You could say I’m a connoisseur of California burgers.
There’s one burger joint I’ve been anxiously waiting to try for years, and it’s finally opening in San Francisco. Creator, formerly known as Momentum Machines, serves a $US6 burger that is prepped, cooked, and assembled with no human help.
A 14-foot-long robot in the center of the restaurant uses an array of sensors and computers to make approximately 130 burgers an hour. Efficient. But tasty?
I set out into San Francisco’s SoMa neighbourhood to try Creator for myself.
Creator is the world’s first robot-made burger joint.
On a weekday afternoon during the company’s soft opening, the place was packed with tech bros and gals munching down.
Around the corner from the dining area is the inhuman star chef.
The Creator robot is effectively a glorified conveyor belt that uses technology to make a burger from start to finish in five minutes.
It eliminates the need for line cooks, though as many as nine “robot attendants” are on the floor to take orders via their phones.
Their company-issued Apple Watches alert the employees when the robot needs maintenance and what the problem is.
Once an order is placed, a compressed air tube pushes a brioche roll from La Boulangerie, a local bakery, into the chute at right.
It lands in the guillotine, where the baked-that-day bun gets sliced by a vibrating serrated knife.
It’s toasted and buttered as it’s lowered onto the conveyor belt.
While that’s happening, the robot picks up a to-go container and flips it right-side up onto the conveyor belt. The bun falls into place.
There are four burgers on the menu, and the robot automatically dispenses the correct sauce, ranging from smoked oyster aioli to charred onion jam to sunflower tahini, as well as Heinz ketchup.
With the launch of a mobile ordering app, customers will eventually be able to specify how much sauce they want by the millimetre.
The journey continues. Onions, tomatoes, and whole pickles get slices cut off as the bun travels beneath the dispensers.
There’s not a slice of cheese in sight. Blocks of nice cheeses — sharp cheddar and smoked cheddar — are grated just seconds before.
I’m a cheese addict, and I was delighted to see that the robot didn’t skimp on adding globs of freshly shredded cheese.
Alex Vardakostas, cofounder and CEO of Creator, said the company spends double-digit percentages more on ingredients than most burgers restaurants, because it saves on the cost of human labour.
In lieu of a waitstaff, guests fetch their own water.
They seat themselves at a table.
Guests can monitor their order on this tablet. The coloured dots represent each stage in the robot’s preparation process.
While the bun gets all the fixings, the robot grinds the meat to order. It takes place in this opaque case, so guests don’t see the magic happen.
Creator’s patties use a mix of chuck and brisket that’s been wet-aged in shio koji (a fermented rice seasoning) for ultimate umami flavour.
It’s dropped onto the bun and ready to serve.
But how does the robot-made burger taste?
It tastes like it costs more than $US6, I’ll tell you that much.
The brioche bun melts in your mouth, while the fat, juicy patty breaks off with each bite like brisket that’s been slow cooked for hours.
Melted cheese oozed with every bite. But the sauces, which are made in house, took the burger a notch above your typical fast-food fare.
Creator’s take on the classic burger, called the Creator vs. the World burger, gets a punch from a Pacific sauce made with umeboshi plum and mole. It’s topped with mustard, bell pepper, and fennel seeds.
My other favourite was the Smoky burger, which comes with barbecue sauce, charred onion jam, two types of salt, smoked cheddar, double pickles, onion, and tomatoes. I ordered mine with extra mustard.
Burger-lovers in San Francisco have to wait until September to try Creator. The restaurant is sold-out of tickets for the soft opening.
Vardakostas said it’s working out some kinks before opening to the public. Trust us: Creator will be worth the wait.
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