Aurora sent me a link to a NY Times Article about robot cooks. My first reaction was the same conclusion that the article reached: robots might be able to perform tasks but they would never be able to react to the subtleties involved in making a really good meal.
Part of what makes cooking such a uniquely human task is that half of the challenge is reacting to developing situations: interpreting based on smell and taste how and what ought to be changed or added in order to get a better result. Hearing a sizzle that’s just a bit louder or quieter than it ought to be and adjusting the heat down or up to rectify the situation. Adding more (or less) [garlic/ cinnamon/ pepper/ etc.] based on who one is cooking for. Using a different vegetable today because the one that the recipe calls for was underripe/ overripe/ looked as if it had gone through combat to arrive at the store, whereas something entirely different appeared to be at the peak of its freshness and flavor. So many small things add up to make the preparation of a meal more than just a task of drudgery…the bits of inspiration that put the art into culinary art.
Oddly enough, the article made only brief mention of one task that robots may be ideally suited for: cutting vegetables; and no mention of other tasks at which I believe robots might excel: grilling steaks to perfection (with the advantage of infrared heat sensors) and baking (with the advantage of exact measurement capabilities and the potential to be outfitted with unique appendages ideally suited to kneading and/or mixing–and perhaps even being designed with an internal oven). Those tasks would, I believe, generate the enthusiasm the researchers hope to produce in the general population.
So, I’ll just throw out there, since some of this research is happening at Carnegie Mellon, right here in Pittsburgh, that I’m available as a culinary consultant if you need someone to help develop standardized procedures for culinary tasks that are beyond your level of cooking thought. There’s no shame in getting expert help, you know: I certainly would turn to one of you if I needed a robot, so you guys might as well turn to me if you need help in the kitchen. I can show you the knife skills you would want to emulate in robotic form, and demonstrate techniques that you can program your robots to do, whether grilling steaks or kneading bread. I can help give your robots the pizzazz they need to get the public enthused about their capabilities, and get them to produce the better quality food that will keep the public coming back for more. Reasonable rates–please inquire via email.