SEOUL — In fried-chicken-obsessed South Korea, restaurants serving the nation’s favourite fast-food dish dot every street corner. But Ms Kang Ji-young’s establishment brings something a little different to the table: a robot is cooking the chicken.
Eaten at everything from tiny family gatherings to a 10-million-viewer live-streamed “mukbang” — eating broadcast — by K-pop star Jungkook of BTS fame, fried chicken is deeply embedded in South Korean culture.
Paired with cold lager and known as “chimaek” — a portmanteau of the Korean words for chicken and beer — it is a staple of Seoul’s famed baseball-watching experience.
“The market is huge,” Ms Kang told AFP at her Robert Chicken franchise.
Chicken and pork cutlets are the most popular delivery orders in South Korea, and the industry could clearly benefit from more automation to “effectively address labour costs and workforce shortages”, she said.
Ms Kang’s robot, composed of a simple, flexible mechanical arm, is capable of frying 100 chickens in two hours — a task that would require around five people and several deep fryers.
But not only does the robot make chicken more efficiently — it makes it more delicious, says Ms Kang.
“We can now say with confidence that our robot fries better than human beings do,” she said.
During AFP’s visit to a Seoul branch, a robot meticulously handled the frying process — from immersing chicken in oil, flipping it for even cooking, to retrieving it at the perfect level of crispiness, as the irresistible scent of crunchy chicken wafted through the shop.
Many customers remained oblivious to the hard-working robotic cook behind their meal.
Ms Kim Moon-jung, a 54-year-old insurance worker, said she was not sure how a robot would make the chicken differently from a human “but one thing is certain — it tastes delicious”.
The robot can monitor oil temperature and oxidation levels in real-time while it fries chicken, ensuring consistent taste and superior hygiene.
When Ms Kang first started her business she “initially struggled” to see why anyone would use robots rather than human chefs.
But “after developing these technologies, I’ve come to realise that from a customer’s perspective, they’re able to enjoy food that is not only cleaner but also tastier”, she told AFP.
Her next venture is a tip-free bar in Koreatown in New York City, where the cocktails will feature Korea’s soju rice wine — and will be made by robots. AFP