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Interview With Randi Zuckerberg About New Pop-Up Tech Café, Sue's Tech Kitchen

Interview With Randi Zuckerberg About New Pop-Up Tech Café, Sue's Tech Kitchen

Sue’s Tech Kitchen, a revolutionary dining experience and Holiday SpecTECHular, recently opened at The Bridge at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island.

I recently sat down with Randi Zuckerberg, the creator of Sue’s Tech Kitchen, at her STEM-inspired foodie space on Roosevelt Island. We discussed the inspiration behind the pop-up and why getting introduced to STEM is so important for kids of all ages, as well as what Zuckerberg thinks the future of tech holds.

Zuckerberg described Sue’s Tech Kitchen as, "Part arcade, part high-tech food café, part performance and museum exhibit." The pop-up includes a 4-D theater, virtual reality experiences created by the NBA, and the ever popular 3-D printed s'mores. The first thing one notices is that although this place is loaded with technological activities, there is not a screen in sight, which is completely intentional and goes hand-in-hand with Zuckerberg's belief that there are "thousands of ways to introduce children to technology that doesn’t involve screens."

Check out the interview with Randi Zuckerberg below and also be sure to visit Sue's Tech Kitchen, which opened Saturday, Nov. 25 and will be around until Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 at The Bridge at Cornell Tech, 11 East Loop Road on Roosevelt Island.

How did you come up with the idea for Sue’s Tech Kitchen? 
My two big passions in the post-Silicon Valley era of my career are getting more girls into tech and STEM, and also as I have been doing a lot more traveling of the country, trying to bridge some of the glaring skills-gap that exists. We have people in big cities that have access to great education and these kids will be super prepared for the next economy of jobs, but then you have millions of kids who are going to be totally left behind because they don’t have that access. For me, I’ve really dedicated this next chapter of my career to how to create things that are entertaining and fun and engaging that can get all children into to tech so that the next billion-dollar companies of the future have more diversity. So for me, as I was thinking about it [creating Sue's Tech Kitchen], I thought, 'What do kids love? How do you engage them?' Well, all kids love snacks and games and play and I have a show on TV right now called Dot, and as I was dreaming up my next character, I just kept thinking about this girl Sue who loves science and who loves cooking and who makes all these zany recipes in her kitchen and I just thought, 'Why don’t we just open up her restaurant to all of her friends?'

sues tech kitchen 3d printed chocoloate

Can you take us through the process of creating Sue's Tech Kitchen? 
At first I thought it was going to be a book, with the character "Sue Chef" (a play on words). It was going to be a children’s fiction book meets cookbook with all these crazy things you can do with science. As I was working on it, I thought, 'I feel like Sue would be more entrepreneurial than this. She would just open up her kitchen to her friends.' So I stared looking and nothing like this really existed. So we did a pilot this summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we called it our "Beta Taste." We were open for three days and we had over 1,000 people come through. It really blew me away and demonstrated to me that parents all around the country are really looking for ways to introduce their children to STEM in ways that are fun and to make it a family experience. Now we are in New York for six weeks with a holiday themed SpecTECHular and then we will be touring 10 cities between now and the end of 2018.

Who is this pop-up for? Should kids who visit already have a passion for STEM? 
Definitely not. That was one of the things we wanted to learn from Chattanooga. We wanted to learn who would want to come to a space like this and the answer that we got from the test run was, everyone. I can’t tell you how many adults came without children and they would say that they were interested in learning about tech and this seemed like a really fun and approachable way to do it. We added a lot of virtual reality and robotics in the New York pop-up for teens and tweens. And for the first time we will be opening on Friday nights for ages 21 and older, so you can come have a cocktail and play with all of our tech games, too.

apple drum sues tech kitchen

Do you have any tips for parents who want to introduce technology to their kid at home? 
I think right now a lot of parents feel torn about introducing tech to their children, because when they think about tech, they think about screen time and screens have a nasty little habit of coming between you and your family instead of bringing everyone together. So one thing I really wanted to do, because I am a mom of two young boys, I wanted to demonstrate that there are thousands of ways to introduce children to technology without ever gluing them to a screen, and we have 20 of those experiences at Sue’s Tech Kitchen. Everything here is designed to bring families together, to give ideas for fun activities, to create discussion points, and also anything you see here can be recreated. For example, the food drum [pictured above] where we’ve wired up apples so that you can play different holiday tunes, that is something that is super easy to create in your own kitchen and we are actually selling all the wires so that you can do it at home. I don’t want people to walk into Sue’s Tech Kitchen and feel like it’s all a mystery or that we aren’t going to tell you how any of this works. I want kids and families to fall in love with STEM in their own homes and keep that going for years.

I also have two young boys and one of the ways I get them engaged in STEM topics is by cooking with them. Was that something that you thought about when you were creating Sue’s Tech Kitchen? 
Totally. I love baking and cooking with my sons. Baking is all math, it’s one of the most mathematical things that we all do on a daily basis. We are going to have a station where you can make edible slime and we are also going to have a STEM Bar where you can go and sign up for little individual class. One example is a biology class where we will be giving kids a “miracle berry” where, if you eat it, it dulls your bitterness taste buds, so you can then drink vinegar and it will taste sweet, like sugar water. There are so many fun ways to use things you already have in your own kitchen to introduce kids to science.

boys learning to code

Why do you feel that it’s so important to continue to encourage girls to pursue STEM education? 
All of my research shows that at around third grade girls turn away from science and technology. I don’t know what it is about that age. So as I’ve been creating my television show Dot and as I’ve been building out Sue’s Tech Kitchen, I always have that third grade girl in the back of my head. How do I make something that’s so fun that she won’t turn away from STEM? Naming the pop up Sue’s Tech Kitchen was a very purposeful choice, although when you walk in you will see there is nothing traditionally girly about the space, there’s nothing that’s gendered about it, it’s meant to be a fun space for boys and girls alike. But it was really important for me to have a girl’s name on a marquee so that somewhere in that third grade girl’s psychology, when she’s thinking about turning away from science, she will say her to herself that she went to Sue’s Tech Kitchen and girls can actually do all of that.

What do you think the future of tech and media hold? 
What I think is so exciting is that the jobs that our children are going to have don’t exist today, which is so wild to think about. Which is why it is so important to introduce children to as much tech as possible when they are young so that they do see the world as open and full of endless possibility, because our kids are going to have jobs in AI [Artificial Intelligence] and robotics and augmented reality, that don’t even exist today. So the only way that they can really know that they can have those careers is by giving them a sense of familiarity and wonder with those topics early on. Somewhere down the path when they encounter technology again in a deeper way they’re not going to be afraid or overwhelmed by it.

Girls & STEM: Overcoming the Hurdles

Main image: Kids 3-D print their own s'mores at Sue's Tech Kitchen on Roosevelt Island. 
Courtesy Sue's Tech Kitchen

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