As I drop a quartet of refrigerated, uncooked rice balls into a pot of bubbling oil, the stove knobs below my hands start moving automatically to increase the heat and return the oil back to its normal temperature. Later, once the temperature level is almost back to normal, the knobs slowly turn the other way to ease into the desired degree and keep the oil from going one degree over. Another minute passes, and a smartphone app tells me to remove the cheese balls from the oil. The end result is a perfectly-cooked Arancini that tastes fantastic.
This is cooking with Meld.
Founded by veterans of Amazon, Pinterest, and RichRelevance, Meld today launched a Kickstarter for a stovetop temperature control system that consists of attachable knobs and a metal clip.
The knobs, which work with existing oven ranges, are controlled by a temperature-sensing clip that sits in boiling water, oil, or any liquid in a pot on the stove. The clip, meanwhile, communicates with a recipe app — when a user starts cooking something, the app tells the clip to reach a specific temperature and the knobs then turn automatically.
The idea is to help people control temperature throughout the cooking process and bring some innovation to an appliance that’s largely stayed the same for decades.
“If you test the same pan on different oven ranges and set the temperature to ‘medium-high,’ you’ll see 100-degree variations,” said Meld co-founder Darren Vengroff. “‘Medium-high’ doesn’t mean anything, whereas if you can control temperature precisely to within a degree or so, you can cook all kinds of things beautifully.”
Vengroff, formerly the Chief Scientist at RichRelevance, first met his co-founder Jon Jenkins while the two worked together at Amazon a decade ago. Knowing that each had a passion for engineering and hardware, the duo always wanted to launch a startup together.
They took the leap last year after coming up with the idea for Meld, which is now bootstrapped by the founders. Vengroff, an experienced chef, had previously built an award-winning Sous Vide app. But he knew that only people with a bulky, expensive Sous Vide machine could really use his app to help improve their cooking.
“Sous Vide is something not everyone is going to do,” Vengroff said. “The question was, can we actually do something to bring that level of precision to the stovetop and to cooking techniques that normal people use everyday?”
Thus was the birth of Meld, as the team spent more than a year working with 3D-printers at the startup’s Nickerson Marina office in Ballard and iterating the functionality of the entire system multiple times.
One neat aspect of the Meld hardware is that it works on almost any stovetop oven, from the $200 beater that Jenkins bought off Craigslist for testing purposes, to a luxury oven that retails for $10,000.
“You already have a great source of a lot of heat — you just have no control,” Vengroff explained. “That’s the missing part.”
Jenkins, who headed up Pinterest’s engineering group after leaving Amazon in 2012, said he’s most excited about helping people with a common problem. Most everybody — even professional chefs — have either burnt something or undercooked a particular food on the stove top, he said. Meld wants to be a solution that can eliminate those frustrations.
“We have this ability to create a device that people will interact with on a near-daily basis, and to me that’s really interesting,” Jenkins said.
There are a number of applications for the Meld hardware and accompanying app, whether it’s making soup, frying french fries, simmering beer that’s cooking bratwursts, or, as the video below demonstrates, poaching eggs.
Vengroff said that Meld’s products will appeal to anyone looking to take their cooking to the next level, be it the head chef at a world famous restaurant or an amateur trying to impress some friends. Even for those that treat cooking as an art, Vengroff explained how a hi-tech tool like Meld can be advantageous.
“We can let that person really concentrate on the concept and flavors, like deciding whether to put tarragon or dill in a particular sauce,” he said. “They can spend all their time creating fantastic dishes, knowing that their sauce will simmer at the right temperature for the right amount of time while they roast the chicken and potatoes that go with the meal.”
The knob and clip will retail for $149 together, but on Kickstarter the package is available for $129. The first 250 units will be sold at $99. Learn more about the Meld products here.