The futuristic machine’s lid automatically lowers and locks in place.
The contraption, which looks like a cross between a food processor and a frying pan, begins to spin and whirr — think a washing machine gearing up for its spin cycle. But it’s not cleaning clothes. It’s getting ready to cook.
Soon the top opens and a side compartment filled with a thick brown sauce is catapulted into the pan. Thirty seconds after, a container of fried chicken to be launched into the fray. Steam begins to rise from the lid vents.
Less than a minute later, the lid rises one last time as the machine plays a robotic tune reminiscent of a Nokia cell phone ringtone from 2004. The song is met by the sound of sizzling and the sweet, tangy scent of General Tso’s Chicken fills the air.
Dinner is served. By a robot.
The machine isn’t just a piece of equipment at Komodo, a new Chinese restaurant in Brick. It’s essentially a staff member; one of six such contraptions that prepare nearly ever single dish on the menu.
Fried rices, sauces and soups are still made by hand, but almost every other dish is cooked by machine. All the staff has to do is load ingredients into the proper section, hit the right buttons on the machine’s touch screen, and the automated cooking begins.
“You press the button, it beeps, the top comes up and you’re ready,” co-owner and Red Bank native George Beyar said.
Komodo, which opened on April 3, believes it is the first eatery in the United States using the technology.
Beyar and a group of partners were looking to get into the restaurant industry when they saw a demonstration of Megcook Automatic Cooking Pots and were immediately sold. Restaurant partner Johnny Guan said they found out many restaurants in China employ the technology, but didn’t know of any in the United States using it. The ability to cook food consistently, quickly and with a smaller restaurant staff made the machines an easy choice for the restaurant.
“It’s consistent,” Beyar said. “When you go to other restaurants, it matters who’s cooking it. We do the same ingredients, as far as the sauces, and do the same process, and those machines are exact.”
As restaurants across New Jersey struggle to hire and the industry aims to rebound after massive COVID-19 losses, Beyar sees the robots enabling him to run a small staff but also hire almost anyone to work in the kitchen.
“You really cut down on the manpower because I could run four machines (at once),” Beyar said. “We could have younger people come in and learn how to use them in and work just like any other restaurant, like McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A.”
Beyar and Guan say the restaurant has already been embraced by the Brick community, with a steady base of regular customers already building. They hope to continue expanding with locations in Edison and New Brunswick within the next year.
“We want to be the next Panda Express,” Guan said.
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