The New Iron Chef


Azure - - SPOTLIGHT - WORDS _Erin Don­nelly PHO­TO­GRAPH _Aubrie Pick

In the 1980s, young Star Wars fans cre­ated a de­mand for ro­bots that was met with toys like Ro­bie Robot and Steve the But­ler – minia­ture droids who, un­like R2-D2, of­fered lit­tle con­ver­sa­tion or com­pan­ion­ship, but were in­stead built for the sole pur­pose of fer­ry­ing drinks from the kitchen to the sticky hands of their mas­ters. Three decades later, that gen­er­a­tion has not given up the dream of be­ing catered to by a charis­matic ma­chine. So it’s no sur­prise that the mo­ment tech­nol­ogy made it pos­si­ble, we are pulling steel-col­lar work­ers into the kitchen to see what they can dish up. Robot home cooks are not yet in reach, though Mo­ley Ro­bot­ics suc­cess­fully crowd-funded a bulky coun­ter­top sys­tem – fea­tur­ing a some­what creepy pair of in­ter­net-con­nected arms – that they claim will launch to the con­sumer this year. But there are al­ready ro­bots tak­ing Pepsi-fetch­ing to the next level, in­clud­ing Cafe X’s baris­tas in San Fran­cisco and Makr Shakr, a bar­tender sys­tem just in­tro­duced to the mass mar­ket by Carlo Ratti. In Bos­ton, Spyce restau­rant launched this spring with a fully ro­botic kitchen. Though San Fran­cisco fast-food joint Cre­ator – open since June – also leaves the cook­ing to a ro­botic de­vice, you won’t find au­toma­tons flip­ping burg­ers there. “That wasn’t the ap­proach we wanted to take,” says founder and CEO Alex Var­dakostas. “It’s the pur­suit of novelty, and novelty is ephemeral.” The novelty, how­ever, proved so in­trigu­ing that the place was booked well into the sum­mer be­fore any­one had the chance to sam­ple the food. And at Cre­ator, the food is the point, says Var­dakostas, who pro­to­typed the original burger-mak­ing ma­chine in his par­ent’s garage. The con­cept might sound a bit cold, but in fact Cre­ator makes a warm im­pres­sion. The burger maker sits at the cen­tre of a bright, airy space. In or­der to make the food the star of the show, the de­sign team – which in­cluded in­dus­trial de­signer Per Sel­vaag, of Mon­taag – max­i­mized trans­parency in ev­ery way pos­si­ble, start­ing with a 360-de­gree view of the ma­chine. An abun­dance of glass and scratch-re­sis­tant poly­car­bon­ate al­lows cus­tomers to see that their meal is be­ing pre­pared with the ut­most care, from the mo­ment the bun de­scends from a pneu­matic tube un­til the condi­ments are pre­cisely mea­sured and ap­plied. Re­sem­bling a se­ries of small ap­pli­ances, the ma­chine’s sub­sys­tems ap­pear to have min­i­mal parts, re­duc­ing vis­ual clut­ter. The mul­ti­ple glass com­po­nents are com­ple­mented with large swaths of white Co­rian, cop­per ac­cents and as much wood as could be in­cor­po­rated with­out com­pro­mis­ing hy­giene. The de­vice sits on a cur­va­ceous base carved from ash and meant to evoke both a tree and the nat­u­ral ingredients fed to the ma­chine – and then to cus­tomers. It’s those cus­tomers, and their ex­pe­ri­ence of eat­ing to­gether in the space, that in­spired the min­i­mal, sleek aes­thetic of both the de­vice and the space, says Var­dakostas. “We didn’t want to dis­tract guests from the food or from each other.” While Cre­ator’s ro­botic sys­tem may be the novelty act that gets peo­ple in the door, it’s the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence it sup­ports that will keep them com­ing back. cre­

Cre­ator’s ro­botic restau­rant in San Fran­cisco pur­posely feels more wel­com­ing than ster­ile, putting the fo­cus on the food.

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