It’s a common scenario: you wrap a long day at the office, squeeze in a gym session, and by the time you’re home, exhaustion has trumped your desire to cook a healthy dinner. But what if a restaurant-quality meal took a mere five minutes of prep, less than ten minutes to cook, and all you had to do was press one button? Meet Brava, a revolutionary smart oven that can give you fast, healthy, and perfectly cooked meals in half the time, with a fraction of the effort.
No dark arts at play here, friend. In fact, it’s all about the light. Pure light, according to Brava. That’s the company’s preferred nomenclature for the infrared light system that comprises the heating elements. There are six infrared light bulbs on the top and bottom inside the unit, arranged in three different zones.
Those lights afford you three ways to heat food: convection (much like your traditional oven, where the chamber and air inside are warmed), conduction (where heat is transferred through something like a frying pan), and a transfer of direct energy. The lights can become heating coils and create convection, or they can aim the light into the trays and create frying pans. Mostly, they transfer energy directly into the food, which is the real innovative time saver, but the fact that these lights can switch instantly between the three modes gives the user a very precise and replicable cook each and every time.
Most famously, in the Easy-Bake Oven, which used a regular incandescent light bulb to help kids bake. But Brava isn’t kid’s play. The company’s two founders, Dan Yue and Thomas Cheng, are Silicon Valley whizzes. Cheng, an author of dozens of patents, previously oversaw the hardware divison of August Home, the nation’s leading smart lock company. Yue comes from Playdom, which was a gaming company acquired by Disney.
Six years ago, Yue hated watching his mom going back and forth to the kitchen to prepare the family’s Christmas meal and decided there must be a way to build a robot that can handle the cooking in the kitchen. After a ton of tinkering in his garage, the genesis for the idea morphed into the practical version of the smart oven you see here. While Brava may not be the first to employ light to cook, it is undoubtedly utilizing light in the most efficient way.
Absurdly good. Brava brought in a unit to the Men’s Health office and cooked us a number of dishes, all with the aforementioned simplistic ease. First up were asparagus spears wrapped with prosciutto. The prosciutto was nice and crisp and the asparagus, while cooked, still had a bit of snap to it. Off to a strong start.
Next were parmesan crisps, made by popping some shredded parmesan on the tray. Yes, it’s just baked cheese—though who passes up baked cheese?—but it’s done in under two minutes and it looks like it could double as a garnish at a Michelin-starred eatery.
To show off the versatility, Travis Rea, Head of Culinary Development and Operations (a former chef of Michelin-starred eateries) and his sous chefs whipped up Brava Stratas, effectively frittatas in muffin pans. Beaten eggs, parmesan and basil combine in five minutes to give you a light and fluffy breakfast dish. They were better than eggs I’ve been served in restaurants.
“Brava is the best if you have a family of picky eaters,” Rea says. “Imagine putting out a bunch of ingredients and letting everyone pick what they want in their eggs. You can cook four different frittatas simultaneously. And because there’s no fat, it’s healthier.”
Correct. “If you want some butter or oil in there, you can add it, but you don’t need any fat to cook with the Brava,” Rea explains. The Brava is naturally best at cooking meats and veggies, meaning it’s ideal for those eating paleo or keto. “I’ve done both meal plans and this oven is perfect for either,” Rea adds. You can cook rice and grains in Brava, inside the braising pan, but you’re not going to cook things with liquid faster.
Yep. There’ll be a database at launch, some 75 recipes using basic ingredients—think trays of roasted broccoli or variations on chicken breasts and steaks—as well as 38 meal kits fulfilled by Chef’d. More than half the recipes are gluten-free, many naturally fit paleo, too. With the recipe tags, you can search the app and website for recipes that only fit your criteria, save them and push them to your Brava oven.
Some of the eight culinary team members are chefs who are registered dietitians, and they’re working hard to get the nutritional content as accurate as possible. “Sometimes you get a meal kit and you see the nutritional breakdown per serving, but there are extra servings, so the breakdown is skewed. We don’t want to do that. A meal for two will be precisely two servings,” says Rea.
John Pleasants, Brava’s CEO, proudly notes the value proposition Brava’s launching with: “Make home your favorite place to eat.” What Brava should enable you to do is cook with great speed, taste, and ease. That means the recipes are simple, and while prep time is still prep time, it’s nominal. “A Blue Apron dinner make take you thirty minutes to prep,” Pleasants says. “Our meals from Chef’d can have a five minute prep time.” A skeptical look from this editor and Pleasants ushers me over to where a chef is preparing a salmon dinner.
Fish can be notoriously tricky to cook properly. You want crunchy, crispy skin, but moist and flaky meat, which means you need a scorching hot pan and you’ve got to hold the fish down to ensure the right sear without having the fish curl up. Not with Brava. It removes the years of expertise from the equation.
Two sizable salmon filets are dropped onto the middle zone of the tray, asparagus is placed into an adjacent zone and cherry tomatoes fill the last zone. (Thanks to those zones, the Brava can cook three different ingredients to different temps simultaneously.) A little seasoning and the prep work is done within moments.
