hands holding a plate of food in front of tovala oven and subsctiption meal kit boxes
Credit: Audrey Ma

When I tested the magical at-home cocktail machine, I was thrilled that all my press-a-button Jetsons fantasies had been fulfilled. But then, I learned of another kitchen appliance that used similar technology as my favorite futuristic cartoon family — the barcode-reading Tovala smart oven ($299).  So now in addition to my cocktails at the press of a button, I can get my whole dinner that way, too?!

Tovala oven, meal kits and a prepared meal
The Tovala oven and its meal kits
| Credit: Photo by Audrey Ma

There's no doubt I appreciate the old-school ways of doing things in the kitchen: I love making sourdough bread and pasta from scratch, and a home-cooked meal over anything bought. But let's face it, there's not always time to get to those simple culinary pleasures. And this is where I embrace technology.  

Tovala's claims are straight from the future — "a smart oven that syncs up with delivery meals" — which means you can just zap a bar code and the oven will cook one of their subscription dishes in under 20 minutes.  "Well, sure," I thought, "but it's probably just a glorified TV-dinner-microwave thing." 

The appliance itself is the size of a large toaster oven, an air fryer with shelves, or a small microwave. It connects to your wifi and an app on your phone where you can order meals, look up recipes and receive alerts when your food is done. The refrigerated delivery meals come boxed, with everything you'll need, including a barcoded instruction card and recyclable aluminum pans. 

The directions for my first dish, a macadamia nut crusted salmon with risotto, were simple as meal prep only takes less than 5 minutes. I opened the packages, placed the salmon in an aluminum pan, pressed the pre-measured macadamia nuts onto the fish, and then poured the risotto into the other pan. Both tins fit perfectly into the oven (you can actually fit four at a time), and then came the fun part: the Tovala doesn't just heat up to make its contents hot; that barcode taps into an algorithm and the smart oven comes to life cycling through the broil, bake and steam functions based on that particular meal, giving your food the special attention it deserves. After a lovely little ding and a notification on my phone, my meal was ready to plate and eat.

Tovala oven and meal kit showing barcode reader
Scanning the meal kit's QR code
| Credit: Photo by Audrey Ma

I took a bite. Whoa! This healthy, high-quality dish had nothing in common with a microwaved meal. The salmon was moist and flavorful while the risotto was just the right consistency – not watery or dry. I marveled at each mouthful – It was hard to believe these two very different foods cooked side-by-side in an oven. I looked forward to trying the other meals in my delivery, which included the bacon cheddar ranch chicken wrap, a blackened pork chop with cheesy broccoli and hot sauce, and teriyaki chicken with veggie fried rice and sriracha mayo.  

Within days, I'd eaten all the contents of my first subscription box. Each one exceeded my (albeit, low) expectations; the wrap made a quick and easy healthy lunch, while the others provided a ridiculously easy portion-controlled meal for one. But what stood out the most to me was just how perfectly the oven cooked the fish, pork and chicken while concurrently cooking the side dish well. The chicken… OK, let's talk about chicken for a second. Many of us eat a lot of poultry that has been cooked to subpar levels, and we don't even realize it, but when chicken breast is cooked to perfection it's actually succulent. There's moistness and a spring to the flesh that takes it from the mundane to the sublime. It's actually difficult to achieve, yet the Tovala does it.  

Tovala Subscription Meals

Chicken Wrap
Baked Salmon
Blackened Pork
Left: Bacon Cheddar Ranch Chicken Wrap | Credit: Tara Cox
Center: Macadamia-Crusted Salmon with Cream Lemon Risotto and Italian Salsa Verde | Credit: Tara Cox
Right: Blackened Pork Chip with Cheesy Broccoli and Hot Sauce | Credit: Tara Cox

Now, as someone who likes to cook, this zappity-zap oven isn't something I'd want to do on the regular, and I don't want to be stuck with a single-use machine that only cooks its own food. But the Tovala works well as a stand-alone appliance as well, with its steam, bake broil, reheat, and toast functions. The app contains simple and tasty recipes you can make yourself and then, yes, tap a button on your phone, press the button on the machine and Tovala does the rest of the work. I was fascinated with the eggs and avocado toast recipe: You crack two eggs in one of the pans (I recycled from my meal delivery) and place that in the oven with your slice of toast next to it.  While they cook, prep the avocado, and then I found myself with enough time on my hands to empty the dishwasher since I didn't have to monitor the eggs (ahh, life's little luxuries!). Within a few minutes, I had lovely jammy over-medium eggs and a nice piece of toast — breakfast with a lot less fuss! 

Now I was intrigued by their recipes, so I tried two more dinners. Baked cod with arugula and tomatoes was so simple yet so delicious,  but I must admit I ate both servings in one sitting as one wasn't quite enough.  But what impressed me more was the tomato-ricotta galette, a dish I've always wanted to make but seemed like too much hassle; I mean, I don't want to turn on my regular oven in the summer.  But sure enough, the recipe came together quickly, and activating the Tovala during a heatwave was no big deal. The end result was gorgeous and tasty. 

Tovala Recipes

Baked Cod
Tomato Galette
Left: Baked Cod with Arugula and Tomatoes | Credit: Tara Cox
Right: Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Credit: Tara Cox

If all that isn't cool enough, this smart oven will also cook an ever-increasing list of grocery store frozen foods with the same scan-to-cook function as their delivery meals and recipes. Scan the barcode on things from waffles to frozen pizza, an assortment of Trader Joe's foods, and more. I have to admit, being able to pop in my TJ's enchilada without trying to read the fine print (hello, bad eyes!) for temperature and time was another one of life's little luxuries.  

If you're thinking "I love to cook, so this isn't for me," you're probably right. Its strength also does not lie with cooking for families, as meal kits are designed for one, and you won't be able to fit more than two kits in at a time. But where this really excels is for the non-cook, the busy single person who wants to eat healthily but doesn't want to spend the time shopping and preparing yet doesn't want to spend a lot on take out. This would be an amazing gift for a young person just starting out on their own, ensuring them healthy meals with little fuss.

As for me, I'll be loading up on some of their subscription meals before returning to the office — knowing those first few days back to the old grind will be exhausting and hectic. It will be great to know that between this and the Bartesian cocktail machine, I'll be able to have a delicious and easy home-cooked meal and a cocktail at the push of two buttons within minutes of getting home. And if I talk to Alexa while doing it, all my Jetsons dining fantasies will have come true.