A look at a smart oven that uses infrared light to cook food faster than ever before. Will it be the future of the kitchen or will its high price tag prohibit its success?
There’s been no shortage of new kitchen appliances over the years. All you have to do is watch a few infomercials to learn that.
Still, the basic ways that we cook our meals at home haven’t changed much.
“There hasn’t been a big innovation in the fundamental platform of how people cook in 50 or 60 years since the microwave,” started John Pleasants, CEO of a company called Brava.
They have created a smart oven that uses infrared lights to go from 0 to 500 degrees in less than a second.
Pleasants describes their first product as a “device that is twice as fast as any other cooking device out there,” while using “half the energy.”
The oven isn’t very big – about the size of a bulky toaster oven. Open the door, and the inside reveals several infrared light strips on the top and bottom. The air inside doesn’t heat up. Instead, energy is transferred directly from the lights to the items you are cooking – think of it as cutting out the middleman of wasted energy.
This means “you can also cook the outside and the inside of the food separately, so you can sear a steak and leave it medium rare,” explains Pleasants.
Cooking a meal requires placing it on a specially designed tray. There varients with different materials for different jobs. Each tray is divided into three zones, each can have it own temperature and cooking settings.
The company invited me to a lunch to sample a meal from the oven. I watched a Brava chef place a salmon steak, sliced cherry tomatoes and broccolini on a tray and pop it into the oven.
Proteins like fish and meat require that you stick a special thermometer into them. The thermometer is connected to the oven so it can monitor the cooking process. There is no window on the oven, so a tiny camera inside lets you see what’s happening inside.
Not that you really need to. The beauty of the oven, to borrow from another kitchen gadget, is that you can set it and forget it.
The oven knows what you are cooking since you tell it via a touchscreen. It knows the food in each zone and just how long to cook each item. The infrared lights fire on and off as the cooking process is completed.
There is also some machine vision, learning and artificial intelligence built into the system. The oven actually gets smarter about cooking as more people use it to make steaks, pizzas and even toast.
Once the food is in, you’re able to get on with life for the 15 or 20 minutes it takes to cook the meal. Of course, you can live stream a feed from the inside of the oven to your smartphone screen if you want to check on things from say, the living room couch as you enjoy a glass of wine.
As for my meal, it took just over 12 minutes to cook. The salmon was seared on the underside, making for perfectly crispy skin followed by a delightfully moist interior. The broccolini was charred just right and the tomatoes still had a great snap and burst when you chewed them.
The steak I tried from the Brava was just as expertly made.
What impressed me about the Brava is just how easy a high quality, healthy meal can be in record time. Just chop up some veggies and toss them on a plate with a piece of meat, fish or chicken. You have a high-quality meal in less time than it takes to go through the drive-through or get delivery.
The biggest downside to Brava is the expense. The oven retails for about $1,000. That’s a lot of money for a countertop gadget with an uncertain future. Still, the company is following the phone model and offering the oven at monthly payments as low as about $33 dollars a month. There’s also an optional membership service that provides you with recipes and even ingredient delivery.
Bottom line: Brava is a cutting-edge way to cook a gourmet meal in less time without a lot of fuss. At this price, it will appeal to early adopters and others who want to eat better at home. After doing the math on restaurant meals and takeout, it could pay for itself, but it’s still a tough equation to swallow for the masses.
NOW LISTEN: Here’s an extended interview with Brava CEO John Pleasants, who believes that it’s just a matter of time before infrared light cooking will be a given in the kitchen. As heard on the Rich on Tech Podcast.