Wednesday, December 13The Voice of London

Chefs Vs Robots

Robots are already working in our everyday lives and have changed the way industries operate. Companies are creating robots to handle tasks including food preparation, cooking, and serving. But, how does a prosperous cook like Chef Afreen compare to the rapid technological developments which have transformed the kitchen world today?

It’s a fact technology drives the world forward. The process is continuous. Food is a strategy. Society is ready for the change as robot sales increased 29 percent, totaling 229,261 units in 2014. Robots are already functioning similarly to humans. They may become smarter than their creators as soon as 2029, experts estimate.Robotics have influenced the food industry to such an extent that they now able to produce it without any humans involved. Take Moley Robotics for instance. The robochef moves its arms as if in a shrug.

But are they capable of delivering results that are even close to what a traditional cook like Afreen can create?

I attend Chef Afreen’s cooking class. She is originally from India, but a California girl at heart.  Afreen was originally brought up and educated in Toronto but calls San Francisco her true home. She is a businesswoman, a proud mother of two, a professor at the California Culinary Academy and executive chef of her very own catering company. Cuisine Afreen is a company that brings together sophisticated art and elegant cuisine for special occasions throughout the city of San Francisco. Not only is she an entrepreneur, but an inspiring philanthropist as well.

Just as I arrive at the cooking class, my eyes catch sight of Afreen. Standing gracefully behind the kitchen counter filled with fresh ingredients and traditional spices, she patiently waits for everybody to take their place. She has a caring, healthily plumped face bereft of makeup, apart from the conventional red bindi centered on her forehead. Her black apron is perfectly positioned atop a white lace shirt, both of which are in contrast to a tight, green skirt defining her curvy, feminine figure. She slowly sets the tone of the class by introducing herself and reveals we will be making a classic Indian dish with a contemporary twist.

From smell to touch and taste, the chef’s exotic cuisine evokes satisfaction to all senses. The hand-rolled meatballs and sweet peppers delicately entwine around my tongue hitting all of my taste buds. The cook shares that she draws most of her inspiration from her passion for cultural arts and her extensive knowledge of the history of food making, which she believes are key for an outstanding result. Her inspiration comes from old recipes and traditions, from cuisines that are able to combine ancient spices and shape an excellent harmony within the dish. Wahab enjoys working with colours like orange, red and yellow- those stunning shades- because we first consume food with our eyes. Afterwards come the floral and spicy aromas, because we then eat with our nose. Finally, we taste the dish. Indulging all of our senses and leading them on an adventure to new destinations. The chef passionately demonstrates the required technique as she combines the chicken and colourful spices together.

Chef Afreen’s techniques seem to be traditional, but has technology had any effect on her as a food maker? She tells the class, “technology is an exceptional tool to display someone’s craft, like food photography for example. I don’t use a lot of advanced technology, but I do like to browse the latest gadgets on the market. I also started using social media recently to promote my catering company. It unites people together to share a common tradition of eating food.” 

From years in the business, she has gotten to know her clients and is able to adapt each dish to their unique taste and character. The way she prepares her cuisine takes shape depending on her energy, she gently tells me from behind the counter as the flames from the stove dance and leap in the air, reaching for anything that they could consume to fuel their wrath.

Afreen examines the incoming ingredients as she picks up the basil and looks at each leaf like an art appraiser, taking in a minutia of the details and sniffing a ripped leaf before chewing it. She then looks at a man who had given up on life, or perhaps on the current cooking challenge. His once white apron is now stained and his hair is greasy. His eyes have a strange sunken look and are threaded with scarlet so densely that they appear pink. His cheeks glow with broken veins, his actions are slow, clumsy. Afreen then goes up to his stove, picks up the chopping knife and cuts his vegetables into perfect matchsticks in the time it takes most people to peel a carrot. Every motion is precise from intense repetition. The man is thankful for the machine-like perfection of his vegetables. Afreen then gives the man full control of his ship as she guides him through the next steps. As he stirs the vegetables with the meatballs together I hear Afreen yell softly, “So slow. So inept!”

I don’t imagine she would ever be able to yell in a harsher tone. His eyes narrow as he applies the seasoning and his mouth tightens to a thin, straight line when I hear the chef give him directions again, “Too much, too much!” This is a function a robot will never be able to accomplish, simply because they do not have the human emotions that can bring love to a dish. Chef Afreen tastes it until it hits a symphonic note of perfection. Sometimes you just need the magic of the human touch to make (bring) a dish come to life.

“Although people change the way they create and consume food, culture and tradition are things that can never be replaced or forgotten. Even in 30 or 40 years time, not every single restaurant can be automated. In fact, the more technological our world becomes, the more traditions will be valued because they will be less common. The reason why we are so intrigued by robotics now is that they are still very new to our understanding,” Afreen’s chest stuck out proudly as she defended her heritage.

Chef Afreen believes a cook is stale if he or she applies the same recipe every time he creates something. A recipe is a guide that even robots can be instructed to follow, but only a human can develop it by instilling energy, love, and emotion into the dish to give it a new perspective. If a chef and a robot are instructed to cook an identical dish, the chef is far more likely to be the one who possesses the ‘human touch’.

Words: Alexandra Baneva| Subbed: Amelia Walker-Hall

 

 

 

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