You no longer need to be anywhere near a kitchen—or even food—to cook dinner. A new cooking machine, loaded up with 35 ingredients, can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world. Push a button on a computer screen, and the whirring machine gets the message to send a small portion of beef or vegetables down a chute into the pot. Push another, and you can adjust the heat or add a pinch of salt.
The machine and digital platform, called the Collaborative Cooking project, was actually designed to test what happens when multiple chefs cook the same dish together, without ever being able to talk or see what’s happening. Five chefs log in to the website simultaneously, and one by one, start telling the cooking machine what to do next.
"It’s just a matter of who decides to push the first button, who decides which ingredient should go first into the pot," explains Swedish designer Christian Isberg, who built the machine along with Petter Johansson Kukacka, Lasse Korsgaard, and chef Carl Berglöf. "There’s a bit of play involved. If someone puts salt in, the next person thinks, okay, which ingredient should I put in if I want him to understand that I want to make a chili stew?"
As each person takes a step, the website records the action, and the other chefs have to wait until the machine finishes whatever it's asked to do. In person, next to the cooking machine, a small box prints out a receipt with a physical record, so anyone who happens to be in the room can follow along.
The designers want to use the machine to question both the future of cooking and technology—including what makes interactive design really interactive.
"Machines are reactive; you push a button and something happens," says Isberg. "We wanted to really introduce interactivity with this website. We wondered, is it possible to establish a dialogue without the written or spoken word? Can we use the ingredients or the machine as a tool to create a conversation?"
Five chefs tested the machine during Clerkenwell Design Week in London last month. While they were limited in what they could make—the machine only has certain ingredients and a few functions, and the chefs were given specific rules—the designers were surprised to see that the result, though tasty, didn't end up like they expected. "It was really a big collaboration in the end," Isberg says. "Between us, the chefs, and the audience eating the food."
They're planning to try some other experiments next, like maybe a pop-up restaurant that lets patrons cook collaboratively from home before showing up, or pairing professional chefs with small children. And perhaps some type of machine like this could eventually end up in everyday use.
"It’s too early to say that we want to treat this as a piece of art or make it into a product," Isberg says. "And I think that's good—sometimes categorizing things tend to close off possibilities."