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The San Francisco Couple That Wants to Turn Your Cooking Pot Into a Hot Tub

Rebecca Flint Marx | June 16, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

When the White House hosts its first-ever Maker Faire this Wednesday, two of its most enthusiastic participants will be Lisa and Abe Fetterman. The creators of Nomiku—an immersion circulator designed for the home cook—the couple has come a long way in the three-plus years since their initial attempt to make a home immersion circulator by hacking an office coffee urn.

In typical San Francisco fashion, the Nomiku was born in part from a desire for a better work-life balance, in part from gleefully obsessive tinkering. Abe is a Princeton-educated plasma physicist, while Lisa has worked front-of-the-house gigs for the likes of Jean Georges Vonghericten, Mario Batali, and Josh Skenes of Saison. Not long after they met, Lisa saw an immersion circulator (also known as a sous vide circulator) on TV and said she wanted the machine, which circulates and heats water to an accurate and stable temperature. “Abe said, ‘I’ll make you one,’” she says. Soon the couple began experimenting with various heating elements—“we were kind of like the meth addicts who take apart their TV,” Lisa recalls—and eventually created the Ember, a DIY sous vide kit fashioned out of the aforementioned coffee urn.

Following a move to San Francisco, the formerly New York-based couple both became immersed in their jobs, Lisa at Saison and Abe as the lead physicist at LightSail, a Berekeley technology company. They loved their work but never saw each other, so when they won a $15,000 grant from the HAXLR8R program, a venture fund focused on supporting hardware innovation, they quit their jobs and went to China, where they spent three months prototyping their invention, burned through their grant, and went $20,000 into personal debt. “I thought I’d have to sell a kidney,” Lisa remembers, only half-joking.

But with the help of their friend Bam Suppipat, a former Momofuku chef who at the time was working as a corporate chef in Thailand and is now Nomiku’s COO, they managed to finish the prototype, and in 2012 launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring their finished product to life. After raising $600,000 in 30 days—the campaign, Lisa says, was Kickstarter’s number-one most-funded food project—they finished the Nomiku last summer, and began shipping it in October. So far, they’ve sold more than 4,000 of the $299, 2.5-lb machines through their website and Amazon. Four of them reside in Noma’s test kitchens; in San Francisco, they’re used at Saison, Prubechu, and Daniel Patterson’s restaurants.

Although 71 percent of Nomiku’s customers are men, Fetterman says her “main goal” is for women to use it. She explains that its small, storable size and dependability are what many women look for in a kitchen appliance. “Women want a lot of counter space and durability; we want them to think of it in the same way they think of an heirloom KitchenAid mixer,” she says.

The home immersion circulator market is booming; with companies like Sancerre, Anova, and Sansaire all producing machines, competition, Fetterman says, is “white-hot.” Nomiku is being positioned as the smallest and most powerful of the lot, but Fetterman insists she cares less about her competitors than her potential customers; all she wants, she says, is “to pursue you owning a sous vide machine in your home. It’s the most San Francisco-y thing I can think of: sous vide for you now.”

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