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The Automated Commercial Kitchen

In my course Introduction to Hospitality, I taught on the emerging trend of artificial intelligence in commercial food preparation. I instructed the students to form an argument in favor of, or against this technology being allowed in commercial operations. In most cases, the students were split into two groups, given twenty minutes to form their position then return to class and debate the topis before a panel of peer decision-makers. What often struck me while not surprisingly was the default to self-preservation. The young chefs in training wrestled with the notion that a machine or robot would assume any future prospect of employment. The arguments ranged from "machines can't taste the food", "nobody would want a robot cooking their food" to some generalization that the machine would naturally malfunction and wreak havoc on the food service operation. Rarely did my students initially arrive or look to the opportunities presented to revolutionize commercial food production. Automation has the potential to elevate the industry in many ways.

Culinary Automation offers the potential to raise the profession to be on par with other licensed professions that rely on certifications and credentials to validate industry standards. Foodservice work is deemed to be low skilled. Unless you are a chef or cook in a high-end restaurant it is considered little skill is required to produce much of the commercially available retail food we consume in the U.S. While those in the foodservice industry know this is far from the reality of highly technical skills required to feed people. The reality is commercial food service is much more akin to auto manufacturing or similar assembly-line production methods. And this is where the foodservice industry is stuck. For fear of "losing jobs" or "young cooks must pay dues" the industry has not fully invested in the research and development to reduce the dependency on low skilled, low wage labor to dice onions, tomatoes and green bell peppers.

Embracing automation forces a different set of skills, a different type of cook, chef, and food service manager. This new software informed, data-aware culinary professional looks, acts, and functions differently than the chef of the past. According to an article published by GlobeTrennder, "Robotic Chefs are set to Transform Restaurant Kitchens around the World".

Skilled in the preparation of everything from fresh sourdough pizza to gourmet burgers, robotic chefs could be the hot new recruit in restaurant kitchens of the future. Samuel Ballard reports

Much like the trend analysis, I taught in my hospitality course and as the article discusses, the foodservice industry is shifting rapidly. The pandemic added momentum. So we are in the midst of a disruption I would argue is for the better. Culinary Automation will require technology and culinary to join forces in new ways. Emerging chefs must adapt to the new landscape. A traditional culinary education will do its part to educate about ingredients, ingredient functionality, modern cooking methods, and flavor development. Chefs can use the current "downtime" to upskill in areas such as data analysis, food manufacturing, and HACCP Certification. Culinary careers will demand it.

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