The Silicon Valley–based company launched in November 2015, and while there’s no date set for release, former White House chef and senior nutrition policy advisor Sam Kass recently took on the role of chief consumer experience officer to help shape Innit’s impact on the future of home cooking. We spoke with Kass after the recent International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference, where he and Innit cofounders Kevin Brown and Eugenio Minvielle discussed how technology is enabling people to cook healthier, more delicious meals using high-tech sensors, cloud computing and data analytics. Here, Kass tells us how Innit works, how technology can reduce food waste and what the future of the kitchen looks like.
Innit was introduced to a crowd of heavy-hitter culinary professionals last weekend at IACP. What was their reaction?
The reaction was quite positive — people were intrigued when we pointed out the fact that our lives have been transformed with technology in basically every facet, but that innovation has missed the kitchen. The only breakthrough in the last 70 years has been the microwave, and that doesn’t help with much. The question we have to ask is, “What’s the opportunity for technology to help make it easier for families to cook?” If we can harness the power of innovation to help us cook food with confidence and reduce the stressful parts — knowing what to buy, how to prepare it, then worrying about it turning out right — we can really help people live better lives.
What made you excited about working on Innit?
We already know that everything gets better when families are cooking and eating; I don’t know of anything more important to food systems than cooking more. That’s the foundation, we need to start thinking outside the box about how we’re going to accomplish that, and that’s what’s so exciting about what we’re about and what we do. We can really be a game-changer with implications throughout the entire supply chain. If we “listen” to the food and determine where we go from there as opposed to imposing our will upon food, it brings about a fundamental shift in how we cook.
In a future where Innit-enabled kitchens are suggesting recipes and helping you cook them, are we now passing down our favorite recipes that Innit taught us, instead of Grandma’s lasagna or Aunt Patty’s famous coconut cake?
No, not at all. It’ll take us a little while, but a lot of the recipes we’re going to be using on the platform are with content partners. Over the long term, we want people to take those recipes and make them their own, or put their own recipes into the platform and be able to share them. You’ll be able to say, “I just made the best ribs ever; I want to show my friends.” Your kitchen will know exactly what’s happening, and you’ll be able to email [the recipe] to them.
What are the sensors detecting when deciding how fresh or less-than-fresh your food is?
We’re using spectrometer technology on a molecular level — there are a lot of different data points we’re putting together to track and monitor the quality of food in your fridge.
After Innit software starts showing up in appliances, how long would it be before the average American family has an Innit-enabled kitchen?
I think it’s going to come in pieces. Our hope is to partner with appliance manufacturers and empower them to support families through food. We believe that the food itself can tell us a lot about how best to prepare it, so we’ll let the food talk to the appliance. I think it’s going to happen in the relatively short-term future. Many appliances now are Wi-Fi-enabled, and they’ll just keep getting smarter and smarter.
Is the smartphone-enabled sous vide machine — which several companies have recently launched or are about to launch — a step in the right direction?
I think the day everyone has one of those is not probably in my lifetime, but there are real benefits to that kind of cooking — setting it and telling it what time you want dinner done. We’ve got to get the price down on these machines, though. I think we need some real innovation that’s going to focus on what people need, like a fridge that helps you work on what you already have.
How do you define food “fit for consumption”? What can we do as a nation to shift our attention away from expiration dates?
I think in the future, not far off, packaging and refrigerators will also become smart, and we’re going to get much more sophisticated about monitoring the quality of food in general. In the store, the packaging will tell you how fresh the food is. Dynamic pricing will factor in and have a huge impact on food waste. Sellers will be able to sell produce at a discount, which is a way to get good-quality, affordable food when we don’t have the market power to buy certain things. It’s just such a big inefficiency in the system when we’re throwing away 40 percent of food while still paying for it.
Whose responsibility is it to find a home for so-called “ugly produce”?
I think that ugly produce even exists is ridiculous. I think it’s up to all of us, but consumers foremost. It’s up to us to buy it. The reason it’s thrown out is because people are only looking for perfect oranges. We have to say we want this stuff, then stores have to respond. If people will buy it, they’ll sell it.