The appeal of many smart kitchen gadgets is that they're supposed to automatically take care of the hard parts of cooking. Connected kitchen scales from the Perfect Company use weight to determine how much of an ingredient you need to add to your cocktail, smoothie or baked good. A new line of Vitamix blenders will automatically know which settings to use based on the container you use. And the June Intelligent Oven uses a camera to identify your food and cook it accordingly.
The $650 Hestan Cue cooking system has the same appeal, but with a bonus. This countertop induction burner, stainless-steel pan and app work together -- thanks to Bluetooth -- to teach you how to be a better cook while it automatically regulates your cooking temperature.
The education component of the Hestan Cue is the star of the product. Videos are included with each step of a recipe, so you can see exactly what you're supposed to do. And there are many delicious dishes from which to choose, whether it's sauces or salmon or pancakes.
It's not as impressive without its app. For example, the Hestan Cue regulates the surface temperature of the pan well, but steaks with uneven thickness gave it problems that resulted in uneven cooking. And like I've seen with other cooking systems, there's no easy way to adapt recipes. You're stuck with the ingredients and steps Hestan gives you. Fortunately, the recipes I tried were very good, but it would be nice to build my own recipes or replace ingredients in existing ones.
The Hestan Cue, which is available online and at Williams Sonoma, would be a great addition to the kitchen of a home cook with "Top Chef" aspirations. It will keep you from burning an important dish and teach you a thing or two in the process. But $650 is a lot of money for two pieces of hardware. If you need some help in the kitchen but don't have the cash, buy a decent pan and a food thermometer and watch some old episodes of "Good Eats."
The Hestan Cue is like a combination of the Pantelligent smart frying pan and the FirstBuild Paragon Induction Cooktop. Didn't read those reviews? Let me break it down for you: The pan contains a "smart capsule" in its handle that is equipped with Bluetooth, as is the induction cooktop. You download the iOS or Android app and select a recipe. The app connects to the cooktop and walks you step by step through what you need to do. The app tells the burner what temperature is required for each stage of cooking. At the same time, the burner is keeping track of the temperature on the pan's surface, so if it's getting too hot, the burner will automatically lower its temperature or vice versa.
The 11-inch wide pan looks similar to other stainless steel cookware you might see in a store, but with some notable differences. You can't put the pan in the dishwasher or the oven, and the company advises against using it on a cooktop other than the Hestan Cue induction burner. Fortunately, the pan is easy to clean, and the recipes in the app don't require additional steps in the oven.
The Hestan Cue induction burner is 12.5 inches wide and weighs 5 pounds. Similar to the FirstBuild Paragon cooktop, it's hard to store, so you'd have to make a permanent place for the Cue on your countertop. You can control the burner manually through the app by setting a specific temperature or a more general cooking level. You can also adjust the cooking level on the unit itself. If manual cooking isn't your thing, just select a recipe and the Cue will take care of the temperature for you.
The Hestan Cue's app provides a wonderful way to try new recipes and learn how to perform cooking tasks. This is accomplished through videos that the app shows with each step of a recipe. For example, if you select the boneless pork chop with sweet apple and onion sauce recipe, there are videos that show a chef zesting a lemon, chopping garlic, slicing onion and julienning an apple and carrying out every other part of the recipe. This is a handy tool if you're rusty on your technical cooking skills or just want to make sure you can properly dice a potato.
The app's recipes range from basic (bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches) to the more refined (trout amandine, dill and caviar emulsion). The app recipes I tried came out well, but I noticed many of the protein main dishes relied on the addition of a sauce to really heighten the flavor. For example, the boneless pork chop I cooked tasted fine, but it was the accompanying bacon-bourbon glaze that really made the dish sing.
The Hestan Cue also had problems with even cooking, despite its responsive temperature control. Let's take a look at one of the steaks I cooked.
Because the steak was of an uneven thickness, its doneness varied from medium to well done throughout the same cut of meat. You get better results with a method like sous vide, in which food items cook more evenly thanks to a circulating, temperature-controlled water bath that cooks the food through a plastic bag in which it's encased. The steak showed that even a $650 smart skillet and burner has the same problem as a normal pan and cooktop.
If you trust yourself more than the app, you can control the temperature and power level yourself. The burner responds very quickly when you put your desired temperature into the app. However, I wish the app provided basic temperature guides for common dishes if you'd like to cook on your own.
The Hestan Cue cooking system delivers on its promise to teach you how to cook and is at its best when you select recipes from the app. This Bluetooth-connected pan and single burner are responsive to one another to keep dishes at the proper temperature. But don't turn to it for simple recipes -- this is a system for a home cook who cares about garnishes, emulsions and other next-level cooking steps. Unfortunately, the $650 cost is still too high to get the Hestan Cue onto the countertops of many folks who could benefit from this system.