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Will technology replace the traditional chef?

The kitchen has always been the domain of the chef, and in a professional kitchen, it’s run like something of a military operation, with the chef the General. The success or failure of the restaurant often hinges on the skills, the innovation and the creativity of the chef, as well as their ability to organise their team.

But as technology has moved on, the practical skills of the modern chef have become less and less important. Tools have appeared which compensate for a chef’s poor knife skills, take care of beating, whipping, kneading and a whole host of other kitchen tasks. However, most require a degree of supervision and operational skill… at least, they have done until now.

2018 will see the launch of the world’s first cooking robot. The Moley robotic kitchen claims to possess “the skill and flair of a master chef”, and is set to hit the shelves early next year. Featuring two incredibly realistic robotic arms, programmed to replicate the movements top chefs use in the kitchen, the Moley bot will whip up a selection of meals in swift order, with very little human interaction. It even cleans up after!

Do technological advances like this spell the beginning of the end for the professional chef? Or is it all just a bit of a flash in the pan?

What can a robotic kitchen do?

For many of us, the Moley bot will look an awful lot more accomplished in the kitchen than we do. This is thanks to the way it embraces genuinely professional cooking skills, having been modelled on the movements of MasterChef winner Tim Anderson. Every flourish, nuance and motion is effortlessly replicated by the robot arms, creating not only delicious food, but also a fairly entertaining show too.

Recipes are accessed by a touchscreen interface, either on the kitchen unit itself or via our smartphone or tablet. Top chefs upload their favourite recipes, and we simply ask the Moley bot to cook it. Dishes can be searched by calorie count, dietary restrictions and cuisine style. You can order your dinner as you leave from work, and have it waiting for you when you get home.

For domestic households, this is an interesting proposal. It’s a showpiece, a functional assistant and a time saving device that the ones who can afford it will be happy to own. For the professional kitchen, its uses are limited. It cooks slowly – too slowly for your average high-pressure kitchen – and only uses pre-packaged ingredients supplied by the robotics company. Any professional chef worth his onions will place great value on the use of fresh, quality ingredients, so until Moley bot overcomes this issue, he’s not really fit for the pro kitchen.

The chef of the future?

The company developing the robot, Moley Robotics, clearly still sees the human chef as an important element of the process. They are designing the robot to be able to work with anyone who still likes to get hands on in the kitchen, and are also integrating a recipe sharing service so you can browse and share with other likeminded people. It will allow chefs to sell their own recipes through the system, which could even see new opportunities for the professionals to make money and create a buzz.

For the chefs of the future, undoubtedly your place in the kitchen is safe, for now. Robotics have their place in assisting and saving us time, but still need our input if we are to create that uniqueness and flair that keeps our customers coming back. We may see more and more kitchen automation over time, but replacing the chef with a machine is still a long way off. 

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