I believe in innovation. Let's face it — no one wishes we were still gathering wood and stoking our stoves with it or keeping food fresh in a box cooled by ice. And as much as the microwave oven is maligned, most of us have them in our kitchens and use them every day, even if it is primarily to warm up leftovers. That's why, when I hear people question whether we really need appliances that do most of the work for us (read: suggest the recipe and program themselves), I caution them not to rush to judgement. The truth is that change is coming — and it's good news!
If you're reading this, chances are you like to cook and aren't interested in having a robot do it for you. But exactly what you like about whipping up dinner or a dessert depends on your skills and your tastes and probably varies depending on the day of the week and how much time you have. Maybe you like all the cutting and chopping or perhaps you buy pre-cut fruits and veggies to save time on weeknights. Some of us wouldn't dream of serving pie with anything but freshly whipped cream and others of us are fine with Reddi-wip or even Cool Whip (no judgement here).
Regardless of how good a home cook you are, there are probably times when you've wondered whether or not the roast beef is medium-rare or if the brownies are at that perfect super-gooey-but-not-raw stage. Wouldn't it be great to have your appliance or cookware make those determinations and, of course, get them right?
My expert opinion is that we will have much smarter appliances in our kitchens before 2028 and we won't know how we ever lived without them. Some of them were previewed at the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle last fall.
What manufacturers exhibited at the show are most likely a far cry from what we'll ultimately embrace. There are a lot of kinks to work out. First of all, the products have to be totally intuitive to use and not require us to learn a new "language." And we don't want to be limited to foods or recipes that a company has decided we should use. Perhaps most importantly, we need better WiFi connectivity regardless of where we are. If whether or not we're alerted before the oven overcooks your food is dependent on internet service, it better not fail mid-cook.
The Pros and Cons of 3 Futuristic Cooking Appliances
1. The June Oven
On the market right now is the June oven (for a budget-busting $1,495), which has a built-in scale, camera, and temperature probes. It recognizes if you put certain foods in the oven and figures out at what temperature and how long to cook them. As it grows up and learns to recognize more foods, it will become much more useful. Keep in mind that June is akin to a toaster oven, so it can only bake one sheet of cookies at a time and can't handle your Thanksgiving turkey.
But it uses the kind of technology that will most likely be in all our homes' full-size ovens in 10 years and has the potential to make us all better cooks. You'll get to pick your own recipe, do as much dicing and slicing as you like, and the oven will figure out how to roast, bake, or broil it — and beep you when it's done.
2. Miele's Dialog
Miele recently introduced the Dialog wall oven that cooks with radio waves, which are similar to microwaves, but much more sophisticated. In addition to penetrating deeper, radio waves adjust to the food as it cooks. As a result, the Dialog heats very evenly and can cook more than one item at once — say, steak and potatoes — in the same amount of time and have them both come out perfectly. Foods come out super moist, and cook up to 70 percent faster but don't brown or crisp. For foods that look and taste best golden and crusty, the oven kicks in conventional radiant or convection heat.
The problem is this: The Dialog's automatic programs are only for certain items. If you want to cook your aunt's pork chops and peppers, you have to program in Gourmet Units (energy) and Intensity (speed). In other words, you'll have to learn a new cooking vocabulary and I don't see that as very realistic. So while this product in its present form is unlikely to ever take over our kitchens, the use of quick-cooking radio waves combined with automatic programming may dominate the kitchen of the future.
FYI, the Dialog will first be introduced in Germany and Austria in April 2018 for the equivalent of about $9,000.
3. The Hestan Cue
The Hestan Cue system ($500) combines a pan and a burner with sensors that send information to an app on your phone via Bluetooth. It lets you know when your pan is preheated, adjusts the heat level under the pan, tells you when to flip your salmon or hamburger, and lets you know when it's ready to serve.
To me, this sounds like an extra we don't need. We all have at least four burners in our kitchen and probably don't want to give up precious counter space to another. However, raise your hand if you too have found, upon occasion, that you've added the chicken cutlets to the skillet before the butter was sizzling or over-browned them because you forgot to turn down the heat. If this technology exists, it's probably not too long before we'll see it as standard offering in new stovetops, and it's another example of a way that innovation can help us be better cooks.
The Future of Home Cooking
Predictions are that AI (artificial intelligence) will ultimately take a look at what's in our fridges and pantries and suggest what we can make with what we have on hand. It may also decide what we're going to cook tonight (knowing, for example, that your family observes meatless Mondays and taco Tuesdays and loves lasagna on Sunday) and order the ingredients, shopping for the best price or locally grown produce according to your preferences. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? I like it — as long as the recipe for that pasta is your nonna's, not a computer-generated one.
What does all this mean? Ten years from now, we'll still be creating dinner ourselves but we'll be getting the kind of help we're always dreaming about. Groceries will be delivered to our houses without a second (or even first!) thought. And we'll never have to wonder if something is done or not.
About me: For more than 30 years, I was in charge of testing and reporting on everything from wooden spoons to connected refrigerators at the Good Housekeeping Institute. My street cred? I worked as a chef in New York City restaurants for seven years. In my free time, you'll find me banging pots in my own kitchen.