Hate Making Dinner? Meet Your New BFF, Cooki the Robot

Tech start-up debuts a countertop automaton that makes meals for you.

(Photo: Sereneti Kitchen/Vimeo)

Jan 8, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Get in on the ground floor today and you could have your very own dinner-cooking robot by the end of the year.

Meet Cooki, “the world’s first robotic appliance that cooks like you do—or better!” That’s according to the start-up team at Sereneti Kitchen, which has had a busy week. Not only has it been making the rounds at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, showing off a prototype of its newfangled robo-cook, but it has also launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $100K to get Cooki to market. If they pony up $399, early adopters who love gadgets yet loathe chopping carrots can snag their own Cooki hot off the production line—which the company estimates will be in October.

Serenity Kitchen Showcase. (Photo: Vimeo)

Although Sereneti’s campaign invokes (perhaps inevitably) such beloved blipping-and-bleeping pop-culture icons as Bender of Futurama and Rosie of The Jetsons, don’t assume Cooki is going to whip you up a four-course meal while delivering sassy rejoinders on the side. In terms of lovability, Cooki seems closer to your countertop coffeemaker than to C-3PO.

Which is apt, because Sereneti is clearly shooting to capitalize on harried Americans’ demand for touch-of-a-button ease—the sort that has fueled the runaway success of Keurig and made those little metal K-cup trees fixtures on kitchen counters everywhere.

Here’s how the Cooki “ecosystem” aims to work: Sereneti delivers little plastic trays of fresh, precut, premeasured ingredients to your home, based on the “chef-inspired” recipes you’ve selected from the company’s app. You tell Cooki what recipe you want it to make and when you want to eat, load the trays, and Cooki does the rest. Which is either impressive or not, depending on whether you’re measuring Cooki against The Jetsons’ Rosie or the Roomba roving around your living room.

At this point, the robot’s culinary repertoire appears limited to dumping ingredients into its heated pan and stirring with its robotic arm. Thus the “range” of recipes Cooki can make is confined to a lot of stir-fries and pasta. Don’t expect perfectly pan-seared salmon with a citrus-soy glaze and a side of roasted potatoes when you get home. And don’t expect Cooki to do the dishes.

For $600, which is what Sereneti expects Cooki to retail for, along with the cost of each meal ($4 to $5), you might just be tempted to order takeout. But Sereneti says its 21st-century gizmo isn’t just about the robotic wow-factor—there’s a bona fide social agenda behind Cooki too.

“By preportioning just the right amount of healthy, fresh ingredients and reducing the amount of work required to prepare these meals, we not only help people save time—we also help conserve food and encourage healthier eating habits,” Haidee Chen, one of Sereneti’s cofounders, told a panel of tech-biz experts at CES this week. Cooki is the brainchild of 18-year-old Chen and her twin sister, Helen. (So even if Cooki flops, the high schoolers will still come away with a killer college admissions essay.)

But despite Sereneti’s avowed mission to curb food waste and to slim Americans down with fresher, healthier, robo-cooked fare, it’s an innovation that seems like a step in the wrong direction. Sure, a Cooki stir-fry is likely better for you than cruising through the nearest drive-through, and the daily drudgery of coming up with home-cooked dinner ideas and getting them on the table can seem thankless (even for those of us who write about food for a living).

Yet if there’s one thing that runs as a common thread through all our various modern-day issues surrounding food, whether it’s how much of it we waste or how it’s harming our health, it’s that by outsourcing so much of our prepping, processing, and making of food to others, we’ve lost an important connection to what we eat. “Mindful eating”? That’s harder to do when you take the mind out of the kitchen.