It speaks to just how thoroughly the tech sector is eating the world when machines become readily available to cook your food for you. No more burnt cereal.
I’m standing in the small kitchen in Nomiku’s head office, stashed in a cramped space at the end of a long hallway off Mission Street in San Francisco. The office doubles (er, triples?) as shipping warehouse, experimentation laboratory complete with prototyping 3D printer, and workspace. Company co-founder Lisa Fetterman is walking me through how her immersion circulator, a small plug-and-play pump that attaches to the side of a pot to help cook food “sous-vide” (translation, under vacuum), works. It’s the fanciest answer to “cooking for dummies” I’ve ever seen.
Fetterman says that cooking sous-vide is so easy, it is virtually impossible to screw up. Not only that, she swears, but its results are more delicious. I’m looking at a series of eggs cooking in front of me as she talks. While we wait, she pulls out a series of frozen infused vodka cocktails as a starter. Flavor can also be infused into spirits sous-vide in a matter of hours, when it would take weeks under typical circumstances.
The eggs finish and when I cut one in half that has been cooked at 64.5 degrees it stays in perfect shape. Fetterman instructs me to shut my eyes because at this temperature when I take a bite the mouth can’t discern whether the egg yolk is a liquid or a solid. I feel like a goof, but I do it. The yolk has a pudding-like feel to it. It’s the best.
Sous-vide cooking was invented in 1799. But when Nomiku’s Kickstarter campaign went live in June 2012 – eventually raising $586,000 – Fetterman says that she got hate mail from chefs who felt like she was ripping long held secrets from the hands of culinary masters and putting them in the hands of everybody. She was a former journalist who ended up working in kitchens, founding Nomiku in New York.
Fetterman’s husband and co-founder Abe was finishing his PhD in plasma physics from Princeton at the time and the two were cash strapped, watching endless episodes of the Iron Chef. They wanted to make an affordable version of the immersion circulators they saw on the show and hacked together their own prototype. Eventually, they started making DIY sous-vide kits which they sold at cost to local makers, before entering the HALXR8R hardware incubator and listing on Kickstarter.
It isn’t particularly complicated in concept. An immersion circulator for sous-vide cooking just clips to the side of a pot. You key in the temperature you want the water to heat to — say, 64.5 degrees Celsius for those amazing eggs — and it heats every bit of that water to exactly that same temperature. It is precision slow cooking. You just have to seal the food in a ziplock bag and drop it in the water.
As Fetterman says, you can’t overcook with an immersion circulator. The beauty of sous-vide is that with the pot heated to one even temperature, once the food is the same warmth as the water whatever you’re cooking can exist in stasis for as long as it pleases you. Fetterman tells me that a steak would take close to an hour cooked sous-vide. She once left some ribs in there for five days. The result? Delicious. Nomiku run its own site, bagsoakeat.com, which lists temperature and time information for anything you could possibly want to cook.
Nomiku has sold 3,500 units to date, Fetterman says. Its machine was featured on Rachael Ray. Surprisingly, 80 percent of the company’s customers have been men, who seem to resonate with the element of precision in the sous-vide method, happier to leave the craft and instinct typically needed in the kitchen behind.
For Fetterman, Nomiku’s quest is one of educating consumers. The company has an information line where Fetterman and her co-founders answer sous-vide questions at all hours of the day.
Every subsequent Kickstarter campaign for an immersion circulator that has followed Nomiku has raised more and more money. At the beginning of May, for example, Anova raised $1.4 million. Fetterman plans to head back to the crowdfunding platform later in the year for the launch of its newest model.
I leave a believer. The battle in front of Nomiku is long, but Fetterman just seems psyched to have bought another proponent to her cause.