Most people reading this do not make their own tortillas. As delicious as these hot circles of carbs may be when eaten fresh, they require old-world labor to make—you soak the tough kernels of maize in lime overnight, before leveraging your own body weight over the volcanic rock of a metate to ground away the indigestible bits. Only with this finished masa in hand can you press the mix at just the right pressure to grill up the perfect, bendable tortilla.
Now, a startup named Flatev wants to make this process easier. Last year, the team demoed a Keurig for tortillas in a viral YouTube clip. Since, Flatev has enlisted designer Fred Bould—most famous for his work on Nest and GoPro—to turn its prototype into a consumer appliance.
The result of that collaboration is what you see here—the Flatev—available for order later this year for somewhere between $250 and $300 Kickstarter. You stick a tortilla pod, a la Keurig, into the front tray. And like some future-mechanical machine out of the Jetsons, the dough inside is pressed, grilled, and slides out fully cooked through a tray on the bottom.
"The tortillas that come out of it are delicious," Bould says, laughing a bit at his own enthusiasm.
Bould first met the Flatev team when they showed up at his studio at 4 p.m. on a Friday. He didn’t expect much to come from the meeting, but they stayed white-boarding until 9 p.m., then struck up an official partnership from there. The team already had a working prototype, but what they didn’t have was a real appliance, a device with its own identity that you’d be compelled to buy and use. And to do this, they couldn’t make another generic white, black, or stainless steel appliance. Flatev was breaking into a new market, and it needed personality.
"We started with the visual, cultural aspects in Mexico," Bould says. "We looked at architecture, the pyramids, the tools they used to make food." The metate—that volcanic stone for grinding down corn—was a particular inspiration. From it, Bould’s team borrowed the unconventional lava finish, the quirky, stubby feet, and the curvy frame. The result is a softer industrial design with the inherent character of a handmade tool.
"Because [metate] are shaped by hand, they’re not solids, they’re sculpted, so that’s what we tried to do," Bould says. "We wanted this to be something that had the touch of the hand to it. Usually things that are made by hand feel good in the hand."
"Where we landed was a design that, the code name for it, was carnitas," he continues. "It’s this sort of, slightly chubby, portly device, which has kind of a soft, sculpted surface. That’s visual and functional. Visual because it’s friendly, approachable. It’s a little piggy-like, which I think is appropriate for something that makes tasty things to eat." And it’s functional because, while you might not want to have this machine on your counter all the time, it’s also quite heavy, so sharp edges would make it painful to move. The curves turn a countertop oven into something that you don’t mind lugging around so much.
Of course, while Bould mentions the similarity to a metate and a pig, the Flatev also looks a lot like another culinary trope: the toaster. "It is an appropriate visual, because it’s a countertop device, and it is doing sort of what a toaster does," he says. "But I wouldn't say [that similarity] was conscious."
While the product will first launch to the U.S., the planned market is global, as many cultures around the world eat some version of the tortilla—whether it's based out of corn, wheat, or other flours. One concern is whether the Flatev system will be bad for the environment the way that Keurig has been. Keurig pods are notoriously wasteful. The Flatev team is still working on the exact makeup of its pod, but it will feature more minimal components—it doesn't, for instance, require a built-in filter—that should encourage the possibility of recycling. Flatev is also banking on less food waste, because you'll probably only cook the tortillas you'll actually eat, and the fact that there is more sheer foodstuff in a Flatev pod than a Keurig one. "When you step back, and you look at the plastic in a bag of tortillas, and you take these pods and lay them flat, it’s not like 10 times [the waste]," Bould says.
The Flatev will be available in summer 2017.