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Palate smart grill - a non-sous vide precision cooker


fledflew
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I came across this article just now on TechCrunch about the Palate smart grill.  

Here is the product's webpage.  

I do okay with my current sous vide set up and have a pair of Anovas on their way soon.  I can't see paying $500 for this plus going out and spending $300+ on an ipad just to work the thing.  $800 to cook some steak and salmon???  From what I saw in the video and on the product's website, it seems like it's geared towards smaller servings of protein.  I didn't see any mention of vegetables and I'm not sure how it would handle eggs in the shell.  I'd like to see a more comprehensive demo performed by some advanced cooks/chefs instead of a pitch tailored to the tech community.    

Sure, a device that precision cooks and sears is nice; but like a lot of startup technology companies that I hear about, I feel like its creators are trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist.  Of course, if this machine does much more that I'm not yet aware of and the price comes down significantly (like at least 50-60%), I might learn to like it.  

Your thoughts?  

Edited by fledflew (log)
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Interesting - I can see advantages in a single-device 'SV with browning' concept.

 

But:

You have to think about what’s going on inside the food where you can’t even put a thermometer in it

 

Um ... why can't you put a thermometer in it?  And at the price, it's not going to threaten the Anova any time soon.

 

Incidentally, it's Palate, not Palete.  Which makes a degree of sense.

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Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
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I feel like its creators are trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist.  

 

Exactly!!!!

 

I can't imagine it gaining much traction but I wish them lots of luck.

~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!

 

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I ran into these guys last year at Techcrunch Disrupt and got really excited because the concept fundamentally makes a lot of sense. In traditional cooking, you're usually controlling the first derivative of the heat source and you're stuck as a human thermostat constantly fiddling with knobs to try and keep the heat even. The big change in thinking with precision cooking is to shift to controlling the variable directly and using a machine to automatically adjust.

First came thermostatically controlled ovens and the ability to "bake at 350F" instead of adding or removing coals. Then came the electric deep fryer that allowed you to fry at a precise temperature without messing with big pots and candy thermometers. Next came the SV machine that allowed poaching at a controlled temperature. Searing is the only heat source we have left that hasn't made this shift from "cook over medium high heat" to "cook in a 400F pan" (outside of niche products like Accusteam Griddles).

When I'm searing a steak, I'm constantly trying to balance between not having the oil smoke and heating the pan hot enough to get a good sear. When I'm searing something with a sugary glaze, it's a pain to find the exact right heat level to cause browning without unsightly black spots. When I'm slow cooking onions, I constantly have to find the right heat level so the onions don't burn. All of these are problematic because the changes in the food being cooked cause radical swings in temperature that are difficult for a human to control.

Sure, it's expensive and clunky but all first generation products necessarily are. Immersion circulators dropped from $1000 to $200 in the span of 3 years as they gained mass market adoption. The reason why I'm excited is because I want to see recipes with "cook over medium high heat" become as obsolete as "bake on gas mark 5".

Edited by Shalmanese (log)
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PS: I am a guy.

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My first thoughts were:

It's expensive.
Requires an iPad.

Can't make more than a couple portions at once.

Cannot cook larger cuts or those with an irregular shape (including eggs).

Cannot cook for extended times to transform the texture of tough cuts.

Potentially difficult to clean.

I don't see any advantage of this method over SV, apart from the ability to sear where you cook. But that's not a big advantage since I finish SV meat in a bunch of different ways (grilling, smoking, searing, torching...).

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Hi, I'm cofounder and CEO of Palate. Let me try to address some of your questions and concerns:

 

Sous vide works just fine:

Sous vide is a great technique that is making people aware of the benefits of precision temperature control. I have a few of them and if I want to make 72 hour pork shoulder for a Saturday dinner, that's what I use. However I've found I use it less than I like and that when we tested with normal people there were barriers to even trying it, mostly related to plastic bagging (waste or the fear of cooking in plastic). It is not the only way to cook low temp either. Chef's use combi ovens, and we succesfully cooked to sous vide quality in a steam oven that we developed. The large thermal mass of water makes it easy to hold a precise temperature, but then has these downsides. It can't get high enough to sear so you need another device. It can't change temperature quickly so you have to wait for warmup, or have multiple baths if you want to cook multiple things, or have a cooking profile that has step changes. And then you need bagging so you aren't poaching the food. It's like a 747 cargo plane; we developed an F16 jet which requires incredibly advanced control systems and mechanical architecture, but the advantages are profound. Normal people care that it's faster (don't have to warm up the water) but I'll give you guys the fun food related ones: by controlling the entire process we can give a better result. The sear affects the internal temperature, so we can adjust the low temp portion of cooking for that. As an example, we made crispy duck breast the first time we ever tried it that was restaurant quality.

