Gourmet show highlights cooking innovation

By KOREN CAPOZZA, UPI Science News  |  April 23, 2002 at 2:09 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, April 23 (UPI) -- Cooking traditionally has depended on intuition and creativity rather than the size of a chef's arsenal of kitchen gadgets, however some new inventions at the Gourmet Products Show Tuesday are challenging that wisdom.

The annual convention attended by merchandisers, kitchen professionals and inventors showcased the latest and most popular cooking gadgets.

Some of the newest technology enables chefs to take advantage of ancient techniques. A new three-sided cordierite ceramic oven insert by Hearth Kitchen Co. of Wilton, Conn., converts a standard appliance into a country brick oven. The HearthKit allows chefs to produce artisan breads and pizzas in the 7,000 year-old tradition of hearth oven baking.

Developers of the hearth oven say the technology eliminates temperature fluctuations associated with metal cookers and produces more evenly baked dishes.

"This product is going to be a really hot item," said Michael Fear, an independent retailer who scouts out new products at the show for his buying cooperative, HTI Buying Group.

One of the more intriguing items was a hand-held, milk-whipping tool the size of a serving spoon that produces a stiff, fluffy café latte in under 10 seconds. Designers of the tool, Dur Kop, accelerated the rotational speed of the wand and reduced its size making it faster, easier to use and more efficient.

Among the most alluring -- and perplexing -- technology on display was a product called the Perfect Sommelier, made by the Deja Brew Co. of Shrewsbury, Mass., which apparently ages wines 30 years in just 30 minutes.

According to its developers, the invention works by creating a strong magnetic field around the wine bottle. By simply placing a "young" wine on a magnetic stand and topping it with a magnetic cork, the product is able to "smooth out the tannin molecules" in the wine by created a magnetic force field, according to Product Manager Doug Dubin.

From a scientific standpoint, that claim sounds dubious at best. But the product has won the surprising support of wine connoisseurs like Anthony Dias Blue, wine critic for Bon Appetit Magazine.

"I don't know what it does, but it tasted better afterward," said Jim Wilson, a kitchenware buyer for Gourmet Curiosities in Sylvania, Ohio.

Some products were obvious flops, like several garlic peeling and pressing machines that required much more labor than simply slicing the cloves on a cutting board.

Unlike in previous years, one line of kitchen appliance was notably missing: Internet-compatible appliances. During the peak of the dot-com boom, inventions like networked appliances and microwaves that downloaded recipes from the Internet, were the darlings of the Gourmet Products Show. Now, they have all but disappeared.

"Everybody thought the consumer was ready for it but everyone over-predicted the market," said Shae Hong, president of Cela products and former developer of networked kitchen appliances for E-pod. "Pretty much all those products are gone now."

Still some kitchenware developers are pushing to create high-tech "smart tools" that take the thinking out of cooking. One manufacturer developed a recipe calculator that instantly translates standard recipe measurements into larger or smaller batches.

Sunbeam Products Inc. is pushing its "Intuitive Blender," which has the computer intelligence to intuitively fine tune the consistency of shakes and other concoctions.

The most popular items appeared to be products that improved upon traditional tools, supporting the theory people want their kitchen experience to be familiar and comforting rather than novel or challenging.

"People just don't want kitchen products to be too complicated or hard to understand," Fear said.

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