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Updated on: Saturday, July 31, 2021, 09:39 PM IST

Here's how start-ups like Tinychef, RoboChef, others are using Artificial Intelligence to make cooking easy

They are leaving no stones unturned to use Machine Learning, Analytics, and the Internet of Things to their advantage to help cook with ease, at the touch of a button, or through a voice command
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Giving commands to cloud-based voice services for ordering your favourite meal from a food outlet is a commonplace activity for many. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Analytics, Robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to their advantage, tech start-ups such as Tinychef, Robotic Kitchen, and Euphotic Labs have stepped in to make the cooking process hassle-free, effortless, and automated for the time-starved and always on-their-toes generation.

Tinychef uses voice commands to take eating-in experience many notches up as it helps users discover, plan, shop, and cook. It has a meal planner that accounts for diet, cuisine, and family preference and a shopping experience that eliminates confusion and estimation; along with a way to cook, integrated seamlessly with a layer of smart AI-based technology. Robotic Kitchen's RoboChef happens to be the world's first fully automated robotic kitchen that can cook 2300 complex dishes while handling the whole cooking process autonomously, Euphotic Labs' app-driven autonomous cooking robot called Nosh can prepare about 200 dishes. Both the robots can customize the food according to a person's taste preferences.

Starting point

Tinychef was conceptualized when serial tech entrepreneur Bahubali Shete started pondering over how AI could simplify people’s complex and labour-intensive tasks in the kitchen. To find a solution, he approached people with a question, 'What is one piece of tech that your family loves, but you also wish you had for your kitchen?' "An 80-year-old lady wished for something like Google Maps in the kitchen. That's how Tinychef, then called Klovechef, was born in 2017 as the “Google Maps” for home-makers, home cooks, and urban professionals in the kitchen," says Shete. Its other co-founders include Asha Shete and celebrity Masterchef and entrepreneur Sanjeev Kapoor.

The platform offers everything from automatic meal planning and one-click grocery shopping to voice-guided cooking and works in sync with connected appliances.

Recently, the voice-first culinary AI platform acquired food tech app, Zelish, co-founded by Rakesh Edavalath, Saakshi Jain, and Arpit Joseph. The coming together of these two AI-powered companies gives them a distinct edge. Zelish gives Tinychef a powerful app with a highly engaged user base. Similarly, this alliance also gives Zelish a chance to integrate with Tinychef’s voice-assisted-and-enabled hands-free cooking universe.

Chennai-based Saravanan Sundaramoorthy, Founder & CEO, RoboChef, was perturbed by the inconsistencies in taste and operations of restaurants and F&B brands. After years of research, he launched his Made in India product RoboChef in 2018. "F&B industry has been facing umpteen issues such as hygienic kitchen operations, ensuring consistent taste every single run, transparency in business operations, and shortage of skilled workforce. We envisioned bringing transparency and control on the F&B and cooking operations by automating the whole kitchen operations, powered by Robotics, IoT, Analytics, AI & ML," says Sundaramoorthy.

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Hailing from a nondescript village called Kantva in Gujarat, Yatin Varachhia and his wife constantly struggled to find the food they loved to eat in Bengaluru. The couple juggled between work, commute, cooking, and had zero luck finding a cook with expertise in Gujarati cuisines. "That’s when and how the idea to create Nosh was born. I spoke to more than 100 friends here and the US and found that about 50% of them face similar challenges managing their food," he recounts on his entrepreneurial journey. He co-founded Nosh with Pranav Raval, Amit Kumar Gupta, and Sudeep Gupta in 2018. After working tirelessly for three years, six prototypes, numerous recipe iterations, and countless user feedback, their product Nosh, powered by Robotics, computer vision and AI, is available for pre-order now.

Unique Selling Proposition

Kapoor came aboard Tinychef, largely seeing the merit of how the core technology was helping in reaching out to a much wider user base with just a click of a button or, better still, on simple voice command. "Much like how technology has crept into every aspect of our lives, it was only a matter of time that it took over our kitchens as well. Especially with a younger generation now stepping in more frequently to cook and be inventive; so the use of technology is inevitable, making its use extremely fascinating," says Kapoor.

RoboChef's USP is its global monopoly in the fully automated robotic kitchen space. "We are the only global commercial robotic system that can cook from one portion to 10000 portions and support both Ala-Carte and bulk cooking through our seven different machine variants," says Sundaramoorthy.

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There is a spurt in players in pizza automation, salad making machines, but what sets RoboChef apart from others in the ilk is its capacity to cook anything, from biryanis to pastas to full thali, from desserts to soups, and everything in between too. Varachhia couldn't agree more with him on how there is a lot of movement in the automatic cooking solutions space. "Moley Robotics has been trying to automate the kitchen using robotic hands, but it costs about 100,000 pounds. There are a lot of pizza robots and a few automated cooking machines for restaurants as well. A Singapore-based company called Zimplistic has developed a roti-making machine called Rotimatic, which makes roti directly from flour," he says on the tech innovations in the culinary segment.