 

Another big advantage is that we know the thickness of your food automatically, and we can infer the internal temperature, so we know exactly when it's done. No more trying to measure raw chicken breast with that ruler app on your phone, or setting up closed-cell foam tape on the ziploc bag in advance of cooking.

 

 

Next, what you can cook is limited:

We designed the Palate Grill for daily gourmet. It can cook 80% of what you want, and everything your normal grill can. I welcome you to do a comparison vs. sous vide on steaks, chicken, salmon, and see what you think. Vegetables are great to, like asparagus. And we've found we can do new things. We can hold the maillard temperature exactly for what we call continuous browning. So you can caramelize onions unattended. I can get close with my induction burner, but I have to step it up slowly so it doesn't burn, and it takes about twice as long because the temp fluctuates so much. You can also control the searing to the point of choosing maillard or pyrolosis, if you want a little char. We have a more advanced hinge mechanism than any grill on the market which gives two degrees of freedom to the top plate and contains the cooking area in a temperature controlled environment.

 

Palate is expensive:

We set the price based on the value provided and then put the best components in to deliver a great experience. As I said before, it's very complex to achineve sous vide level results without using the large thermal mass of water which circulates. We're using space grade algorithms (PID is not appropriate here) and temperature sensors more accurate than thermocouples (so more accurate than ThermaPen). The only way to get this quality of sear is a torch or the Lynx grill which is over $1000. But take the $300 Breville Smart Grill if you like. Then add in sous vide, your bagging equipment, your bags. Then think about how much counterspace is worth to you. And on top of that, we made it beautiful and gave the ultimate user experience for the kitchen. You guys here that are into scientific cooking are going to be able to set every parameter, while at the same time we've kept the ability for quick and basic cooking for those days your are exhausted from work or if someone in your house with less culinary interest is in charge of the meal.

 

The kitchen is full of expensive devices that people love if they add value. Vitamix and Kitchenaid, or just look at any coffee machine.

 

 

Can't do long cooking times:

We've focused on the 28 minutes a day the average American spends cooking. We've cooked for hours on the Palate Grill with great results. We have ideas for how to extend this (add moisture). At this point if you want a 48 hour pork belly sous vide is your best bet, and we'd be the last ones to tell you to get rid of your sous vide. Sansaire is a great product!

 

 

Cleaning:

We know cleanup is a pain and that's true for me as well. So it's been a requirement from day one to be easy. Removable, dishwasher-safe plates. Ceramic non-stick coating. Removable drip tray. A side effect of our mechanical design is less splatter on your kitchen. When I do steak in a cast iron pan, I find oil everywhere. And there's less smoke, because the sear is controlled we're not burning as much oil, so less soot.

 

 

Requires iPad:

A large screen with powerful software allows us to give you an experience tailored to each food. Because the settings for steak are completely different from onions, and we think you'll like that. Otherwise you wind up with a microwave: powerful programs that no one uses because they're six layers deep, or something that only works for advanced users: must have temp & time table & food-safe ruler. But it's also a design requirement to make it just as easy as a cast iron pan. That means turn on the gas and it cooks. So we designed that, the temperature nob heats the device with one-touch, and you're at temperature in 30 seconds. So to fry and egg, or do a panini, that's that. And if you know you want a 134F steak, that's all you have to do. We can notify you on your phone if you run to the store, so you don't have to carry the iPad everywhere.

 

Hope that sheds some more light on things and welcome your further comments or criticisms.

 

Eric

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Yes, do please stay in touch. The precision burner control mentioned by Shalmanese a few posts ago sounds very attractive. I have a few questions:

1. Is this strictly for iPad users at present, or are you also planning an Android interface?

2. You mention 'less' smoke and grease because of containment. That sounds good, but doesn't there still have to be some escape of steam, oil or smoke out to the kitchen? If not, it seems likely you'd be steaming meat instead of getting a good sear.

3. The photos of your cooked steak look very pretty, but I'm skeptical unless you have a way of maintaining a low interior temperature (for rare or medium rare) while high heat is applied to sear the surface. Please explain the process a bit more.

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what's the current price?  

 

 

In the video, they mentioned that the target price was $499 and that there was a generous margin built into that number.  There was also a mention of a possible crowd sourcing effort once the unit actually goes into production, so I anticipate seeing some sort of discount for supporters.

