A startup in Chennai attempts to replace cooks with machines that can prepare bulk quantities of food

An inconspicuous apartment, three storeys above and off busy Sardar Patel Road in Adyar, is where this scene unfolds.

Nothing major, we are here to eat food. Except, there is no chef or cook involved; our dinner will be prepared by automated technology.

“We have pre-programmed nearly 600 dishes into it,” says Saravanan Sundaramoorthy, CEO and founder, Robochef. The “it” he is referring to is not a humanoid, walking and talking — “I have seen it in the film Enthiran” — type robot. Robochef is a massive stainless steel structure, which looks like unwieldy kitchen equipment with very little visually pleasing detail.

Inside Robochef, moving belts that carry utensils, and containers that deliver spices and vegetables into the main cooking vessel, are operated by sensors tuned using computer codes.

Machine learning

We watch one of the machines cook kesari. After a helper loads the machine with rava, sugar and other ingredients necessary for the dish, a tap of a button on a computer initiates the frying process.

Soon, the steel utensil carrying ghee unloads it into the main cooking vessel, and the in-built automated twin-headed spatula starts stirring the mixture until it attains the required thickness.

In a few minutes, dessert is ready. “Robochef stands out because there is no need for human intervention at any stage after raw ingredients are loaded into the machine. You don’t even need to chop the vegetables or worry about cleaning it,” claims Saravanan.

His team simultaneously cooks seeraga samba chicken biryani and chicken curry. He offers us a plate. It tastes exactly the same as the order from your neighbourhood biryani stall.

However, nuances associated to idiosyncratic cooking styles attributed to human intelligence can be found wanting in automated cooking. Robochef is currently a ghost kitchen (a kitchen set up for preparing delivery-only meals). “We have tied up with caterers who supply in bulk to events and hotels. Our product has helped them improve their gains, and takes out the dependency on a cook,” says Saravanan.

A startup in Chennai attempts to replace cooks with machines that can prepare bulk quantities of food

There are two variants of the machine that Saravanan has built — the commercial variant that he sells for ₹45 lakh, meant for commercial ghost kitchens, and the domestic variant that he has priced at ₹6 lakh, which, he adds, has already found a few customers. He says the warranty for the first year is included in the price.

A startup in Chennai attempts to replace cooks with machines that can prepare bulk quantities of food

The numbers he puts forward are mind-boggling. He claims that he can supply an item, for instance, seeraga samba chicken biriyani (which retails upwards of ₹130) for as little as ₹60. “I would still stand to make a handsome profit margin on these numbers,” he adds. Which is why he has an ambitious plan of entering the restaurant business himself, with this technology. “There is no point in licensing or selling this concept to an established restaurant chain,” he says. “Instead, I intend to start a franchisee business under Robochef’s brand identity.” Watch this space.

Robochef now operates centralised kitchens in Adyar, Alandur and Velachery.

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