For more than a century, we’ve been automating restaurants: automats, conveyor-belt sushi, robot baristas. This fall, “robotic” gourmet burger brand Creator opened in San Francisco to walk-in customers. Its kitchen is a pair of glass-front machines that are plugged in in the restaurant’s dining room, where they prep and cook bespoke burgers for about $6 (U.S.) a pop. Funded by the likes of GV (formerly Google Ventures), over the course of nine years, the Creator team—engineers, roboticists, designers, and chefs hailing from organizations such as Tesla, NASA, and Chez Panisse—has created a technology that is only the means, not the end.
Each machine—actually 20 computers, 50 actuator mechanisms, and 350 sensors—makes unprecedentedly fresh food via a literally transparent production process. What you see is what you get: in the dining room, ingredients are displayed in the machines’ glass tubes or glass-fronted fridges, their colours becoming part of the interior design. Most ingredients are prepped and cooked only once an order has been placed. Even seasoning and grinding—with a vertical grinder that makes the meat more tender and tasty—take place mere seconds before grilling.
Admittedly, Creator eliminates the need for most kitchen staff, turns wait staff into “consultants”, and attempts to make burger joint jobs less menial and more interactive, social, creative, and educational—all of which may or may not prove controversial. By removing the kitchen, the machine could significantly reduce store footprint and rent—along with energy use and air pollution—allowing roughly 40 per cent of the restaurant’s budget (instead of the typical 30 per cent) to be spent on higher quality food: healthier, pasture-raised, hormone-free beef, boutique bakery brioche, even artisanal sodas that are part of flavour pairings suggested on the mix-and-match menu.
All of this makes Creator a hybrid of casual and farm-to-table fine dining that democratizes gourmet food. Machines are tools, and Creator may serve to remind us that it’s up to us how we use them. We didn’t stop reading with the advent of radio, radio wasn’t killed by TV, and the Internet is a tool that can be used to distribute them all. The question isn’t, “Will robots replace us?” It may be, “How would this affect the thousands of workers who could lose their jobs?” Answering that could require the greatest act of imagination, and innovation, of all.
Photos by Aubrie Pick.
Never miss a story. Sign up for NUVO’s weekly newsletter, here.