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interesting idea, I'd check it out. I won't throw out my SV, but if this works as they say it seems like the first real set it and forget it that might actually work. And take less planning than SV or BBQ, the later being my favorite way to cook, but there's not always enough time. And for a family of 4 it should be able to cook enough meat. I signed up for their e-mail list and might even consider contributing to a kickstarter or something like that. Early bird discount? :-)

Always nice to see new innovations or improvements of old things.

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Eric,

Thanks so much for your detailed reply. Developing dual griddle surfaces with that precise and even temperature control is quite an achievement. It would make for an amazing griddle / flat top as well, though that's obviously a much different product category than you're shooting for here. I'm still curious about how searing works though. Searing temps are many times hotter than you'd use for low temp protein cooking. Is the strategy to cook your meat through on a low temp, remove it while the Palate heats up to searing temps, and then finish it off at the end? If you left the meat in, it seems like it would overcook while the griddles come up to searing temperatures. Maybe your algorithm compensates by undercooking the meat in the low-temp cook-step? I'm also curious why it's supposedly so much better at searing than a screaming hot pan or cast iron skillet. I can easily reach 650F+ with pans, so I've never had a problem developing crust quickly.

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Hi everyone, keep the great questions coming and let me know if you disagree with anything I said.

 

 

Tell us more about searing:

TL;DR:

We take it to an extremely high temperature and hold it there with little variance. That means great results with less black smoke, less waiting time, and less fiddling with the power/gas knob.

 

 

 

What you want for searing is sustained high temperature. This is difficult to do, and where our control system really shines.

 

As you may know Maillard happens at a range of temps and is strong from 350-400F, and I personally like a little char which is the pryolosis reaction at 400F +. That's the temperature you need the surface of the meat to reach on a sustained basis*, allowing for moisture loss (remember that drops to 212F). Remember you are dropping on a “cold” piece of meat onto your cooking surface (let’s say it’s a steak cooked to 135F). At no point do you want the cooking surface to drop below 350F into the “grey zone.”

 

The cast iron skillet is the high-temp thermal equivalent of the water bath. It’s a large thermal mass that you can heat up to prevent against a temperature drop. You heat the pan to a very high temp like 650F, and keep the heat cranked. However, 650F is above the smoke point of all fats that I am aware of (even my high temp safflower says 445F). That means lot of black smoke, and oil splattering everywhere as you are closer to the flash point than the smoke point.

 

High heat is also damaging to various components. Non-stick is nice, but teflon becomes soft around 450F and starts to smoke around 500F -- that's one reason we went to ceramic. Electronic circuit boards deteriorate, solder can melt, and plastics don't like it either. So you have to design the whole system for this and most electronics aren't. If memory serves the latest Cuisinart claims to hit 500F, but if you really want this performance get ready to drop over a grand for the Lynx.

 

We took an infrared camera to existing grills and found that the whole plate will not reach a high enough temperature, and that this temperature will drop quickly once a cold (relative to the high searing temp) piece of meat is added. This leaves you in that gray zone between maillard and low temp cooking.

 

It turns out that to create a responsive, clean system that can sear propoerly is non-trivial. So you need a responsive control system, availability of high power, a thermal transfer that quickly moves heat from the coils to the food, and cooking plates that support high temp while staying low maintenance (think of the care your iron skillet requires, and the time that takes). Plus you need to isolate the electronics to an onslaught of heat over years of cooking with no degredation.  And that’s what we developed with the Palate Grill.  We use multiple, high accuracy temperature sensors, the ability to send high power to the cold areas, a plate structure that both responds quickly and maintains enough heat, and placement of the control board to keep the electronics cool. It’s actually better than any restaurant-grade equipment we’re aware of; again they’ve been going to a high temp, running a strong fan to suck smoke away, and not concerned with non-stick.

 

In the current process, you do remove the meat while you transition from the low temp to the sear. We expect to have that down to 2 minutes in the production version, and then it's a 45 second sear. So in total three minutes right before you sit down to eat, and as you know with precision cooking there's no resting period. And it's fun to throw the steak on to sear. We are working to shorten this time in the future.

 

Oh I also wanted to point out that all the food you see on our website was cooked on the Palate Grill prototype, so that steak, with the thin sear band, is the result you would get.

 

 

A little more on why you don’t actually need 650F the entire time, take an extreme example: think of the holy sous vide MAP torch at 3,700F. I’m looking at the Bernzomatic site which points out you can cut steel at 1,300F, so clearly that temperature would pulverize your food. Therefore so you hold it away from the food and modulate the distance and time to get the surface just to the temp you want (more like 500F range, allowing for moisture loss). Torches are fun to some, but for all take experience and attention, and can result in disaster or off taste.

