Amazon and Food Network want to prove the future of kitchen tech is in smart displays
As our homes become more connected with smart doorbells, lightbulbs and TVs, one room tends to get left out of the conversation: The kitchen. Amazon Alexa may have become a staple for many home chefs for setting timers and reading ingredients, but few other smart kitchen tools have made a real dent in the way we prepare food.
The Food Network wants to change that. The Food Network Kitchen app and subscription service -- originally debuted alongside the now-available Echo Show 8 at an Amazon event in September, and released in October -- brings live and on-demand cooking lessons from celebrity chefs to the $130 touch screen smart display, along with iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire Tablets, Fire TV and Alexa, with more to come. The app's goal is to use technology to become a personal kitchen companion, helping you step by step while you cook.
Past smart kitchen efforts have been hampered by the price and practicality of devices like smart ovens or refrigerators. But combining Food Network's familiar brand and celebrity chefs with newer, smaller and cheaper smart display technology could open a way for people to actually interact more with tech in the kitchen.
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The Amazon and Food Network partnership was born from both companies hearing from customers who said they wanted to explore cooking, but lacked the confidence needed to try new things in the kitchen, said Paul Cousineau, director of home organization at Amazon Alexa.
The Food Network Kitchen app offers hundreds of on-demand cooking classes, including 500 beginner classes, and hundreds of step-by-step instructional videos to help with this task.
"The ability to simply ask Alexa for a recipe, video, ingredients list and more without having to tap a screen while your hands are messy is a great benefit to interacting with Food Network Kitchen with Echo Show," Cousineau said.
Though Amazon dominates the smart display market, the Google Nest Hub -- which CNET rates the best overall smart display -- also offers many of the same hands-free, step-by-step recipe abilities as the Amazon Echo Show. Partnering with Food Network and its many celebrity chefs is a way for Amazon to differentiate itself in the kitchen smart speaker space.
A personalized sous chef
In Food Network Kitchen's daily live cooking classes with celebrity chefs, including Anne Burrell and Valerie Bertinelli, users will be able to submit questions and get feedback from chefs or culinary experts in the coming months, said Tyler Whitworth, senior vice president and general manager of direct-to-consumer at Food Network's parent company, Discovery.
"We wanted to build this kitchen companion that customers could use on a regular basis to help them build their skills and have more fun in something that is central to all of our lives, but sometimes people feel can be pretty difficult," Whitworth said.
There will be 25 live and interactive classes offered per week. Eventually users will have access to other Food Network chefs, including Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri, Martha Stewart, Alton Brown and Ina Garten.
The live and on-demand classes offer a more personalized cooking experience than home chefs had previously had access to, said Michael Symon, a Food Network chef and restaurateur.
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"Rather than just reading a recipe, subscribers are now able to 'view and do' alongside us, knowing that we have tested the steps," Symon said. "Being able to ask questions during the live classes, Food Network Kitchen will help build confidence and encourage home cooks to continue exploring new ingredients, flavors and techniques."
With the Echo Show, users can ask Alexa to open the app and search cooking shows or recipes by name. When you're watching a class or lesson while cooking, you can use voice commands to have Alexa go to the next step, or back to the previous one. You can also double-check what ingredients you need by asking questions like, "Alexa, how much sugar do I use?"
App users can order ingredients through Amazon Fresh, Instacard, or PeaPod. Within every recipe and class, customers can click "shop ingredients," select their provider and create a cart to make an order for delivery.
In 2020, Food Network Kitchen will expand its features to include 24/7 culinary support. So if, for example, you have a question about what to substitute for a certain ingredient, someone will be able to help you. Other upcoming features include culinary equipment delivery and more exclusive content, Whitworth said.
The app's service will cost $48 a year, or $4 per month. For now, you can take advantage of a 90-day free trial period before subscribing.
The future of smart cooking
Smart display installations rose 558% in 2018 -- by January 2019, more than 13% of people who owned smart speakers had adopted smart displays as well, up from about 3% the year before, according to the US Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report 2019. Amazon dominates the smart display space, with its devices accounting for two-thirds of the installed user base, the report found.
Food Network isn't the only company making a bet on more accessible smart cooking via smart displays: Thousands of Buzzfeed's Tasty recipes and cooking videos became available on Alexa this month in a new format that helps you get step-by-step voice and video recipe instructions, along with the ability to add ingredients to your shopping list and save your favorite recipes with your voice.
Despite Amazon and Google's recent truce that brought YouTube apps to the Fire TV, the YouTube app is not yet available on the Echo Show, and you can't watch YouTube videos with direct Alexa commands. That makes apps like Tasty and Food Network Kitchen more appealing options for home chefs looking for digital assistance on smart displays.
When it comes to Alexa and Echo Show's kitchen capabilities, "we've just scratched the surface of what's possible," Cousineau said. "The power of ambient computing really comes to life in the kitchen when everything works together. We envision a kitchen where everything works together -- no matter the device maker, product or service -- by simply asking Alexa."
For more, check out Get a smart kitchen without buying new appliances.