Sorry, Silicon Valley. A Smart Kitchen Will Never Replace a Smart Cook.

Sorry, Silicon Valley. A Smart Kitchen Will Never Replace a Smart Cook.

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Anne Wolfe Postic
Oct 27, 2017
(Image credit: nullplus/Shutterstock)

Some people dream of the latest newfangled appliances, and Silicon Valley is happy to oblige. There's the fridge that knows your shopping habits, and the stove that knows when you walk in the door.

But not me. Can smart appliances really replace the rhythms and instincts of a cook? I'm not so sure.

I started thinking about my relationship to kitchen appliances after reading this New York Times report on this year's Smart Kitchen Summit, a yearly gathering of prognosticators and innovators in the kitchen space.

This blender knows how much you weigh
(Image credit: Nutribullet)

A Smart Cook vs. the Smart Kitchen

How does the ostensibly smart kitchen (or its vision) stack up against a real cook? Let's examine.

1. I don't need a fridge to order groceries.

As a cook, I make sure we are stocked with the basics, but I also understand that just because we ate eggplant every week for a month doesn't mean we want it this week. And a smart fridge won't know what's in season or what I read about recently and want to try. A fellow cook, like my husband or one of my kids, might surprise me by suggesting we do something with parsnip. I love parsnip, but I never buy it — and the smart kitchen wouldn't take risks.

2. My blender doesn't know how I feel, and my weight is none of its business.

There are blenders on the way that will communicate with wearable devices to make smoothie recommendations based on your current weight. Any fellow cook would never be so rude as to comment on my body. Besides, health isn't as simple as a set of numbers. Only you know when you feel strongest and what foods make you feel good. A blender is a tool, not a nutritionist.

3. If my oven tells me how to cook the salmon, how will I manage when I'm on vacation? Will the oven call to check up on me?

Preparing foods the way you like them is an essential skill, and with an appliance that takes out the guesswork, you'll never learn. I have amassed instincts and skills that don't rely on a smart appliance and its presence.

4. A smart pan is not a parent.

I want my children to enter adulthood knowing how to do things for themselves, with or without appliances that could pass the Turing test. If a pan adjusts the heat when they scramble eggs, what will they do when confronted with a regular pan? I look over their shoulders while they cook and make suggestions, then let them tweak it on their own. That's half the fun of cooking and probably why my son makes a mean carbonara.

This is one job I'd never give up, because it's fun — and even if I did, I don't think a smart appliance is smart enough to negotiate with teenagers.

5. A smart kitchen might not let me enjoy bad choices every now and then.

Would my robot kitchen let me eat charcuterie and chips for dinner? Would the kitchen know my family was out of town and that I wanted a break from vegetables for a few days? No, but I do, and I might even recommend some wine to go with the mortadella.

Leftovers can inspire creative dishes and mistakes create great cooks, or at least competent ones who can figure things out on the fly. If a smart fridge had stopped me from over-buying onions, and then suggested I toss them when they went a little soft, I never would have learned how versatile and delicious caramelized onions are. If we always made the right amount of spaghetti marinara based on carefully mined data, what would we use for pasta frittata the next day? And if we never bought too much bread, where would we get breadcrumbs for casserole?

* * *

Maybe it's better just to muddle through on your own and learn as you go. But if I had to dream up a fun smart appliance feature, it would be a fridge that could pick a playlist when my hands are too greasy to work my iPod would be nice.

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