We’ve all been there: it’s 6 o’clock on a Friday evening, and you’re ready to leave work after a taxing day at the office. You endure the tiring commute home, slip off your shoes, queue up some tunes, and then suddenly realize that you forgot to buy groceries. You order out that night. And then the next night. And then the night after. And suddenly, takeout becomes a ritual; the thought of cooking — of spending endless time narrowing down a healthy recipe, hunting for the necessary ingredients, and prepping a meal that may or may not turn out the way it looks in Cooking Light — becomes utterly unappetizing.
That’s what Innit wants to change.
“We want to connect food to the kitchen,” Innit co-founder and CEO Kevin Brown told Digital Trends. The Silicon Valley startup, which operated in stealth mode for three years, and whose co-founder, Eugenio Minvielle, previously worked as an exec for Nestlé, has crafted a digital backbone, of sorts, for the connected home kitchen. Smart appliances like wireless stoves, sensor-laden refrigerators, and remote-controlled ovens can tap into Innit’s platform — a sort of unified software hub for everything from grocery management to recipe searches. “It’s plugged into the culinary world,” said Brown.
“If we can leverage tech to encourage people to prepare food for themselves, that’ll be huge.”
Brown demonstrated a prototypical setup in Pirch, a high-end appliance retailer in New York’s SoHo district. “First, you have to start with what groceries you have on hand,” he said, “typically what’s in your refrigerator.” To that end, Innit has developed a multicamera array that can be affixed to the inside doors of most refrigerators on the market. It lets you pan and zoom around your fridge’s cupboards and shelves from within Innit’s smartphone app, and then it feeds data to Innit’s cloud-based intelligence. Thanks to a proprietary object recognition system — a sort of “facial recognition” for food — Innit is able to automatically identify the products in your refrigerator. And by using data supplied by third-party partners, it’s able to serve up nutritional data for those products in what Brown calls an “information halo.” Tap on a banana, for instance, and its calorie count, fat content, protein, and sugar stats display prominently. (Innit will even identify potential allergens — a gluten sensitivity warning to accompany pasta products, for instance.)
That’s not of much use if you’ve got an unstocked fridge, of course — one major reason home cooks don’t shop for groceries is out of fear that perishable good will go “unused,” Brown said. Sam Kass, former White House chef and Innit’s culinary adviser, elaborated: “People don’t want to waste. They feel bad about throwing out a bunch of fruit and veggies.” He quoted a statistic from a 2012 report by the National Resource Defense Council: As much as 40 percent of food grown in the U.S. is never consumed. “If global food waste was a country, it’d be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world behind the U.S. and China,” said Kass. “People buy stuff in the grocery store and don’t know what to do with it.”
Innit has a two-pronged solution to that problem: notify you far in advance of when your food is about to expire and recommend meals based on what you have. Innit constantly monitors your refrigerator shelves for rotting groceries, and, like an all-knowing personal gourmand, serves up recipe recommendations based on the usable ingredients you’ve got. Have some leftover radicchio? Innit will surface a salad mix. Got butternut squash on hand, too? You’ll see recipes that incorporate both. And if you’re missing a key ingredient, Innit will provide a link to add it to your shopping list app of choice.
Innit’s smarts expand far beyond your smartphone and refrigerator. Brown showed a wooden cutting board that, when situated beneath a system of cameras and paired with a wall-mounted touchscreen, can serve up nutritional data and recipe recommendations depending on what foodstuff is in range. “The system might be on a tablet, or built into an appliance, or a cupboard,” Brown said. “We’re trying to leverage all of these individual sources in a cohesive way.”
In that sense, Innit’s goal isn’t to dictate or circumscribe the form factors of devices on which its platform runs. Rather, it’s far simpler: to take whatever steps necessary to make cooking “as easy as heating a frozen meal,” said Kass. Even the most basic of recipes can be intimidating to the average home cook, he said. “People are scared they’ll mess up and make their spouse and kids angry,” he added. “They need to be able to to just hit a button.”
Innit comes pretty darn close to that ideal. Once you’ve found and selected an appealing dish from within Innit’s interface (the app helpfully lets you filter recipes by categories like vegetarian, vegan, and others), you’re given step-by-step directions on preparation. Every recipe is paired with a high-resolution gallery that illustrates the major steps, and some contain embedded video tutorials from The New York Times and YouTube. But the true magic happens when you reach the cooking stage. Thanks to tight integration with connected kitchen appliances, a step involving, say, preheating the oven to 350 degrees can be performed with a simple in-app tap. Variables like temperature can be adjusted seamlessly, as can cooking time and modes. And better yet, most of it is set and forget: Innit notifies you when the food’s done. “Many people don’t use the special settings on their oven,” said Kass, “but if you can get the skin on a chicken to the perfect crispness with just the right amount of broiling, why wouldn’t you?”
But it’s the early days. Innit announced a partnership with Whirlpool on Thursday to integrate the platform’s smarts into Jenn-Air ovens but said that most connected appliances currently on the market aren’t likely to gain compatibility. And Innit’s latest app only sources recipes from a select few applications right now, namely Bon Appetit, Epicurious, and Good Housekeeping. But the startup is nothing if not ambitious. Brown envisions a future version of Innit that integrates with food-delivery services like Amazon Fresh to furnish your fridge on demand and that can pair with a fitness-tracking band to build you a customized, holistic fitness plan.
For now, though, Innit is focusing on the basics: removing the long-standing strictures around home cooking that prevent many would-be cooks from ever stepping foot in the kitchen. “People used to spend an average of 40-something minutes a day cooking. Now, they spend 27,” Kass said. “If we can leverage tech to encourage people to prepare food for themselves, that’ll be huge.”
Innit’s not quite ready for home kitchens yet, but it’s getting there. The startup is set to begin consumer trials at its Pirch showcase on Saturday, and the first Innit-compatible products are scheduled to ship sometime next year.