Robots and Artificial Intelligence are about to open the hatch to a new world of culinary experiences – ones that are ethical, eco-friendly and financially sound.

By Kim Wyon

Industrial disruption has reached the culinary world and new restaurants are opening where backstage operations are guided by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and where gourmet burgers and pizzas are recipe-designed by Michelin-rated chefs – but made by robots.

Technological breakthroughs have always changed the way we live and work. But whereas the Age of Industrialisation has given us more readily available yet also more standardised products, the new food tech revolution may be about to change the rules.

ETHICAL BURGER ROBOTS

The world’s first robotic burger joint sets slow-food ethics above cold-hearted automation. Launched in California in 2018 with people-friendly interiors by Norwegian design guru Per Ivar Selvaag.

You would be forgiven for expecting that the invention of the world’s first burger-making robot was all about cutting the costs of patty-flipping. After all, industrialisation has always principally been about volume, speed and price.

But when the Creator hamburger restaurant in San Francisco opened its doors to walk-ins in September 2018, visitors were met with a carefully curated world of slow-food ethics and breezy, people-friendly interiors. Rendered with a palette of all white, blond wood and copper, the Creator restaurant is more akin to a sleekly styled superyacht than a Bay Area fast-food joint.

Hardly strange considering Creator hired Norwegian top industrial designer Per Ivar Selvaag of the Montaag studio – noted for his work for BMW, Ferrari, and Peugeot – to fashion their food experience. To develop the future-forward robotics, they partnered with engineers from Disney Imagineering, NASA and Tesla.

PRINCIPLED ETHICS

As much a social experiment as a technology lab, the Creator project itself is guided by three main principles. Their first aim is to reduce the cost of farm-to-fork dining by spending more on quality ingredients and less on kitchen labour.

This, they say, gives guests an opportunity to support small local farms by choosing ethically-raised pastured beef and other quality produce. The second principle is to democratise access to culinary techniques previously only accessible to the high-end restaurant market – and indeed to refine them.

Whereas the hamburger recipes are designed by alumni of such famous Michelin-starred establishments as Momofuku and Chez Panisse, the robotic food processing is so precise that the gourmet patties could never be fried to such tender perfection by human hand, Creator claims.

The third guiding principle is to provide a restaurant experience rich in human interaction. Waiters (or ‘consulting experts’ as they are called) will greet you at the door and help you build your meal order on their smartphone.

Once your ideal burger is logged into the system, you can watch it being prepared by one of their two robots – or ‘culinary devices’ as the staff would say – right in front of your eyes. Each ingredient is supplied from transparent tubes and freshly sliced with millimetre perfection.

Crafted to order, your burger will travel across the robotic table top as the toppings are added before finally being collected and served. Staff-members also earn above-average salaries and apart from being encouraged to engage with diners, Creator allows them to spend up to 5 percent of their working hours reading or studying, hence the inspirational library on the restaurant wall.

CLEAN AND EFFICIENT

Behind-the-scenes culinary workers filling the ingredient tubes also enjoy better working conditions, such as cleaner air quality. There are no combustion gases in the restaurant, since the low-emissions robots are all-electric and highly energy-efficient. All gases harmful to human health are mechanically contained.

Noble slow-food principles aside, each robot has the capacity of processing up to 240 gourmet burgers an hour (averaging one every 15 seconds), and they take up far less floor space than the culinary teams they in principle have replaced.

Nonetheless, the Creator team, headed by CEO Alex Vardakostas, has with this robotic burger-making concept injected a rare level of ethics, setting an example for the tech-driven restaurant industry of tomorrow.

www.creator.rest

At Singularity Sushi, a human host at the counter will serve your biometrically-engineered sushi cubes. The Tokyo restaurant is set to open in 2020 and has been developed by Japanese food tech startup Open Kitchen. Image courtesy of Singularity Sushi

PERSONALISED SUSHI

Hyper-personalised sushi cubes designed to suit your nutritional needs and biodata. Restaurant Sushi Singularity in Tokyo redefines healthy eating – and takes the first step towards food ‘teleportation’.

Just how personalised will food get? Slated to open in Tokyo in 2020, restaurant Sushi Singularity seeks to set a whole new standard for dietary-correct dining. You’ll even need to take a health check in advance! Diners will be sent a test kit where they are to submit a saliva swab as well as samples of their urine and – yes – faeces for laboratory analysis before their visit to the restaurant.

As you enter Sushi Singularity, you will be met by a human host, who will escort you to the food counter where a 3D-printing robot will serve biometrically-engineered sushi as part of a personalised menu designed to suit your specific nutritional needs based on laboratory analysis.

As you watch, the robot will squirt vitamin-rich gels in layers to create your prescribed hyper-personalised sushi cubes. But where most food printers use pureed ingredients, the patent-pending Pixel Food Printers at Sushi Singularity use an innovative water-based system that adds individual ‘pixels’ of colours, textures and nutrients, drawing on 14 different vitamins and minerals contained in tubes.

Culinary ingredients will include saltwater eel, anisotropic stiffness steamed shrimp, powdered sintered uni, honeycomb octopus, lab-grown tuna and dashi soup. Each nutrient-rich sushi cube will be intricately and artistically designed with micro-architecture that can only be achieved using advanced 3D printing.

The Sushi Singularity restaurant is developed by Open Meals, a Tokyo-based startup that has ambitions to open a radical new way of how food is created and delivered. They have built a prototype “Food Base” that registers the flavours, shapes colours, fragrances, nutrients and textures of different food items from around the world, meaning that one day restaurants will use the food base not only to reproduce dishes from data but also to design new custom dishes and share them in real time with diners across the world in what the company calls 3D printing food ‘teleportation’.

www.open-meals.com