 

 

*Remember that any moisture must burn off at 212F which is why salting, patting the steaks dry before searing, and/or using dry aged

 

 

 

 

 

Can I only use the Palate Grill with an iPad?

Most of our customers already own an iOS device and use it in the kitchen, and it gives us the control to create the best experience. As we expand and add more resources we look forward to supporting more devices in the future. As it is there are too many screen sizes and OS versions of Android for an early start up to optimize the experience. I have many friends with android phones and understand that many people prefer it. Note that without a smart device you can set the temperature with one turn of the dial, which means you can do everything your existing electric grill, or even frying pan, can do only with more precision.

 

 

 

What’s the seal like?

We wanted to restrict the ability of colder ambient air to touch the food and pull away heat, without completely sealing the cooking area which could result in pressure changes. In the future we are working on ways to fully seal the cooking area to control humidity which might be useful to bake bread or allow the Smart Grill to function as a wok.

 

 

What’s the size of the cooking area?
The design requirement was to minimize countertop space and let you cook 2 NY strip steaks at once. That’s about 10” x 10”. We know that horizontal countertop space is important so we minimized that by creating a unique mechanical hinge mechanism that moves the bulk to the back.

 

We plan to offer additional sizes in the future. A larger one for families or dinner parties, and a smaller one for dorm rooms or singles.

 

 

EJN

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Frankly, I think the ceramic surface will be the Achilles heel of this project.  What I've found, as have others, is that the stuff starts out well but doesn't hold up in the long run, meaning more than two years of moderate use. And I've long since given up on using it for high heat applications.  Maybe you can get around this by offering replacement plates at modest cost, but I can see this blowing up on you down the road, much as anodized aluminum blew up on Calphalon.  At the time (circa 2002), it was their flagship product, but they had already diversified the product line sufficiently to make it through.  Whereas you folks, ISTM, have no where else to hide.

 

Also, I have to point out that your enthusiastic promotion of the gadget as a point-and-shoot solution (my paraphrase) isn't quite accurate.  It doesn't plan.  It doesn't shop.  It doesn't prepare sauces.   It doesn't prepare side dishes.  It's not going to be the panacea for non-cooks you seem to think.  Whether there's a market among experienced cooks who are interested in low temp but haven't bought into sous vide (largely, I'll agree, for the reasons you mention) remains to be seen.  In any event, that's going to be a pretty slim market.

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Hi Eric,

One major limitation to countertop appliances is that they're restricted to pulling at most 1800W out of a wall socket. This can be too wimpy for a lot of applications where they would otherwise excel (like countertop deep fryers). How does the Palate do dealing with the power limitation and does it limit what you can do?

Edited by Shalmanese (log)
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PS: I am a guy.

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Re: Ceramic plates

Good point about longevity. If the grill plates don't last for three years of use we'll replace them for free. It's true we haven't completed our lifetime testing or harsh environment testing, but I believe we can make it work by choosing the right compound and detailed specs to the coatings supplier. I come from a background of product development at Toyota where we knew how to design specifications to work for the customer. But if we can't do that here it's our fault, not yours.

 

Re: the market

It doesn't do everything -- you're right. We hope to make it easy for people to use whatever recipe and shopping system works for them, and continue making it easier over time. Is there a market for low temp? Yes, but it may be a slow uptick -- that's why we chose an approachable form factor of the electric grill, etc. 2,000 facebook shares of our TechCrunch article supports our strong belief that there is a giant market for higher quality food that is easier to make. But that's the broad market; here on egullet we're probably more interested in the quality and control; we think advanced chefs will be able to improve their skills by adding sustained, precise temperature control along the full range to their toolkit -- that's the been the case for me personally anyway.

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Re: Wattage

We have some novel ideas in testing for speeding this up with software and the specific layout of our cooking plates that I hope to be able to share in more detail soon. We've also been able to produce a nice sear at 1800W, partly by our ability to kick up to full power in a split second. If you are running 1800W full blast it's fairly strong; you can test this by setting an induction burner to full blast. Lots of appliances aren't set up in a way to detect the drop in temperature, nor react quickly, which may be why your experience makes you question countertop electrics.

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Question to you, Eric:

 

It looks like to me the Palate Smart Grill can only cook mostly flat meat such as steaks. Is that true? Can it sear the sides of a thick steak? Can it cook a chicken? Can it cook a whole rack of lamb? 

