cookers like a Thermomix, the new Kitchen-Aid and grills like Cinder) are already available (or coming) on the market. These machines can cook whole dishes practically all by themselves. Certainly this technology could be wired to central controls where a recipe is chosen then executed by the machines. If the act of cooking - ingredient prep included - is already fully automated by these all-in-one machines, then all that is left to fully automate the cooking experience is simply storing ingredients in the kitchen with the ability to deliver and dispense each ingredient from the storage unit to the cooking machines without human interference. If all-in-one machines were coupled together with a kitchen sized (likely refrigerated) inventory and dispensing system, we would almost be there.

The crazy thing is that this technology exists. Amazon has a nearly fully automated warehousing system, complete with robots that retrieve products that are ready for packing. If we harness a robot arm to deliver the dirty cooking bowls/grill pans of an all-in-one cooking machine to a dishwasher (and do a few other tasks like retrieving steaks and putting them on the grill pan), we would have reached our goal. Our kitchen might look a little different, but cooking at home with a lot less effort would be accomplished.

The kitchen of the future and what is eaten in it will certainly be affected by other external factors - like the colony collapse of bees and continued drought - or will these issues be solved in the near future? To answer these questions and more, The Culinary Exchange is publishing a week-long series discussing "The Kitchen of The Future" from May 18-22. These posts will include discussions ranging from how new fabrics might affect what a chef wears in the kitchen to what might inspire the inner workings of our future kitchens and how the Internet of Things will influence our cooking. And of course, a Kitchen of The Future series would be incomplete without a discussion of food engineering and the food hacking that is happening all around us. So we'll have posts about these topics, too.

I invite you to have a read of the posts and stick around for the conversation. I'll see you on The Culinary Exchange!