Do you need a $249 ingredient dispensing system that comes with two containers, a digital scale and bluetooth? The folks at Nik of Time Inc. hope you do, as it is launching a crowdfunding campaign for its PantryChic system that combines a system of RFID-equipped containers with a digital scale that are expected to be connected via Bluetooth. The idea strikes me as something one might see in a high-end home, but it also seems kind of silly.
The system works by letting you place your container on top of the mixer, where it will determine the ingredient and then measure out the appropriate amount for the recipe you’ve selected. It’s impressively high-tech, but is it necessary? Measuring things isn’t terribly hard and you still have to change out your ingredient the containers at each step, meaning you still are in the kitchen basically performing the menial labour of serving your measuring robot instead of just doing the ingredient-weighing yourself.
But this does make me think about what I want in a connected kitchen. Because I’m always trying new recipes and like to experiment, I’m interested in smart tools that educate me and monitor what I’ve done. So I’m into devices like the Range thermometers that can provide me new information plus historical data that might help me replicate a success or avoid another failure. I’d also like a connected spoon or device that helps measure viscosity so I can tell when my Alfredo sauce has reached the right consistency or my egg whites are stiff enough for a meringue.
Digital scales can fall into that category, but the price point is important. For people watching their weight having an easy way to track what they are eating and how much with the help of a digital scale can be useful. Which is why the Prep Pad from The Orange Chef Co. was so intriguing. But at $150 I decided to pass on it and bought a $40 digital scale that I’m really happy with. For $99, there’s a connected scale called Drop that is designed for baking, and helps you adapt recipes to the amount of an ingredient you have. That’s a nice service, but the Drop concept also has added another layer of intelligence to the kitchen by rethinking the recipe.
Ben Harris, the CEO of Drop has plans beyond the scale to make food prep a bit more modular and current with today’s technology, which is what I think connected kitchen gadget-makers need to consider. As my colleague Kevin Fitchard notes, many of these kitchen gadgets are acting in isolation. Cooking is really about taking a lot of ingredients and steps and turning it into a unified whole. So the connected kitchen should be about data and helping the chef do what he needs to at the right time.
So as Kevin told me:
I don’t need a bin that can measure out a cup a flour. I want a bin that knows if it’s empty or full and knows it contains flour. And then it can communicate the fact that I have or need flour to my recipe and shopping apps. It’s such a simple thing, but no one is trying to tackle that problem. I believe that as long as the connected kitchen guys keep thinking in isolated terms they won’t get anywhere.
The cycle of information in food prep is akin to the business processes that manufacturers use to get goods to market. It starts with your available inventory and meal plan for the week and depends on you bringing certain of those elements together each day at particular times to make a finished product that’s consistent in quality. Right now, the only way to make that easy is to do it over and over and over again, which is why cooking can be such a slog for people who never grew up with parents who cooked.
But figuring out how to make more of that process automated, from letting people select meal plans, and then sending them an ingredient list to tracking what they have in their pantries to make sure they can re-use their ingredients on hand would be immensely helpful. And that doesn’t even touch the process of cooking. When cooking, having a recipe that a connected scale, spoon, pan or oven can follow along with, helping the chef correct course mid-stir, could ensure better and more consistent quality.
And ideally all of these devices wouldn’t have to be made by the same company, but would rather tie into an app that can pull data from APIs associated with the connected devices. So while the PantryChic system is pretty and could totally find a home in some kitchens, I think I want something a bit more helpful to me as a cook in mine.
Update: This story was corrected at 12:30 pm because the price of the Drop connected scale was using the pre-order price. However, the MSRP of the scale is $99.