Gizmos and gadgets for the kitchen

Advances in technology simplify life, save time and energy, but at the same time take something intangible away from the enjoyment of a good life. Mindless application of ‘smart’ gadgets can imperil the art of cooking.

Ever since our prehistoric ancestors stumbled upon the joys of accidentally cooked food, there has been no let-up in the invention of implements that reduce the drudgery in the kitchen. The art and science of cooking have explored new horizons with gadgets and gizmos that sizzle.

We have come a long way from a pair of palaeolithic knives, a mortar and pestle, a grinding stone, and tongs, to air fryers, smart slow cookers, sophisticated food processors, and even fully automated fulka-making machines.

Just as one trend appears to subside, another surge tempts us with the latest kitchen aids that promise to deliver a wide range of mouth-watering and healthy delicacies in a jiffy. What we are talking about are accessories and gadgets for the home kitchen. Commercial kitchens are a different ballgame. Over the years, an array of kitchen appliances have appeared and disappeared with monotonous regularity. Assorted sandwich makers, battery-operated hand mixers, slow pot cookers, non-aerosol oil sprays, rice cookers, and curd-making machines. Most have passed into oblivion without a trace.

It’s not always a necessity that’s the mother of invention. More often than not, it’s large companies that fuel our greed and create an aspirational need. Celebrity chefs and nutritionists become brand ambassadors to push slicker and smarter stuff. Taking an informed decision is becoming increasingly difficult. To our mind, the most useful gadget in the kitchen, which takes over the dirtiest and most humiliating chore anyone is assigned to do, is the dishwasher.

Surprisingly, they have not made steady inroads and even now are some kind of status symbol, included in the package of an ultra-modern modular kitchen. It is not only the cost, ranging from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 50,000, that works against them; many people feel that the vessels used in Indian cooking—patila, degh, karhai, and metallic thali katora, and tumblers do not lend themselves to proper cleaning in machines. While utensils are used in western-style meals where the main course is a dish served on a plate and the glasses used for wine and water can be given the dishwasher treatment, the Indian housewife or the cook can only be satisfied when the final rinsing is manually done.

The washing machines, when they first appeared, met with similar resistance and we feel that with a little tweaking, the dishwasher too can become indispensable in most urban homes. As for the cost, with the sales increase in volume, the prices are bound to come down. Of course, issues about the regular supply of electricity and running water will keep rising. The item high on the wish list of yuppies is the Air Fryer, which carries price tags in the range of Rs 8,000-25,000. We Indians love our deep-fried stuff, be it samosa, pakode-bhajiye, bade, kofte-kachori. Well, to be honest, the air fryer can’t help us with puri kachori or parantha, but with a little imagination and resilience on the consumer’s part, tasty samosa, pakoda, fried chicken and fish can be enjoyed at home without the hassle of deep-frying.

The first generation of air fryers was rather bulky and deterring. The second generation occupies a little more space than the good old microwave. The trouble here is that those who love samosa pakoda prefer to buy them from the favourite halwai shop next door or round the corner, so addicted are they to the taste of the local tales fix! They choose to forget all about trans fats as they stray from the path of virtue and swallow the piping hot stuff. A few months back, considerable buzz was generated around the launch of a fully automated roti maker for NRIs. Some well-heeled Indians picked one up in Dubai more to show off than to use. All you had to do was measure the flour and water and press the button. The dough was kneaded, divided into patties, and rolled into chapatis, and after 5-7 minutes, you could start collecting fulkas from the outlet. The contraption costs a little over fifty thousand and is yet to be launched in India. Maybe due to the lukewarm response, the launch has been delayed.

Making raw vegetables and fruits safe enough to eat was once entrusted to the ‘pink solution’ made with potassium permanganate.

With the aid of a special gadget, the one thing is to have the bowl of fruits and vegetables infused with ozone. No fruit, we are told, remains forbidden after this. You can play around with an Ozone Vegetable bathtub by shelling out between Rs 2,500 and Rs 8,000.

Since the advent of globalisation, the younger generation has become addicted to foreign snacks like pizza and barbecued meats and vegetables, as well as real coffee as opposed to the instant cup. Tempting them is a whole range of portable barbecues costing Rs 7,500 and above that can be set up even on a small terrace or a cramped balcony. These firing tandoors can be fired with charcoal pellets and satisfy the cravings of those carnivores who yearn for the aromas of the jungle.

Small gas-fired and wood-fired pizza ovens are attracting interested glances from potential buyers. With other ingredients readily available on shelves in food marts, the temptation is almost irresistible to have this tasty treat at home whenever fancy strikes.

However, these are exorbitantly priced and are not likely to enter Indian homes. For the real coffee lover, nothing matches the high provided by real espresso. Nescafe has come up with a machine that replicates the espresso made by Italian baristas very closely.

Here again, the cost of consumables makes the total cost of ownership quite steep at present. Most people opt for the French press, the filter-percolator, or the South Indian coffee decoction maker. Advances in technology simplify life, save time and energy, but at the same time take something intangible away from the enjoyment of a good life.

Science and technology in the kitchen are akin to using software to create graphics, as opposed to painting, to make ‘cut and paste music’. While this may allow more people to indulge in the culinary arena, mindless application of “smart” gadgets can imperil the art of cooking.