Open Source Yumminess: DIY Sous Vide Arduino-Based Kits from Lisa Qiu of Lower East Kitchen

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By Lisa Qiu (Co-Founder & CEO, Lower East Kitchen) When I was little, my parents were obsessed that I “develop good habits.” It was as if I was a little bonzai tree that needed constant pruning and a calculated amount of water and sunshine. Were I to go astray just a little would mean the destruction of my entire form.

This was actually beneficial to me because during my prerequisite adolescent rebellion phase I turned against it all. Ambiguous work environments where I switched up what I’m doing everyday became my favorite kind of atmosphere.

I don’t know what I would’ve done if my parents were hippies and totally accepting -- I probably would’ve become a banker. Instead I, Lisa Qiu, am a free-wheeling co-founder of a little outfit called Lower East Kitchen and we make sous vides on the cheap. Oh, by “on the cheap,” I also mean free. My fiance and I provide our company designs as open blueprints for anybody that desires to build their own sous vide. Yep, the guts of our product are on the internets for others to copy -- and how do we expect to make money from this? We don’t.

We just want to help other people cook sous vide and to collaborate with those that are on the same wavelength. When we started in Manhattan six months ago we went to the apartment of a cheesemaker who tweeted at us and we helped him make a digital cheese vat.

We’re in the very beginnings of building our company and seeing how it makes sense in the current market (as in, how we going to make money). A big part of that for us is saying, “hey, if you love sous vide so much that you’d build it yourself, wouldn’t an average person spring for the finished deal?” A polished product is what we'll ultimately pursue when we get sweet, sweet access to capital.

My jaw dragged on the floor the first time I ate a sous vide steak and I keep getting my mind blown with each food we vide up. For those who haven’t heard of sous vidin’ yet, it is when you vacuum seal your food in a plastic bag and then put it in a precise water oven.

Sous vide means under vacuum in French, but Lower East Kitchen just makes the water oven.

Let’s say the inside of a perfectly medium rare steak is 57C. Well, in order to get it there you’d have to put a lot of heat around it -- and that usually causes parts of the steak to burn or become tough.

With sous vide, the entire protein is submerged in 57C for hours, depending on the thickness, and the result is a pasteurized and perfect piece of protein. With sous vide, you never boil -- it’s all about low temperatures for a long time. Kind of like a crock pot but more precise. Imagine cooking a pear in pear juice -- that’s what you’re doing when you vacuum seal it and put it in the water oven. You retain more nutrients while making your food more flavorful.

We started the company because we wanted to make our own sous vides but couldn’t find a DIY kit online, so we made our own. My co-founder (and soon to be husband) and I started hacking together our own makeshift machines that his roommate said we “shouldn’t bring it into Times Square” during our first month of dating. We could tell his poor roommate was scared, we hacked everything -- from coolers to roasters and held some things together with chopsticks and it just looked dangerous.

Since we discovered Arduino though, everything has been streamlining and coming together. Recently, we downloaded the student version of Autodesk and are fine tuning our engineering. Also, we’ve just moved to San Francisco from the East Village a month ago and can’t stop feeling inspired and on the right track with all these brilliant and vibrant people and start-ups around us.

There’s a good vibe going of people helping people, and we’re with it and for it. You can also find us at Maker Faire this year!

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Lisa Qiu is an avid homecook and hacker that co-founded Lower East Kitchen with her fiance Abe Fetterman. She came to The States in ‘94 and triple majored in Journalism, Metropolitan Studies, and American Studies at NYU and graduated in ‘10. She’s written for Hearst Corporation, New York Magazine, The Daily News, SMITH Magazine, and countless other publications and blogs.