AI and the Chefless Restaurant

AI and the Chefless Restaurant

Technological innovation is no stranger to food—in fact cooking itself was a major tech game changer that may have allowed humans to grow the giant brains that are the hallmark of our species! Now, a bleeding-edge takeout startup is harnessing the power of AI to deliver note-perfect replicas of famous chefs’ dishes to hungry customers—with nary a one of those chefs in sight. 

The company is CloudChef, and is a hi-tech version of the ”ghost kitchens” that have cropped up, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Based (naturally) in Palo Alto, the team behind it envisions leveraging technology to drastically change the American restaurant scene.

“Through a combination of software and hardware—as in basic kitchen equipment that’s been souped up with sensors and cameras—CloudChef can record someone cooking a dish one time, then turn around and produce what the company calls ‘a machine-readable recipe file.’ The data capture not only includes video, but also information from infrared and thermal sensors, scales, and other equipment that allows the software to measure temperature and weight. The result is a set of digital cues delivered through the enhanced kitchen equipment that guide CloudChef kitchen staff, regardless of culinary skill, as they stand in front of a burner with a pan and recreate the dish. […]

There’s no need to understand when the chicken achieves doneness or when the curry reaches the ideal thickness; the software does that using data from sensors that measure the thermal temperature of ingredients in the pan and the relative weight of the food as it cooks down. When the sauce reaches the appropriate thickness, a sound alerts the cook and a message appears on a screen telling the worker to remove the pan and food from the heat.”

This innovation could be a massively democratizing force in the restaurant world, decoupling the experience of a signature dish from the need to physically share the chef’s location. But, is that dish truly the same as one prepared by the person who created it—or who at least has baseline cooking skills? Is something—maybe its aura, or soul?— missing if it gets mechanically reproduced? Are we one step away from Star Trek’s replicator technology? Is the delegated food even any good? As companies wade into the AI space, philosophical questions abound. At least we can contemplate this set on a full stomach.