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KidKraft's Alexa-powered toy kitchen sizzles and tells dad jokes

Kids can't resist a good hot dog gag.
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Kris Naudus / Engadget

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Kids love to cook — or at least to pretend to. They enjoy emulating their parents, especially when it comes to making delicious things to eat. However, our kitchen routines have changed a lot thanks to voice control technology, which isn't easily replicated in a basic wood or plastic playset. So KidKraft's new toy kitchen doesn't even try to emulate it. Instead, it integrates the real Alexa to create an incredibly realistic but also whimsical play cooking experience.

It doesn't have Alexa built-in directly; instead the smarts come from an Echo speaker you add yourself. That might seem like a bit of a cheat but let's be honest: It keeps the price down, especially since Amazon seems to be having sales on Echo Dots every other week. Or you might even have an older unit kicking around the house somewhere. Either way, there's a little shelf to put your Echo device on, and from there it will play games with your children and instruct them on how to make the best fake hot dog ever.

At a glance, it's a pretty basic toy kitchen: There's a refrigerator (decorated to look like a smart fridge), a sink, a stovetop, an oven and even a little microwave. There's a variety of kitchen utensils, cookware and food to play with, constructed of materials like plastic, wood or felt; the idea is to still keep the experience somewhat tactile. Many of these items contain RFID chips, so they can be detected by the readers placed throughout the kitchen. That means when a child fills a pot of water and sets it to boil, they will hear the liquid bubbling.

KidKraft Alexa 2-in-1 Kitchen and Market

There's plenty of freeform play to be had, but to take advantage of Alexa's real capabilities a kid has to make use of the included "recipe cards." They're not real recipes with ingredients and instructions. Instead it's just a picture of the food the child wants to make, and they insert the card into a special reader on the counter to start the process of preparing it with Alexa's help.

Alexa will instruct the child on whether to grab a pot or a pan, if it needs to be filled with water, and whether any ingredients need to be cut on the tiny chopping board. If the requested food isn't in the the pantry, never fear: There's a store on the other side.

KidKraft Alexa 2-in-1 Kitchen and Market

The market aspect of the playset has shelves for products and even a fake freezer for pre-packaged frozen foods. There's a self-checkout station where kids will "scan" their items, which can then be bagged up into the reusable cloth bag. Children can pay for their groceries with the money in the drawer, and then resume their cooking on the other side. Or, if there are two kids, one can cook in the kitchen while the other runs the store. There's plenty of opportunity for collaboration.

Even if a child is playing by themselves, Alexa is sure to keep things feeling social and lively by cracking all sorts of jokes about the dish the kid might be making. It's pure dad humor, but kids like corny jokes (and sometimes so do I). There's also a Twenty Questions-like game where children will be asked to locate ingredients that fit the description Alexa gives: Round, fruit, red. Kids get three chances to find the right item and scan it at the register.

KidKraft Alexa 2-in-1 Kitchen and Market

KidKraft isn't the only company experimenting with using smart assistants for playing pretend. Little Tikes, the maker of the Cozy Coupe, also has an Alexa skill that can interact with kids playing in one of its own toy kitchens. But the skill can't interact with the kitchen directly, it just guides the children through the play experience from afar.

Unsurprisingly, the KidKraft 2-in-1 Alexa Kitchen and Market will be an Amazon exclusive when it launches some time this year. And the price? A hefty $300. However, other kitchen playsets can cost as much $250, and they don't come with cheesy jokes and the delightful sound of sizzling bacon.

Follow all the latest news from Toy Fair 2020 here!

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