Tovala: The Easy Bake Oven for Adults
You might use your oven as a semi-convenient form of storage. Or, you might not use it at all.
David Rabie and his team of eight (including two chefs) have created a fancy — but cheap — oven that does four things in one, all from your countertop. The Tovala oven bakes, broils, steams and heats, via convection. It’s Wi-Fi enabled, controlled by an app on your phone and comes with an option for a meal kit service.
Chefs have been using gadgets like this forever. They lovingly call theirs a combi oven, but it’s typically giant and costs a fortune. The Tovala is a shrunken version of the combi, with a few more bells and whistles. We're talking the Easy Bake Oven for #adulting.
Rabie devised the idea in business school at the University of Chicago. The self-described health nut and foodie was looking for a better way to steam his veggies. He entered his invention in the New Venture Challenge contest and, despite his teachers initial skepticism, he won. The $70,000 prize became seed money when he graduated.
The Tovala is live on Kickstarter now, with 15 days to go at time of writing. You can back it for $199. Tovala has raised almost $250,000 from over 900 customers in two weeks.
As the hardware team refined the Tovala, Bryan Wilcox, CTO and cofounder, shifted his attention to the software: mobile app and recipe conversion. With the recipes in binary, the Tovala meal kits will be delivered with a bar code; users scan the lids on their meal kits, and cooking instructions send directly to the oven. When the food is finished, your phone chirps, “Dinner is served.”
Combining an appliance with a meal kit business might seem unwieldy, but it's a strategic way to extend the range of a product, both in sales and marketing. “The meal kit is where the business takes off,” says Rabie.
There’s competition in the countertop oven space, though, namely the June Intelligent Oven, the Gourmia GKM3000 and the Panasonic Countertop Induction Oven, but they’re all slightly different, and not a one is available yet.
Fantasize with me for a moment: Your office replaces the ancient microwave in your kitchen with a few Tovalas and allows employees to order weekly meals. Your desk lunch could go gourmet in 10-30 minutes, and the waste from aluminum trays and plastic lids are a slight improvement on plastic bags from the corner salad bar.
Another example is the Nomiku sous vide machine. The team behind Nomiku just launched a sous vide meal kit service. It’s in private beta right now, and only on the west coast, but it seems clear that as we become more connected and busy, these one-stop solutions don't seem as far-fetched. (Want the private beta? Email: email@example.com.)
If you’re vegan, there’s even an oven and app for you, also on Kickstarter. The team behind TempehSure have cooked up a toaster oven (of sorts) solely for making homemade tempeh, an alternative form of plant-based protein that typically comes from legumes such as peanuts, soybeans, chickpeas and black beans. They’ll ship you the ingredients or you can concoct your own recipes.
Tovala chefs Forrest Mason and Cecilia Garza are expanding their initial batch of recipes for the meal kit launch in December, but once live, users will be able to share their own recipes within the app, and through some crafty crowdsourcing. If they’re good enough and get voted up, the recipe might turn into one of the many meal options offered by the startup. The chef will received a small percentage of sales.
Each meal will run about $10-$15, depending on the dish. I first tried the miso-glazed sea bass and broccoli. The fish was tender and flaky with good flavoring, and the broccoli had enough bite, but was still cooked through. The more decadent beef Wellington had a perfectly crispy puff pastry exterior that belied the tender well-seasoned beef inside. The carrots were cute (they still had their tops), not floppy.
Plans are to ship the meal kits from facilities on both the west and east coast. The Tovala will be made in China, and is slated to ship this December.
The Tovala team recently wrapped a YCombinator co-hort, and in addition to its Kickstarter campaign, the startup is seeking private investment.
But the biggest question remaining is: What sound should the Tovala make when your meal is ready?
Read the original story, originally published for Mashable.