Published: 29th November 2019
In this fully automated kitchen in Chennai, a robot can cook over 500 meals without zero manual effort. Find out how!
Robochef is capable of creating perfectly portioned meals and ensures you get the right amount of food to fill you up. Read more to find out what else it can do
Imagine this — you go to a restaurant or an eatery, with no expectations as such, but you are told that your meal will be prepared by an automated robot. Won't that be awesome? At Robochef, a start-up based in Chennai has developed a robot (not the humanoid type) — a massive stainless steel structure that has 600 recipes of dishes pre-programmed into it. It might not be visually appealing but does everything a walking, talking chef can do and more.
Robochef can cook 600 recipes in total, out of which 480 recipes are Indian, 100 are Chinese and the others belong to the Mediterranean cuisine, Saravanan Sundaramoorthy, the CEO and founder tells us. "It is fully automated and the fact that zero manual effort is needed is our biggest advantage. It cuts down the cost more than 60 per cent of hiring so many people in the kitchen. We just have to buy the ingredients and load it into the machine. For us, the highest value of Robochef is consistent taste. I personally believe that it is not humanly possible for a chef to keep it as consistent — make a dish that tastes exactly the same throughout his career. Robochef’s precise measuring cups and temperature sensors guarantee the same consistent mouth-watering taste every time," claims Saravanan.
The machine is also insanely fast and efficient in what it does. "Getting hygienic and hot food for the masses at restaurants sounds nearly impossible. They are not only expensive but slow and impersonal. There is always the chance that human error gets your order wrong. Restaurants dealing with the provision of daily food for workplaces are notorious for being late and costly. Robochef single-handedly aims to correct all these problems, and at a significantly lower cost," adds the 30-year-old founder.
The Robochef founder with a customer
Food wastage is an alarming issue in India as we all know it. Our streets, garbage bins, and landfills have sufficient proof to prove it. Robochef is capable of creating perfectly portioned meals and ensures you get the right amount of food to fill you up. Saravanan adds, "Robochef can easily create over 100 meals before the ingredients need to be replenished. We refrigerate the ingredients at 38° Celcius, plus Robochef comes with a recommended 'refresh' schedule that guides the service boy on how often to replace and replenish the ingredients to ensure optimal quality."
So, how do we order the food? To which, Saravanan quickly responds, "You can use the Robochef Studio (our web app), the iOS application, the Android application to order from anywhere around the city. The process is short and simple. Placing an order would queue it up in the Robochef outlet nearest to you and start the internal cooking process." Well, you also have the option to customise your order, if you wish to. You can add, remove or replace any ingredient in a recipe to suit your taste and dietary restrictions while ordering from the app. Robochef will automatically calculate the food costs, increasing and decreasing them as you customise your order.
What's more interesting to know is how Saravanan and his 20-member team got hold such a large number of recipes from across the country. "Robochef can cook a wide variety of dishes — ranging from sambar to rasam to fried rice, mushroom biriyani, fish curry, almost anything! We sat down with 80 different chefs, travelled across India to learn about each recipe and cuisine. We measured everything they were using while they prepared any dish. Robotchef prepares the dishes exactly like a chef would manually cook. We have 0.01 gram of accuracy when it comes to the ingredients," he explains. The robotic kitchen is certified by the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) for its sanitation. Robochef also has a self-cleaning mechanism which cleans and disinfects the vessels after every meal.
The machine uses the Internet of Things (IoT) technology and they call the process 'software-defined cooking'. Robochef is currently a cloud kitchen — a kitchen set up for preparing delivery-only meals. Started in April 2019, they already have four cloud kitchens — one in Adyar, one in Alandur and two in Velachery. It prepares nearly 3000 meals every day. "Our Madurai-style chicken biriyani is a hit among foodies in the city. Also, we are the only restaurant in the world currently that can cook 18 varieties of Biriyani," he says, laughing.
Explaining why he set up Robochef, Saravanan says, "Whenever we think of robots, our minds are conditioned to think of Japan or US or any other country. I don’t personally like that, why not India? Why the stereotype that Indians cannot build a robot? That was the biggest reason I started Robochef. The machine, in its entirety, is built in India."
He adds that he observed another common problem through the years that if chefs moved away then some restaurants or small food start-ups lost their entire business. Also, the chef’s attitude and emotional well-being impacted the taste of the food items, thus leaving it inconsistent. "I have been hearing this from friends who run businesses for the past few years. That is also a major reason I set this up to make their task simpler," says Saravanan.
Saravanan, who is a Computer Science engineer and specialises in robotics, doesn't hesitate to admit that he has an unfair advantage over other restaurants as his machine can cook 24/7. "No humans are involved and thus, I can run it through day and night," he adds. Robochef now has two versions — a commercial version that can prepare food for 2000 people and sells at Rs 45 lakhs and it can prepare two different meals simultaneously. The other one is the mini version that can cook for 15 people and is priced at Rs 6 Lakh. The current version of Robochef is the 18th version that the team created in a span of six years.
Speaking of their future plans, he says, "We don't want to sell it to large restaurant chains but we want to expand it as a franchise under the brand name of Robochef. But first, we want to et up cloud kitchens in every 3km radius across Chennai city and then gradually in Tamil Nadu and finally across India."