Codlo: an elegant sous-vide machine for a more civilised age

codloinaction

Courtesy of Codlo

Being a food geek can be pretty difficult when you’re from the UK. Too many recipes use unnecessary volumetric measurements, modernist ingredients here cost an arm and a leg, and we have no way to buy cheap electronics off Amazon. That last problem can be somewhat annoying when you’re trying to hack together a sous vide device and immerse yourself (pun intended) in precise-temperature cooking.

So, imagine my surprise to discover a simple sous vide device being made right here in London.

Codlo is a sleek device described as ‘plug-and-play at its best‘ — plug it into a socket, connect your cooker to the device and Codlo does the rest.

The Codlo is made by Minimizu Ltd, the brainchild of Cambridge graduates Grace Lee and Xi Tan. Making use of their respective Economics and Manufacturing Engineering degrees (and a keen interest in food), they’ve come up a temperature controller with much more to it than just its sleek design.

Grace happily agreed to give me the low-down on sous vide, unique algorithms and water bazookas.

Enter: Grace Lee

So the general idea of sous vide is by no means a new one. How did you first get interested in it?

I used to work in finance, but my true calling was really food and cuisine. When in San Francisco, and completely on the spur of the moment, I submitted an application to Le Cordon Bleu Cooking Institute and was accepted at the last minute.

That changed the course of my life, and I first learned about the concept of temperature control when I was a student chef there, learning about coagulation temperature points of egg yolks and whites. Sous vide came quickly after that!

What led you to creating Codlo? Were you one of the many who tried their hand with homebrew hacking?

My main passion is cuisine, and Xi is the engineering whiz. I was really itching to try sous vide but all solutions that were available (especially in London!) were really pricey and looked a bit too industrial for my taste.

Xi suggested that he build one, and hacked one together over a few weeks. The resulting dishes I was able to create blew us away, and we began thinking—this should be in every home!

What’s with the name? Forgive me but it does sound like a North Sea fisherman explaining where to find the catch of the day. Or is it not pronounced “Cod low?”

People do ask about the name! The base of the name ‘Codlo’ is from the word coddle, which means both “a method of low and slow cooking (typically eggs)”, and also “to pamper”, both of which embodies Codlo. The word ‘Codlo’ also looks circular, organic, and similar to the design profile of Codlo itself.

The word also doesn’t mean anything rude in any language (as far as we know). We did check this with all our ideas when we were brainstorming, and you wouldn’t believe what kind of alternative slang meanings some innocent-sounding names have. Like ‘bobble’, for example. No, don’t look it up!

One quick trip to Urban Dictionary and now I know it too. What a creative use of the English language! You’ve been working on this for some time. What were some of the major obstacles that had to be overcome in creating Codlo?

Balancing the need for a clear, large display and interface, as well as a design that plugs into the wall was challenging. We wanted to eliminate the need for one more power cable on your kitchen countertop by making Codlo a unibody design that plugs straight into your wall.

We even experimented with a wireless temperature probe that users could simply drop into the cooker. It was a really cool idea, but we decided against it as it would need to be remotely powered, significantly increase the unit cost, and people kept losing it!

The final design reflects our strive for a clean look that not only tidies the temperature probe cable but also serves as a colour accent. We think it’s awesome!

codlomodels

Courtesy of Codlo

It does look pretty awesome! It’s quite clear from the design that a lot of effort has gone into making it as simple as possible for the average bloke. Was that a goal from the start when designing the device?

Absolutely. The point of creating Codlo was to make sous vide more accessible to people who are thinking of trying it out, so we wanted to remove the barriers that were preventing people from taking the plunge.

We had 4 design principles that were clear to the entire team from the start – Codlo had to look great, be easy to use, and be affordable: without sacrificing the precision needed for sous vide cooking.

It was extremely challenging to make sure we didn’t compromise on all 4 factors, but the Codlo you see today is a great result of these design rules.

threecodloCourtesy of Codlo

It shows! Do you think that households are ready to use sous vide as part of their day to day lives? Is it just a matter of accessibility?

