Having single-handedly created the digital games PC market, Gabe Newell is giving a Seattle startup a helping hand in a completely different sector.
ChefSteps, as the company is called, specialises in cooking methods that utilise technology. It's about to launch its first product, Joule, which is an ‘Immersion Circulator'. It's used in a type of cooking called Sous Vide that sees food sealed in plastic bags cooked slowly and for long durations in water heated to a very precise temperature. Joule is a new device designed to precisely regulate that temperature as the food is cooked.
Eater reports that Newell invested in the company having had the chance to try some food cooked by its founders. He did this after winning an auction for his son's school to have dinner for ten cooked by the ChefSteps' Grant Crilly (who was the founder of Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen).
"They came over and it was easily the best food I'd ever had," Newell said. "Spectacular in its design and execution."
His son then developed an interest in modernist cuisine. "It was his bedside reading for six months,” the Valve founder added. Even though, up until then, he'd never been interested in cooking at all, he suddenly decided he wanted to be a chef.
"And when I talked to him, he was talking about it like an engineer talks about it, he was talking about trade offs and fundamental principles and thermodynamics."
This led to a meeting with Crilly and ChefSteps CEO Chris Young.
"They talked to me like a scientist, like an engineer, and this isn't how I thought people in the cooking world talked,” Newell elaborated. These guys are cooking nerds. And the science is super interesting.
Their understanding of what's going on in the experience of cooking resonated with my experiences in the world of creating entertainment. In the end, your target is the subjective experience of the consumer. You have to know all this hard stuff, but at the end of the day you have to have a really good connection with the inside of someone's head to be good at it. This intrigued me. Every time I talked to them I felt like I learned something new."
Crilly and Young say that Newell gave them a small loan to keep going”, although the amount was enough to fund the hiring of 50 people. Newell does not own any part of the company and is not a shareholder. He has been at hand to offer advice, however, and has dissuaded the apri from seeking VC funding.
Newell can even be seen in a short cameo in the company's ad: