Even the best food could use a dash of ones and zeros. Geek out with us as we explore the intersection of food and technology this month.
Imagine it's the year 3030.
The future is unpredictable. But for the brainy chefs and culinary innovators we asked to dream up designs for the kitchens of 3030, the future is weirdly specific.
"Unfortunately, the world as we know it is no longer, so kitchens are communal greenhouse areas where the remaining humans (post-alien invasion) gather to celebrate our history," Richard Blais, the spiky-haired chef at Juniper and Ivy in San Diego, laments. "Lichens are our main food source. Kale, however, is still trendy."
We got some wacky ideas from them, but the same question still lingers in the future, according to Scott Heimendinger, the cofounder and CMO of Sansaire: "How do they make cooking more thrilling or stable? I think that all starts with asking why we cook. I see the reason to cook as a desire to get personal fulfillment out of the process. It's about pride of authorship and enjoyment in the act of creating something."
So here's how chefs envision the kitchens of 3030.
① The Stove
Looks like dishwashers are off the hook. "There will be no more need for pots and pans," Enrique Olvera, the chef/owner of Cosme in New York City, muses. "There will be more planchas or high-heat griddles to sauté and stir on, as well as little 'portals' to heat up soup broth and sauces." It sort of reminds us of the setup at Momofuku Ko, also in NYC, where razor clams sizzle and dance on hot thin metal disks. And the source of fuel? "All induction," Olvera says. "Natural gas is now obsolete, because they took it all," Blais says. They being those greedy little aliens.
② The Countertop
"You know those Japanese Hoshigaki persimmons? The ones that are hung outside to dry in the sun and massaged every few days so they become crazy sweet and delicious?" Michael Solomonov, the chef/co-owner of Zahav in Philadelphia, asks. "I think my future kitchen will be all about the 'space dry' instead of the 'hang dry.' In 3030, why can't we space-dry some persimmons into orbit and then corral them back and make persimmon salad with feta and pistachio? Yes, this makes cooking less 'stable' but exponentially ups the cool factor." Think of this as a sort of herb garden hanging from the windowsill above the kitchen sink.
However, Heimendinger doesn't think hydroponics are just a fad but rather something home cooks will rely on more and more. "Today, there's an emerging category of countertop hydroponic herb gardens. In the future, propelled by biotechnology, I think we could see a countertop tree that grows apples on one branch, lemons and limes on another, and avocados on a third," Heimendinger says. "And the nutrient content—and perhaps even pharmacological content—will be precisely tailored to your body's needs."
③ The Microwave
This little guy isn't going anywhere. "The microwave was among one of the first high-tech appliances to show up in kitchens around the world," José Andrés, the chef/owner of 20 molecular-minded restaurants all over the country, says. "But I think the microwave is not yet living up to its potential. The technology still needs another leap in improvement. Call it Microwave 3.0. The people use it only to reheat, and that makes a microwave a waste of space and money in a kitchen when it could become so much more."
Heimendinger begs to differ. "Microwaves, for all their technical accomplishment, are pretty blunt instruments. They have very poor control over even heating and bringing your food to a specific internal temperature. The microwave's best feature is that it heats foods fast," he explains. "But in the future, as our devices are connected and aware of our daily routines, we can trade fast cooking for 'anticipatory cooking.' Your appliances will predict when you'll be hungry and will have hot food at the ready."
④ The Tools
"I dream more of tools and machines that can grow organic foods faster and in greater abundance and deliver them worldwide for those in need," Blais says. "Also, having a flamethrower powered by the stars attached to my arm for the sole purpose of barbecuing wild animals for food festivals also stimulates me."
Will the beloved wooden spoon cut it in an age of space-dried food and appliances anticipating when you're craving instant ramen? Who knows. But Solomonov certainly knows one such kitchen utensil that will definitely not be around come 3030: "Definitely tongs. Clumsy, way-too-many-of-them-propped-around-my-kitchen . . . tongs," he says. "Without tongs in my way-of-the-future outdoor spot, 'heat of the kitchen' will take on a whole new meaning, and tongs will no longer be relevant. My cooks and I would essentially be immune to the heat of the grill and outdoor oven. Actually, can we call this new style of cooking 'back to the future?'" And a trend is born.
⑤ The Refrigerator
Heimendinger likens the fridge of the future to a printer, a 3-D printer, that is. "We'll see refrigerators that can print foods using 'toner cartridges' of amino acids," he says. "It makes very little sense to raise whole animals the way we do now, when all we're after are specific cuts of muscle. Instead, we'll be able to on-demand construct 'chicken breast,' 'salmon fillet,' and 'beef rib steak.' I use quotes, because none of those foods will come from the animals themselves. Instead, the cuts that we know and love now will inspire shapes, textures and flavors that we'll recreate through 3-D food printing."
⑥ The Home Bar
One word: robots. "I still like talking to my local bartender, but in a home, it would be ideal," Jeret Peña, the bartender behind The Brooklynite, Stay Golden Social House and The Last Word in San Antonio, Texas, says. "Some days I don't feel like being social, and if a robot can stir my Negroni with perfection, I'd say that's a good day."
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