With some carefully written code, anyone can cook like a world-renowned chef.

That's according to Kimbal Musk, restaurateur and founder of sustainable eateries the Kitchen and Next Door. (And, of course, younger brother of Elon.) Musk spoke onstage Wednesday at The Wall Street Journal's Future of Everything Festival in New York City.

Next Door--which has restaurants in Colorado, Tennessee, and Indiana--has begun using futuristic tech that can be programmed to automatically prepare food in complicated ways. Musk gave the example of cooking braised short ribs, which generally takes about three hours and is difficult to perfect.

"It might take a chef five or 10 years to get just right, so it tastes great and isn't too tough or too dry," he said. "With these ovens we use, you sit a two-star Michelin chef next to a software engineer and have them code it. Then it can make braised short ribs that are just as good as if they were cooked by a two-star Michelin chef, but they're made by an 18-year-old."

Musk explained that the ovens can be programmed to perform different processes, such as baking, steaming, or roasting. There's little work needed from the cook, besides the initial chopping and prepping. 

Asking for a show of hands Wednesday as to how many people had been to an Applebee's or Chili's in the past 10 years--about half the people in the room raised their hands--Musk spoke about the way those chains draw in customers with low price points facilitated by food that's cooked days or weeks ahead of time. He said his restaurants use other methods, like working with local farmers, to achieve comparable price points.

In a recent interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal, Musk called the ovens used in Next Door's kitchens "the most high-tech ovens in the world," telling the publication that the lower labor costs--paying an 18-year-old instead of a two-star Michelin chef--allow his company to serve great food at more affordable prices. (Affordable may be in the eye of the beholder: Prices for a main dish at Next Door range from about $9 to $20.)

More kitchen jobs for 18-year-olds perhaps isn't great news for those two-star Michelin chefs. Musk, however, said the end goal is a noble one. "Automation," he argued, "is enabling good food at scale."

Published on: May 10, 2018