29 August 2009

Molecular Gastronomy and The Kitchen of Tomorrow

The automated kitchen-of-tomorrow has featured prominently in science fiction since ...forever. The food dispenser is one of those ideas that seems an obvious enough next step if one assumes making dinner is nothing but toil. Of course in practice, the preparation of meals is an enjoyable activity, bound up in cultural and social traditions and needs that transcend the convenience of some automat-like contraption extruding dinner onto a conveyer belt. This might be why the more elaborate depictions of science fictional food dispensers are seen in spacecrafts and not in some imagined future home: surely astronauts and those people on Star Trek have better things to do than sauté spinach or poach an egg.

Of them all, 2001: A Space Odyssey's gleaming little General Mills-branded galley is my design favorite: intricate, sleek and practically seething with 1960's technological optimism, it's food preparation activities are so removed from human interaction that it functions as nothing more than an elaborate vending machine. While there has been little progress, or apparent interest, in fully automated food prep (outside my own home, anyway), smaller, incremental advancements soldier on with ever more sophisticated and complex ovens, cook tops, robotic Nespresso machines and the like making deeper inroads into the kitchen daily.

Recently, appliance giant Philips has posted several advanced and novel food preparation concepts that take more ambitious strides towards bringing molecular gastronomy to market. The standout concept Philips has proposed is a stereolithographic "food printer", that can both reconfigure and combine various foodstuff and ingredients, then "...‘print’ them in an array of unique shapes and consistencies, in much the same way as 3-D representations of product concepts are now produced" through repurposed ink jet printer technology (interesting article here, accompanying, somewhat cheesy video here).

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