Remember the Automat of the 1950s? For those of you who have never heard of such a place, let me explain how the Automat worked. The first thing that you noted upon entering an Automat was that the establishment looked like what one today would describe as an office break room with absolutely no ambiance. There were no hostesses or waitresses to seat you. There was no cafeteria or buffet type line. In fact, the Automat was totally impersonal. A customer would browse through the little windows and, once they spotted a tasty morsel, they would place the proper coinage into a slot, open a glass door, and retrieve their priced food item. There were no such things as bill readers, so you needed to get a pocket full of change from a change maker, usually located close to the food source. Anyone who has bought a sandwich from a vending machine has learned from experience — this product leaves a lot to be desired. Normally, the sandwiches are dry, sparse of meat or cheese, and lack condiments to add any moisture or taste. The Automat supplied the condiments, but little else to add to the lackluster flavors one endured after a purchase. The most amazing thing, however, was that little elves were set up behind the scenes to replace whatever was purchased. No, it wasn’t meant to be a gourmet experience, but rather purely utilitarian.
So why did I bring up the subject of the old, now defunct Automat and the not-so-enjoyable food experience? Mainly because one would hope that such ideas would be kept in the past, but it now appears that some futuristic thinkers are considering how robotic equipment could impact our restaurant and home kitchens. It is thought that the use of certain robotics could potentially result in this robotic equipment controlling which recipes we make and the ingredients we use. I know that when I heard about these limitations, my thoughts immediately returned to the days of the old Automat and its plastic food containers. Fortunately, however, these concepts cannot work unless chefs, cooks, caterers, and homemakers determine that they are willing to sacrifice their freedom of choice and creativity in the name of efficiency. I personally fear that a robot in the kitchen would create lackluster courses of food that would take the enjoyment out of eating.
I also think that it would take the creative enjoyment out of cooking. I know that both my wife and I enjoy cooking and, just this last week, we joined forces to cook a special dinner for our grandson’s 13th birthday. We spent hours preparing and cooking our special rib dish with a tangy homemade sauce, which is a concoction of flavors that make an incredibly yummy main course. I took on the sauce-making task and conjured up the secret sauce without the help of measuring cups, directions, ingredients list, or any type of automated help from any source. I made the sauce like I have always made the sauce: by the seat of my pants. To complement the meal, my wife made our grandson’s favorite macaroni and cheese, and a homemade red velvet cake. The meal was an absolute success and received rave reviews.
All of this is to say that these items were created without the help of any robotic device; in fact, the only mechanical device that was used was a mixer. In other words, we tend to cook like a chef or wannabe chef from any of the popular cooking shows that seem to have proliferated this past year. From these shows, one thing always strikes me as being natural, and that is the way that these cooks do not sit and measure, but effectively use a pinch of this and that. There is no augmented reality nor machines measuring condiments, spices, or flavorings. It’s just a human being using their God-given gifts to produce a culinary delight.
As one can start to surmise from the tone of this article, I am not a huge fan of robotics in the kitchen. I just don’t see the enjoyment or rewards available in having cooking times predetermined for you, in having ingredients dispensed at an uncontrollable amount, in having a machine deciding the size of individual portions, or in the addition of any other machines that would make dining at home as exciting as eating at a McDonald’s joint. I can attest to the unfortunate fact that the taste of a gray-colored McDonald’s hamburger that I first tasted at a McDonald’s restaurant outside of San Francisco in the 1960s has not changed. It is this type of automation that I fear would evolve if robotic technology were to be employed and accepted as a standard in our kitchens.