By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
One of my all-time favorite television programs was the original “Twilight Zone.” There was no one quite like its creator, Rod Serling. Who can forget that monologue with his jet black hair and constantly burning cigarette and, above all, that voice? I was such a fan, it would only take me about 20 seconds to know exactly which episode it was. I was reminded of one particular episode just the other day.
This episode centered around a cold, uncaring skinflint of a boss who’s signature characteristic was twirling his key ring incessantly. He was slowly and systematically replacing his workers with robots who never tired, never complained and were more efficient. Eventually, in typical ironic Twilight Zone fashion, the final scene shows a robot looking out the window of the boss’ corner office, twirling his keys.
I saw something the other day that, even knowing the inevitable direction our society is headed in regards to efficiency, adaptability and, let’s be honest, laziness, still surprised me a bit.
It was a robot, or specifically robot arms, in a glass box set at the kitchen counter. And the arms were cooking.
The idea was that your kitchen space was now partially under the jurisdiction of the robot. You go to the wall screen or the app on your phone, and choose the dish you want to eat.
The movements were extraordinary. The precision, smoothness, flow and tempo were believably lifelike.
How was this achieved? By 3D motion-capture of real life chefs.
Three dimensional motion-capture technology digitally records complex movements, often those of humans. Once a chef has created and completed a dish via this method, the information is saved and transferred to the robot program. And voila!
It’s one thing to have a robot vacuum your carpet or systematically water your lawn. It’s another level altogether to allow a robot to drive your car or cook your dinner.
Founded in 2014 by Mark Oleynik, Moley Robotics is a company headquartered in London that specializes in robotic kitchen technology.
We’ve come a long way from Rosie the robot maid on the Jetson’s, that’s for sure.
So, my question is this: Where has the emotion and passion gone?
As seen in movies and television, chefs have a reputation for volatility. Think back to the chef in “Caddyshack.” They can be moody and temperamental, arrogant and willful. And they make mistakes—lots of them. They burn things. They make soups too salty. They make cakes with too much frosting. They overcook steaks.
But despite their flaws, we need them.
They are also passionate. They are caring. They love to make people happy. They give their time after an already long day. They teach young cooks more gently what they had to learn the hard way. They create pillowy gnocchi. They braise the most succulent short ribs you will ever eat. They concoct sauces so silky you thought you had consumed pure sunshine.
We need chefs and, for that matter, we need humans, to keep grandma’s bohemian dumpling recipe from the Old Country alive—not a set of plastic and metal arms.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.
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