You know the scene. In Back to the Future 2, Future Jennifer grabs a conveniently-branded Pizza Hut pizza that looks like the ugly-side of a frisbee, tosses it in a rehydrator, and, a few seconds later, pulls out a pie that looks like the Platonic ideal of every Pizza Hut pizza ever.
Well, we’re not quite there yet, but I’ve seen the June Intelligent Oven in action and it gets us a lot closer.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Van Horn, Co-Founder and CEO of June. Currently taking preorders, the June Oven is in the final stages of production, with delivery slated for the holiday season this year.
“I love to cook, but I’m frustrated by the stress of working and making time to cook,” Matt started out. “What Nikhil [Bhogal, Co-Founder and CTO] and I wondered was ‘Why is everything in your kitchen so dumb?'”
It’s not unsurprising that Van Horn and Nikhil would immediately start to think of smart solutions to old problems. After all, Matt co-founded Lyft after a trip oversees where he saw old-school ride-sharing in action (in other words, you find someone going your way and you just hitch a ride). And Nikhil is responsible for what is probably my favorite feature in the Apple iPhone, that little innocuous camera access icon in the lower right of the lock screen. These are guys who see tech as something that should be presented simply and that can improve our lives with ease.
We wanted to take hard technology and put it in a simple package. How often do you get home and you’re completely at a loss for what to make? What do you do? You order takeout. Now, delivery pizzas are easy, but you’re rarely satisfied afterwards. We’re making the June Oven to inspire people and enable them to cook more.
A new dad himself, Matt has directly experienced how food frustration and parenting can go hand in hand.
I love slow-cooked sous vide eggs [a technique where you immerse the food in a temperature-controlled water bath]. But since my daughter was born, I rarely have the time to set aside to prepare them. Then I got the idea to try it out in the June. I grabbed the [temperature] probe, stuck it in my eggs, set the temperature on the June, and let it go. Right around that time, my daughter started crying. So I go to get her calmed down. Now, usually, I’d be freaking out at this point because I’ve left something cooking. But I have her in one arm, and I pull out my phone with the other and check the app. I can see that my eggs have about 5-10 minutes till they reach the temperature I want. And I can actually see the the eggs thanks to the internal camera, so I know they’re OK. So I’m not stressed about my food and I can get her back down calmly. Then I put perfect eggs out for me and my wife and she just gapes at me “When did you have the time to do this?”
When Matt showed off the oven, I was equally impressed. The dual convection oven resembles an overly large toaster oven, but the entire front is one consistent piece of glass with a machined aluminum knob. There is an embedded touch screen panel on the right that guides you through a myriad of functions. The top has a built in kitchen scale and the interior has two temperature probes and six carbon fiber heating elements (not to mention LED lights and an internal camera). Basically, it looks like the best possible mash-up between an iPhone and a toaster oven.
But looks mean nothing if there isn’t functionality to back it up. As Matt cycled through the various screens, the June Oven appeared responsive and simple to use. Though I did notice that there are a lot of options available. I can see this being one of those devices like a digital SLR camera–where you have a million options at your fingertips, but you only use a few of them. But here’s where I sat up a little taller and paid a bit more attention. Matt grabbed a small tray containing two cookies (which I silently took issue with, because what kind of monster only makes two cookies?) and popped them in the oven. Before he got the door closed, the June Oven’s screen had changed, correctly identifying, not only that there were two items in the oven, but that they were cookies and should be baked for a certain amount of time at a certain temperature. All Matt had to do was click one button to verify the settings and the oven started. I should note that it was starting up cold–because of the high heat transfer of the carbon fiber elements, there’s no need to preheat the June Oven. There are 25 presets already built in to the June Oven, with more on the way as the community starts submitting user data on how they’re using their hardware. And these are more than just properly toasting a bagel or baking a cookie–if the June Oven detects a food that it knows should have a crisp crust or needs to be browned, it will switch from convection to broil at the end of a cooking cycle to properly finish your food.
I never did get to see how those cookies turned out (our interview ended before the 15-minute bake cycle was done), but it was fascinating watching them through the clear glass front of the oven to see how they puffed up and looked like scoops of ice cream before flattening out. Matt wants to see a “cookie-lapse” option in the companion app where videos of cool chemical reactions like this can be recorded using the June Oven’s internal cameras, then shared.
It’s a tall order, trying to singlehandedly wrest control of the kitchen away from its most central appliance. And the price reflects the kind of paradigm shift we’re talking about–the June Oven is $1,495, with $95 of that due when you pre-order your unit. Does the high-end hardware and better user experience justify the cost? Will you save enough by ordering less takeout pizzas or heating up your energy-hungry oven for just a couple of servings? The answer is more subjective than most. Personally, if I had the spare money, I’d be getting ready to kick my 15-year-old toaster oven to the curb and plunking it down today. I’m hoping that others feel the same way; the more people that adopt June Oven, the more that price will shift to something that’s accessible to more budgets. I would love for it to be economical enough that I could send one with my son when he goes to college in a few years. It’s the perfect device to save him from his “can toast a waffle and that’s it” paucity of culinary skill.
Currently, pre-orders are slated for a December release. If you’re ready, head over to the June Oven site and reserve yours now! As soon as I can get my hands on one, I’ll have a full review.