Sci-Fi chef

Updated: 2011-03-13 08:00

By Shi Yingying (China Daily)

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Sci-Fi chef


'Robert' is cooking up a storm right now, not waiting for the future. Shi Yingying takes a look in the kitchen.

Will chefs be bidding farewell to the kitchen soon? Imagine a cooking robot, able to conjure up the tastiest traditional Chinese recipes in a couple of minutes.

It's not what's happening in science fiction but a real-life story at Shanghai's fast-food chain Wishdong's downtown location. Despite its unfriendly appearance - it looks like an ATM machine with huge kitchen surfaces and an iron shovel inside, robot Aike can do its job perfectly within three minutes.

The restaurant's new chief chef, Aike can cook eight popular Chinese dishes - including the popular kungpao chicken, mapo tofu and fried shrimp with scrambled eggs.

"Aike can remember more than 751 recipes as long as we process it, but for Wishdong only eight are needed," says Yan Yeshen, provider of the cooking Robert. He says Beijing and Shenzhen have this kind of cooking robot in restaurants already, although it's the first one in Shanghai.

"It's fairly easy to operate Aike and I can teach a 10-year-old girl how to use it in 10 minutes," Yan says. The workers only need to press buttons on the robot to choose a dish and it will display the name of the ingredients and their quantities.

"Aike needs two staff members to help it prepare the ingredients, so I don't really worry about losing my job," says a waiter surnamed Tian from the restaurant. "Instead of firing any staff, we actually need more people to help Aike with the cooking."

Tian says Aike's cooking is better than the old chef's in terms of dish presentation. "I'm not sure whether it's the amount of sauces it puts in or another reason, it just looks better and tastes the same," he says. "Many of our customers haven't realized it's a robot that cooking their food."

A customer surnamed Zhu can't agree more. "There's no difference in terms of taste, you just can't tell," he says. "My family sometimes spends more than two hours a day to prepare food. If the machine is available in the market, I might be interested in getting one if it's not too expensive."

The robot costs 200,000 yuan ($30,420). That's a bit too much for Zhu's budget, but the fast-food chain is looking forward to installing more of them in its 100 outlets across the country.

"We believe the cooking robots will become a trend in the future for the fast- food industry as they guarantee low-carbon emission, food safety and standard taste that don't change from one outlet to another," says a staff member surnamed Ma, who's working with the restaurant's parent company, Shanghai Qiding Food Development Co.

The robot was earlier displayed at the Shanghai 2010 Expo and attracted lots of attention, he says.

Tian, however, says he thought "the reason we have the cooking robot here is to catch customers' eyes so that we can reach the boss's goal of selling 200 dishes a day".

"The business wasn't as good as we expected," he says.

Yan, who participated in the robot design at the early stage, says Aike sports an ATM-like windshield in the front to ensure the vacuum environment and guarantee food safety. "So that dust won't get in when curious customers watch Aike cooking," he says.

Yan also says this kind of cooking robot has a better chance to bring restaurant profits if they're applied to fast-food chains in large scale rather than used as the "eye-catching robot".

(China Daily 03/13/2011 page13)


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