I’m excited to say that I project that I was heavily involved with has come to fruition, and has been written up in Businessweek (which quotes me quite generously ). It’s the Turbochef speed-cook oven, a very high-end double wall oven that can cook foods in speeds a fraction of their normal time (such as a 12lb turkey in 42 minutes instead of several hours). Unlike earlier fast-cooking methods such as microwaves, I can attest from personal experience that Turbochef’s oven turns out dishes that are at least as good as those cooked in conventional ovens. This was a really challenging and interesting project to work on, as I enjoy cooking and the culture of food, as well as figuring out how to make high tech products fit into people’s existing lives and ways of doing things.
This was a real 360 degree problem. To understand its whole scope we did a broad range of research to arrive at the insights that led to the distinctive design: ethnography, retail interviews and shadowing, talking with pro-chefs and caterers, talking with kitchen designers, taking cooking classes, researching changes over the last 50 years of food’s relationship to culture/technology/gender roles, and using the oven itself to learn its differences.
A number of speed cook ovens have been on the market for a while, but none have been very successful. In fact, Turbochef provided us an older oven based on a variation of their technology (sold under another brand) for us to use, and use it we did for frog’s traditional “coffeetime” that all frog offices do at 4pm. My colleague, Pilar Strutin-Belinoff, worked up a great array of recipes for us to try in the oven for a week, and it gave us a great lesson of using the product first hand, and what things we really needed to work on in the interface.
Though the unusual looks of the oven (more on that in a moment) are what grab attention first, the interface was a huge challenge. Speedcooking ovens work in a fundamentally different way, not just in terms of their technologies but also in how they affect your cooking style and the timing of your dishes. Figuring out how long to cook something is more complicated than usual as you cannot rely on normal menu instructions. The cooking temperature and method (convection, forced air, or microwave) have to be varied algorithmically over time, which requires knowing exactly what’s in the oven, both in terms of composition and weight. The interface had to gracefully accomodate all this complexity in a way that helped occasional cooks feel comfortable and not make enthusiast cooks feel shackled. The interface design team at frog, led by Cordell Ratzlaff, did a great job.
The industrial design was led by Andy Logan, and the look of it is stunning (and the pictures don’t really convey the sensuality and massiveness of the design). It intentionally harkens back to older stoves like Wedgewoods, which was something we found in our in-home visits that people really had fond memories of, and they really preferred that softer feel to the hard-edged modern ovens. (Check out the slideshow that Businessweek has handily provided, you’ll see a lot of these “euro” style ovens.) There are many details I love about the design, not least of which is the analog clock.
Businessweek makes passing mention of the business challenge of this project also: Turbochef was a commercial company trying to enter the residential space, which is a very difficult thing to do in this industry; there aren’t that many precedents. It’s not well known that Viking actually didn’t start out as a commercial appliance manufacturer, they have conjured a well-crafted story giving that impression (and done very well with it). Wolf is one of the few to have succeeded. But I think Turbochef is in great shape to succeed as well. The oven was a hit at the big kitchen appliance show K/BIS earlier this year, and it’s exciting to see how it will do in the market.