Apart from providing a robotic kitchen solution, RoboChef also provides a robotic kitchen Operating System to help digitally manage the recipes, track ingredients and inventory usage, help businesses monitor culinary operations digitally and remotely, identify sales trends, provide F&B Business Analytics, give insights, integrate with POS solution, developer API access, and offer predictive maintenance.

Nosh makes the whole cooking journey seamless with meal planning and grocery ordering and also celebrates cooking through the recipe marketplace for home chefs. "Nosh has inbuilt meal planning and grocery ordering function that will let users plan what dishes they want to eat over the week, and based on their preferences, Nosh will auto-create a grocery list. Additionally, consumers can order these groceries from the app itself. It also brings dishes from diverse cuisines to consumer's home and, on the other hand, gives home chefs a platform to disseminate their recipes across the globe and earn from it," says Varachhia.

Market base

RoboChef has crossed the three million meals mark with our Robotic Kitchens. "We been enjoying overwhelming response in India and globally as we have different variants to cater to a range customers, from cloud kitchens, restaurants, hotels, industrial caterers, paying guests, hostels, schools, colleges, and community kitchens, we can customise our product according to the requirement," says Sundaramoorthy.

Euphotic Labs has also received an overwhelming response from users to its pre-order offer. "We are taking only 1000 pre-orders for 2022 and are very close to achieving that target. We were amazed by the response. Initially, we thought that India would be slow to adopt a cooking robot. We received close to 100+ pre-orders on the launch day. Surprisingly, a lot of senior citizens placed the pre-orders," says Varachhia.

On the other hand, nearly four million recipes were requested, and over 1.7 million meals have been cooked using the Tinychef in India alone, and over half a million recipes were made using Zelish last year. Tinychef already has over a million users and over 100,000 active monthly users in India. By acquiring Zelish, Tinychef will also gain access to the app’s 125,000 users, 35% of whom are monthly active users.

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Speaking on the acquisition, Jain says, With Tinychef in the picture, users will soon be able to relish the Zelish experience on voice assistants such as Alexa and wouldn't have to go back and forth on recipe videos.”

It is exciting as voice search queries in India are growing at 270% and over 82% of smartphone users are already using voice search regularly. "The app currently has a user retention rate of 40%, and grocery shopping pilots have seen nearly 50,000 users/month add ingredients to shopping lists across the app/partner channels. The acquisition is projected to help Tinychef achieve MoM growth of 70%," says Shete.

Taste of success

Kapoor, who has spent a major part of his career cooking to perfect the nuances and teaching and training in a simple way, says, "Now the same can be achieved more efficiently and interestingly through the use of innovation and technology. The interactivity with the user has grown manifold which helps me in understanding their needs. I can take advantage of the same knowledge by making our content sharper and targeted towards individual needs. Our team has years of experience not only in technology but also in cooking."

Sundaramoorthy finds the use of technology inevitable in culinary arts, and for good. "It ensures super hygienic cooking, transparency in operations, zero food wastage, on-demand cooking, adding your custom recipes, reduced carbon footprint, variety of recipes, ensuring great taste, consistency every single time, and zero stress."

Kapoor has positively impacted the culinary experience of many like Ritu Karkar, who finds Tinychef very useful. "I used to spend a lot of time every week planning my meals and then generating a grocery shopping list from it. This app helps me build my weekly meal plan in a jiffy and gives me great recipes every week based on my taste and preferences," she says.

However, Varachhia believes that it is still a long way to go for technology and AI in culinary arts. "What we are automating is the just replication of the recipes with the use of science and algorithms. The art of recipe creation lies with home chefs and culinary professionals," he says. At the same time, technology can play a significant role in storing recipes forever. As Varachhia, who used to love his granny's dishes, regrets that he can't get the same now as she is no more. "That’s why, we are committed to creating a lot of recipes in our database and storing it forever while keeping the taste of these recipes intact," he says.

Sundaramoorthy's RoboChef too ensures that the legacy of various recipes is digitally preserved for generations. "We see democratizing the culinary experience to a global audience would help sustain the rich culinary traditions for future generations," he says.

Tech that

Kapoor feels that the most significant challenge for these tech-enabled and assisted culinary platforms in India is adoption. "Traditional homes are still averse and quite overwhelmed by AI and reversing that is what will lead to an exponential growth in the coming years. From a takeaway standpoint, one key takeaway is keeping things simple," he says.

On the other hand, Varachhia feels the real challenge is the availability of talented AI engineers, given the dearth of AI companies in the culinary sector in India. "Further, most of the engineers have never stepped into the kitchen for cooking. So, we go through a rigorous selection process and groom passionate fresh college graduates to drive this innovation and build an ecosystem here in India so that Indian students don’t have to travel abroad for such opportunities," he adds.

So instead of saying TGIF, it is time to say, thank God, there's the technology that makes food easy to cook and good to eat with less effort and zero stress.

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Published on: Sunday, August 01, 2021, 07:00 AM IST
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