 

dcarch

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 
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Re: Wattage

We have some novel ideas in testing for speeding this up with software and the specific layout of our cooking plates that I hope to be able to share in more detail soon. We've also been able to produce a nice sear at 1800W, partly by our ability to kick up to full power in a split second. If you are running 1800W full blast it's fairly strong; you can test this by setting an induction burner to full blast. Lots of appliances aren't set up in a way to detect the drop in temperature, nor react quickly, which may be why your experience makes you question countertop electrics.

 

Actually, 1800 watts can be very powerful, plenty to char or vaporize a piece of meat.

 

When the meat is being slow cooked at low power in the begining, the power not used to cook the meat can be stored in a bank of super capacitors. When needed, the energy stored, paired with full 1800 watts line power, can do an amazing job in searing.

 

dcarch

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This is quite interesting for folks that find a grill is perfect for what they cook.  But it won't fully replace sous-vide for many of the reasons folks have mentioned above.

 

But more options / innovation is always a good thing.  IPad requirement shuts this out for me, but hopefully that's temporary. 

 

Also the price is the primary factor - so hopefully this is a 1st gen and the price will come down.  I've noticed through the sous vide kickstarters that < $300 really is the amount for the higher end of the normal folks.  (Most of my family has nothing over $200 in their kitchen beside the large appliances) 

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in thinking about this grill I have a few reservations :

 

on their web site they feature a cooked steak, which implies it came form their grill.  If so, how did the sides get browned ?

 

and the picture of the cooked steak features a very very thin 'grey' band just below the browned surface.   i cant imagine how the grill was 

 

able to heat up so hot so quickly that this grey  ( overcooked ) band is so thin ?

 

I hope this is not another case of 'smoke and mirrors' 

 

here is the steak in question from their web site :

 

steak Palate.jpg

 

so show us how the Palate did this steak.  if it did, youre in business with The Busy Swells.

Edited by rotuts (log)
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rotuts, I don't find the thin band hard to believe, given that the steak is pulled from the grill while being brought to high heat.  See Post #14.  As for browning the sides, isn't that the obvious thing to do as you're finishing?  I mean, you have a hot grill, right there.

 

I have several reservations about the grill, but the basic tech isn't one of them.

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in my view it takes enough time to get to high heat that that thin band might not have come from 'just' the grill.

 

I also dont see people grabbing  the steak(s) w tongs and taking the time and trouble to rotate the steaks around the rims to get that color

 

but Id like to be wrong ...

 

why not a CuisiSteamOven then onto a very hot cast iron pan.   the steam oven after all will do other things this grill cant.

 

there is an implication from the pic that you put the steak on the grill, dial up a temp and then maybe a second temp and then eat.

 

like to see a full video of getting that steak on that grill

 

if easy to do   Kudos Their Way.    If not   there will be a lot of returns from The Swells.

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I am very good in figuring things out, I enjoy watching magic shows and trying to figure out how they do it. Most of the time I am able to tell, but not always. 

 

That's the whole fun of magic shows. What is seemingly impossible to you, feats that totally defy logic and laws of physics happen right before your eyes.

 

I am keeping an open mind about this new appliance.

 

 

dcarch

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      3 tablespoons Cognac (brandy)
      2 small onions, finely diced
      ½ yellow or red bell peppers cut into strips
      90 g mixed mushrooms
      100 ml of gravy from last Brisket (or concentrated stock)
      1 teaspoon mustard, Dijon type
      1 teaspoon paprika mild (not spicy!)
      1 medium pickled cucumber cut into thin strips
      2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
      approx. 120g sour cream with herbs
      Sous Vide - cooking
      Marinate brisket with Mexican style (medium hot) marinade in the vacuum bag for at least 3 days at 1 ° C, cook sous vide 48 hours at 55.0 ° C.
      Preparing the sauce
      At a moderate heat sauté onions in olive oil, add peppers (preblanched in the microwave oven for 2-3 minutes) and mushroom mixture, stir-fry, remove from heat and add the gravy. Add pickled cucumber, pepper, mustard and cognac. Put on very low heat, add sour cream and keep warm, but do not boil as the cream will separate. Remove the brisket from the bag, cut into strips (about 8x10x35mm), sear very quickly in smoking-hot rice bran oil, add the meat and the parsley to the sauce.
      Serving
      Serve on warmed plates. Typically served with spätzle (south German) or chnöpfli (Swiss).
      And don't forget a glass of good red wine!
      Enjoy your meal!
      Pedro

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