The Suvie Kitchen Robot Keeps Food Cool, then Cooks It
When Robin Liss was running Reviewed.com, she was flying an average of 200 days a year. Kevin Incorvia is a former Apple engineer married to a physicist. Though they both appreciated a fancy home-cooked meal, neither had time to make them on a regular basis. Liss and Incorvia decided to team up and make a kitchen robot, something that would actually save people time and feed an entire family but still turn out something healthier than a microwavable burrito. What they came up is the Suvie, a countertop appliance that boils starches like pasta or rice, steams and roasts vegetables, and uses a sous vide and a broiler to cook protein.
The real draw is that the unit also acts like a mini-fridge, keeping your food cold and safe until it’s time for the appliance to start cooking.
“It’s a pretty magical experience,” Liss told Digital Trends.
There are four zones in the machine that look like drawers. The starch tray on the bottom fills with water and has a heating element to get it boiling, then it automatically drains when the pasta is al dente. There’s also a sauce compartment on the bottom left. The top two zones are both actively cooled and can be hit with heat from the broiler. On the top left is a spot that can steam vegetables; the right is the sous vide pan. Each zone uses water for part of the cooking process, while the top two stay cold with water cooled by a special compressor. These zones will drop to under 41 degrees Fahrenheit in less than two hours, which is important for food safety (and something similar machines may have struggled with).
There are a couple ways to use the Suvie. You can use the dial on the appliance to set temperatures and times for each zone yourself, or, if you use the company’s meal kits, you can scan the NFC tag and let the machine coordinate everything itself. Because of the refrigeration component, you can stick everything in the corresponding compartments in the morning and set a schedule based on when you’re planning on serving dinner. The algorithms will then calculate when to start heating the meat, boiling the pasta water, and so on. If it’s 5 p.m. and you realize you forgot to set a scheduler, you can use Suvie’s app to start it remotely. If your Wi-Fi is out, you won’t be able to use the app’s scheduling feature or download new recipes, but you’ll still be able to cook a meal.
“All of the cooking that happens when you’re not at home is at boiling or lower,” Liss told Digital Trends.
The algorithms calculate when to start cooking based on when you want to have dinner.
It’s a safety precaution. You can’t start the broiler from your phone, for example. Not only is that a common-sense precaution, it’s also important to take the meat out of the plastic bags before you hit it with high heat. Plus, Liss points out that people like a little more control over this step, so it makes sense to keep an eye on your steak as it browns. Plus, while the start of the process is pretty hands-off, some recipes need a few finishing touches, like adding a teriyaki sauce or breadcrumbs before browning.
Because of the compressor, the 2.5-liter water reservoir, four zones, and the broiler, the Suvie’s dimensions are similar to a tall, spacious microwave: 20.5 inches wide, 16.6 inches tall, and 15.4 inches deep. The zones can hold four steaks, salmon fillets, or chicken breasts as well as about four cups of vegetables. Liss says each of the containers are dishwasher safe, as is the drain tray that collects the pasta water. If you’re using the Suvie kits, she thinks cleanup will be relatively easy, as the vegetables come in recyclable aluminum trays and the meat is pre-packed in food-safe, sous vide-friendly plastic. You remove the plastic top from the vegetables and drop it in the steam section, pour the pasta in the designated compartment, add the meat to the sous vide pan, and place the two- or four-ounce pouch of sauce in its spot. Add water to each compartment and the reservoir, and you can walk away for 24 hours, if you want.
Michael Ruhlman, who collaborated with Thomas Keller on the French Laundry and Under Pressure cookbooks, worked with Suvie on both the recipes for the kits and for the ones users can utilize when making their own meals. The Suvie will launch with 30 kits, including Liss’s favorite, a lemon dill cod with asparagus and brown rice.
“It’s got a cracker-crumb baked crust,” she said. “That’s not the kind of thing you can do in a normal sous vide device.”
There’s also a kid-friendly cheddar cheese and macaroni with chicken. “We worked on meals that are what Americans like to eat and maybe made them a little fancier,” she said.
“Don’t say Suvie’s not a robot just because it doesn’t have arms and legs.”
Sous vide has become increasingly popular over the last few years, but it’s still not totally mainstream. That’s okay with Liss, who thinks the Suvie will drive it there. The company is targeting busy people with families or who work long hours but want to cook fresh food.
“A sous vide purist wouldn’t use this,” she said. “You can’t put an entire brisket in Suvie.”
Still, she hopes cooking enthusiasts will experiment with the appliance and put their own spin on recipes. The kits stick to putting the vegetables in the steam zone, the protein in the sous vide one, and so on, “but you could mix it up,” said Liss. “It’s really a device we want people to take their creativity and their love of cooking and maybe take out the steps that aren’t so fun like waiting for something to finish but still do seasoning and sauces and toppings and garnishes.”
The price of convenience
The Suvie will launch on Kickstarter in early February, and pricing isn’t available until January 30. The company has plans for eventually becoming a platform, letting Suvie owners mix and match each individual portion of the meal by picking them up at their local grocery store or farmer’s market. For that to scale, enough people would have to have the machine in their kitchen — which in turn depends on the price of the Suvie, how much its kits cost (especially considering they’re using all raw ingredients), and whether people are willing to have another large appliance on their counters. The machine can make meals up to four adults, said Liss, so it might not work for larger families, as sous vide can take an hour or more. Plus, she doesn’t expect users to have the Suvie going every night of the week.
It’s definitely a water-intensive process, which may turn some people off as well. For Liss, though, the appeal is being able to start making dinner from work, without having to worry about starting a fire or burning the food. It’s a bit like a Roomba for the kitchen; it does some things on its own but isn’t fully autonomous.
“Don’t say Suvie’s not a robot just because it doesn’t have arms and legs,” Liss said.