I think enthusiastic cooks are ready, but besides accessibility it’s also about education. Many people I know, who are very interested in cooking, still don’t know about sous vide. Once they find out about it they get all excited—so awareness matters. So there is definitely interest in sous vide but people need to know about this fantastic method, and then have an accessible way of utilising it.

That’s why we’ve also invested a lot of time into recipe research and development, as well as making the process of sous vide cooking as easy to understand as possible. You’ll see this in our Codlo Guide that will also be available to all Kickstarter backers!

I’ve been doing a bit of reading and found that you’ve got a pretty interesting way to control the temperature. What are some of the other tech specs that set Codlo apart from the DIY hacks found all over the net?

This part can get a bit dry (no pun intended), but here goes.

There are several ways today that to control temperature in sous vide cookers.

One is a simple on-off controller that simply switches off the cooker when the measured temperature is above a target temperature, and switches it back on when it’s below the target temperature. The problem with this approach is that you get large fluctuations of temperature (as much as ±5°C) because of residual heat in the water. While this would work adequately for, say, beef steak, more sensitive proteins such as fish or eggs will not respond well to these fluctuations. There is a huge difference between a 62°C and 63°C egg, and for that you need stability to fractions of a degree.

The other more stable method is using a PID controller, which attempts to minimize these fluctuations by adjusting how the controller behaves. The issue, however, is that the user has to test for and set custom PID (proportional, integrative, and derivative) parameters. PID parameters vary depending on the type of cooker, volume & temperature of water, and the volume & temperature of food…a whole host of variables.

This approach quickly becomes too complicated for a typical chef (who may not be technically inclined) to potentially bother with. Some PID controllers have an auto-tune function, but this requires a ‘dry run’ with the same cooker and volume of water beforehand—another annoyance.

codloperformance

A comparison of temperature maintenance systems (Courtesy of Codlo)

How we’ve approach this is by creating our own custom algorithm, which we call Fluid. Fluid is still PID, but it learns your cooker’s behaviour in the early heating-up stages and implements what it has learned to maintain a steady target temperature. What this means is that Codlo is able to achieve the advantages of a PID controller, without the user needing to make custom adjustment or even understand how PID works.

In our tests, we maintain a temperature stability of ±0.2°C (it’s actually showing ±0.1°C in tests but we’re quoting 0.2°C for now just to be conservative), and a temperature resolution of 0.1°C.

The UI also makes the experience of using sous vide easy. Codlo has a progress bar around the border of its display screen to give a visual cue of when your food will be ready. The display can be easily seen even when glanced from afar. Its backlight also changes colour to indicate heating, cooking and done phases.

You certainly seem full of ingenious ideas. Is this the first and last that we’ll see of Minimizu Ltd or do you guys have more inventions for the kitchen on the way?

Xi once tried to build a water bazooka capable of firing 300ml (about a mugful) globules of water, kind of like an instant water balloon without the balloon…no, I’m not saying that’s next!

We do have many more ideas that we want to implement, so if Codlo goes well you’ll definitely be hearing from us again soon!

Aww! I really want a water bazooka! I guess Codlo will have to do for now – when can we expect to see it ready for public purchase? Are there plans to push it out into shops or will it solely remain an online venture?

If all goes well with our Kickstarter campaign, it should be ready by spring next year. We’re definitely open for offline distribution, but we’ll focus our efforts online to start.

That’s brilliant! A big thanks to Grace for taking the time out to talk to us about Codlo and the design process. The Codlo Kickstarter campaign is running until July 28th – I know exactly where my student loan hard-earned cash is going!

Alex Lathbridge

About Alex Lathbridge

Alex is a science geek first, a food lover second and a Crown-appointed weaponiser of the English language third. You can follow him at @procrastibaking. Alex is an editor for ScienceFare.

2 Responses to Codlo: an elegant sous-vide machine for a more civilised age

  1. jasonD July 1, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Great stuff! I’ve always wanted to try sous vide – might skip the hackery and just get this. thanks

  2. ef August 5, 2013 at 2:36 am #

    Codlo looks great; I’ll pick one up when they come out. Note as well that the Dorkfood DSV (look for it on Amazon or your favorite search engine) seems to provide similar functionality, albeit less polished, for only ~$100. The reviews are good as well.

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