The tray goes into the Brava and the start button is pressed. Within minutes, you can hear the salmon sizzling, and the faint aroma of salmon cooking wafts out. While cooking fish can be a stinky proposition, the Brava keeps most of the odor within the unit.
Nine minutes later, our dinner is done and it’s delectable. The skin is so crispy, there’s an audible sound when it’s cut, and the fish is a perfect medium-rare. The asparagus is bright and crisp, and the tomatoes are warm, but still pop when you bite down.
Brava handles steak like a boss. We did a NY strip in under 10 minutes and the meat was cooked to a lovely medium-rare. The culinary team made a point to note that you can put any food into the Brava cold, including a steak, saying this’ll save home chefs even more time because you don’t have to wait for your meat to come to room temp to cook.
There’s a temperature probe—an impressively proprietary product in and of itself, with five temp reading points and eight different wires—that is inserted into any meat to guarantee nothing is over or undercooked. This probe also factors in rest time, too, so you won’t have to worry about your meat overcooking on your cutting board.
However, as a steak lover, I would recommend spending the extra time to get your beef to room temp, to avoid a well-done ring of meat around your medium-rare center. That happens when you cook a steak cold and did occur with our steak. That said, I’d gladly eat this Brava steak any day of the week. It was damn delicious. Rea notes you can also sous vide anything and use the Brava to finish the cook, which is something I’d love to try.
It can’t replace your oven. Not yet, anyway. Pleasants hinted that after they crush the launch of the smart oven—which just launched pre-orders today—a full-size range is something the company is eyeing. So things like roasting a full turkey are out. It also can’t smoke meats. The Brava chefs exchanged a knowing glance when asked, and said that one person had tried and they do not recommend that method. And occasionally you’ll need to let it cool down after one cook before you start another, only because the residual heat from the oven needs two or three minutes to dissipate, lest it screw up your next dish, but that’s true of your regular oven. But because it takes up valuable countertop real estate, it must be able to do everything a conventional toaster oven or microwave can do, and it does do those with ease, even toast.
Toast is a topic that got the entire Brava crew fired up in the Men’s Health kitchen. “It toasts like a champ,” Pleasants exclaimed. “All thanks to ‘Machine Vision.’” That’s Brava’s name for the camera that’s inside the oven which, in addition to providing you a view of what’s happening inside, also monitors the food and helps ensure food is cooking perfectly.
“The camera looks at coloration and texture on the surface,” Pleasants explains. “It looks at the continuity of the way the color is occurring, so it’s really about the texture and not the color. Brava has a neural network, where it’s been fed thousands of pictures of toast so it knows the difference between a slice of bread and a charred piece of toast. We have a deep bench of mathematicians, physicists, and electrical engineers who all come together to create formulas for the Brava. If you put a lightly toasted piece of bread in the oven and watch the algorithm run the calculus and arrive at the right level of toast, it’s incredible.”
That camera also logs cooks, so if ever you have an issue, Brava’s technical support could literally watch what happened to your chicken, should you connect your unit to WiFi. “We can tweak the software, too. Say we’ve got a summer squash recipe that’s only getting three out of five stars from users. There’s clearly something wrong with that recipe, so we can go look at the cooks and alter it to become a five star recipe,” says Pleasants.
The camera isn’t thermal; it doesn’t take a temperature. And since it’s only running off the light bulbs that are firing off various frequencies to hit different temperatures, the camera has to adjust for the changes in color. It does so by building a 3D model of color, and then uses an algorithm to balance what the lens is seeing. So the camera will never look at your steak and say ‘That’s done and you should stop cooking now.’ It’s just an added tool in Brava’s arsenal.
‘Brava’ is the female version of ‘Bravo,’ and was so selected for its warmth and accessibility, Pleasants says. “We hope you celebrate the results that come from it.” The company wants to empower the home chef, whether he or she is a novice or an advanced cook, and provide an incredible implement to supplement a healthy lifestyle. At its core, Brava is a technology company that believes in high quality food and healthy habits, and merely uses the advancing technology to deliver those superior results. “We’re not a gadget,” Pleasants surmises.
Brava officially launches for pre-orders today. For $995, you get the Brava unit, core accessories (a roasting pan, a glass tray, a baking dish, etc.), and a meal kit for two. For $1,295, you get the Brava unit, all the core accessories plus additional ones (a casserole-style braising dish for osso bucco, a grill pan, etc), and you get $150 in the Brava marketplace. There you can choose from top butchers and fish mongers to get the most quality ingredients right to your door. Or you can buy meal kits. It’s important to note: while Brava would love you to live within their ecosystem, buying food from the suppliers they’re working directly with, you can also just purchase the over and use all your own ingredients and create custom cook settings and have everything come out just as tasty.
Probably. If you like great food and would like to untether from your kitchen a bit more, the Brava is for you.
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