Countertop smart scale bakes in recipe smarts: Hands-on

Kitchen tech is big money, and Googling a recipe on your iPhone while you try to remember how many tablespoons are in a cup is no longer cutting it. Orange Chef believes it has the answer with Countertop, a new smart kitchen platform that bakes in NFC and Bluetooth. Building on last-year's Prep Pad connected scale with the ability to recognize appliances from Vitamix and Crock-Pot, Countertop not only suggests – and tweaks – recipes but walks you through making them. I caught up with CEO Santiago Merea for a DIY smoothie and some kitchen geekery.

Prep Pad took the traditional scale and gave it a Connected Home upgrade, able to flag up the nutritional value of each ingredient placed on top and then tell the companion app – or your Jawbone wristband – exactly what you're consuming.

Countertop goes a few steps further. By retrofitting your existing kitchen appliances – Vitamix's blender and Crock-Pot's slow cooker to begin with – with NFC, and then pairing the scale to your iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth, Countertop not only knows what ingredients you're using but can walk you through combining them, figure out the exact nutritional breakdown based on the amounts you've used (rather than the amount the recipe calls for), and suggest recipes based on recent activity, time of day, and more.

The question Orange Chef wanted to answer, Merea told me, is "what should I eat right now?" Rather than an aspirational – but unlikely – list of gourmet recipes, as are already commonplace online, Countertop will instead focus on that moment of frustration when you stand in the kitchen uncertain what to prepare.

One half of that is the appliance recognition. Countertop uses an NFC ring around the base of the Vitamix jug, or a heat/dishwasher-safe sticker on the bottom of the Crock-Pot container, to immediately spot when they're set on the scale. The other half is the app's use of metrics like recent exercise, sleep, activity, current time of day and season, and any previously-indicated likes or dislikes to come up with suggestions on what you might like to make.

Out of the gate there'll be Jawbone and Apple Health support, allowing Countertop to know exactly what you've been up to and tailor its recommendations accordingly. So, if you're just back from a run, it'll be more likely to suggest post-workout meals.

Orange Chef is working on an Apple Watch app, too, which will allow you to keep your phone in your pocket and simply glance at your wrist to figure out when to stop adding ingredients.

To see how it worked I set to preparing a strawberry smoothie, one of the suggested recipes. With the Vitamix on the scale, the app walked me through adding yoghurt, honey, and frozen strawberries – the exact amount of each being shown on-screen in real-time – to the jug, and then told me to blend them at the end.

What's clever is how adaptable everything is. If I didn't have strawberries, for instance, I could switch them out for another fruit; alternatively, if I had some mango or kiwi I wanted to use up, I could add those to the recipe. The nutritional calculation automatically updated according to how much I actually added, rather than what was suggested.

Countertop's app will learn from your tastes, too, and at different stages of use. During the initial setup process it gets the basics – allergies, hard preferences, and special diets like paleo – but there's also ongoing machine learning. If you regularly switch out kale for spinach, for instance, the app will presume you're either more likely to have it in the fridge (or simply more likely to eat it) and so automatically lean toward the other ingredient.

Swiping left or right, Tinder-style, on each proposed recipe also shapes what you'll be offered in future.

If you tweak the ingredients you can then save it, either solely in your own digital cookbook, or shared with friends or publicly.

Orange Chef is working on templates, meanwhile, which will take a more direct route to recipes. If you know, for instance, that you particularly want to make soup, you can go straight into those recommendations; alternatively, if you have an ingredient you specifically want to use, it'll be able to come up with suggestions based on that.

In the pipeline, meanwhile, are more adapters for other kitchen appliances. Merea wouldn't be drawn on which brands specifically Orange Chef is in talks with, but did suggest that if you thought of the biggest name in each category, that would be a likely candidate.

Personally, I'd be particularly interested to see what Countertop could do with coffee preparation, measuring out things like how many beans to grind for the perfect cup, and even walking you through the right quantity of water for pour-over. When I mentioned that to Merea, he would only smile and tell me it was a good idea.

Countertop itself is a 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.0 inch scale with removable, dishwasher-safe tops; each top has a unique NFC ID, too, so you could have one for each family member and the scale would know who was using it (normally, it relies on Beacon technology to connect to the closest iPhone or iPad; Android support is a work-in-progress). It runs on AAA batteries, which last for up to a year.

I was initially skeptical, having seen products like the Drop Scale as too reliant on users knowing what they wanted to eat and then following the structure of a recipe. Countertop does at least address that idea-generation element, though I wish Orange Chef had included a simple weight read-out on the front for those times you just want to check a quick measurement.

Countertop is up for preorder from today, and is expected to start shipping this fall. Regular price for the scale itself is $199.95, but it'll be $99.95 for preorder customers; meanwhile, the Vitamix and Crock-Pot adapters will be $19.95 and $9.95 respectively at launch, but $9.95 and $4.95 during preorder.

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