The chicken is in the deep fryer, vegetable fried rice is being cooked in a pan and beef stew is being heated up in a stock pot as lunchtime approaches at Soonggok Middle School in Seongbuk-gu, northern Seoul.
But the meal preparation for some 660 students is all done at the hands of cooking robots.
The middle school is the first in the country to adopt cooking robots designed to perform culinary tasks, such as stir-frying, boiling and frying ingredients. It is part of a trial starting the second semester of this year to streamline kitchen operations for the food service staff.
This also comes in line with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education’s initiative to reduce workers’ health problems and cut down their labor-intensive work.
A total of four cooking robots -- two robots specializing in stir-frying, one for soup making and one for frying -- are operated in the school’s canteen to prepare and serve lunches. Each is around 3 meters in height, 20 kilograms in weight and has a lifespan of five years.
The mechanical arms replicate human actions in a kitchen once the school cafeteria cook sets the manual based on the menu, such as the time and temperature. According to the school, the cooking robots are programmed to follow around 100 recipes, including kalguksu, a Korean noodle dish made with knife-cut wheat flour noodles and other vegetables.
“There’s clearly a difference in the quality of taste as cooking robots bring consistency and efficiency to the cooking process,” Kim Hye-young, a nutritionist at Soonggok Middle School, told a group of reporters on a press tour inside the kitchen.
“We are also satisfied that we no longer have to stand before a fire for hours while preparing the meal. Aided by robots, the work environment for school cafeteria workers has significantly enhanced, and I would like to recommend other schools to start using them,” Kim said.