My first and unfounded reaction to this concept was, “REALLY?”

A metal box that turns pre-packaged ingredients into hot “edible” food? Why?! Sounds like a microwave on steroids. It perpetuates the culinary curse of our modern society – no cooking, no family time, no taste. More pre-processed packaged ingredients of unknown origin, too many chemicals, and too much salt and sugar…just another sad compromise of speed, health, taste and joy.

After a second glance, however, I did a complete 180.

The Whirlpool CucinaBarilla is not a microwave on steroids at all. It’s actually a self-contained kitchen complete with a radiant heating element for browning, a motor for stirring, folding and kneading, a microwave for fast heating, and a reservoir and pump for adding water in the right amount at the right time. A real robot that mimics a chef’s movements and timing that make the cooking difference between passable and “to-die-for”. It’s not the unwieldy manufacturing robots with finicky multi-hinged arms that only a geeky process engineer can control, but a practical device for the masses. It’s not meant to be an expedient shortcut that makes uninspiring yet “edible” sustenance. No, it’s actually the opposite. It makes the meal from scratch and does it better than I ever could.

It works like this: You use your own fresh ingredients with some pre-measured pieces boxed and tagged with an RFID tag. The robotic mini-kitchen reads the tag and automatically programs the machine to combine, mix, add water, stir, heat, brown and rest the food just like you would if you did it yourself. But unlike you — or your busy spouse or teenage daughter or son — the CucinaBarilla does not get distracted and it does everything at the right time, in the right order with the right amount of stirring and heating. (In fact as I write this now, I can smell the bacon in my own kitchen burning because my wife walked away from it to check her email.) We need this at our house ASAP! But right now it’s only available in Europe so I’m having an Italian friend buy and ship one to me.

This Whirlpool machine reminds me a bit of the Nespresso model – of which I am a huge fan. I get amazing coffee at home at a reasonable price. This encourages more family time at home rather than us scattering to the nearest Starbucks on our way to our respective work places. That said, we haven’t put baristas out of business at all. Coffee shops are continuing to grow like weeds and I still frequent them often.

The good news is that Whirlpool partnered with Barilla for the basic ingredients, boxes and recipes (delicious Italian food). I suspect that other high quality food companies will follow soon enough. Whirlpool’s KitchenAid brand did a similar thing with Nespresso. Whirlpool clearly has good taste.

But what really peaked my interest are two practical items. First, the user experience for this device is brilliant. Simple, clean, attractive and fool proof. Anybody can do it. Second, it is a tool for the masses. Compact, reasonably priced and packaged to fit into any kitchen, apartment, dorm room, grass hut or swank Manhattan studio apartment with no kitchen at all (typical in the Big Apple). I like things that could have a big, worldwide, revolutionary impact on everyday people – not just toys for the rich and famous.

Bravo, Whirlpool! Grazie mille!