Rachael Kealy ponders the merits of high tech and low tech kitchens
I finally took the plunge. I bought a Magimix. The famous food processor and its sixteen attachments are currently sitting on my dining table, as there isn’t an inch of space in my cupboards for yet another kitchen gadget. From the pestle and mortar to the millstone, humans have always sought out ways to make cooking easier, speedier and more efficient. Before the advent of the kitchen appliance, many recipes were simply impossible for ordinary people, ie., those without the time – or the servants – to beat eggs into stiff peaks or sieve meat into mince.
With the rise of consumerism and mass production in the late nineteenth century, great advancements were made, with the introduction of the electric mixer (1885), the dishwasher (1886), the commercial refrigerator (1911) and the supremely useful microwave (1954). In Ireland, the Rural Electrification Scheme of 1946 transformed our kitchens and the lives of our grandmothers.
The taste for culinary gadgetry hasn’t abated: in the run-up to Christmas, home appliances were the second most popular purchase for Irish consumers, with 45 per cent spending their money on various contraptions, according to marketing
firm, Webloyalty. But have we reached peak gadgetry? Can we honestly say we need a €700 blender? Or an automated egg-cracker? An electric cherry-pitter?
A battery-operated flour-sifter?
Years ago, as a university student in Nantes, France, I discovered that less is often much more. Every evening, my dorm-mates and I gathered in the tiny communal kitchen, where we each had a knife, a pan, and some mismatched delph. I remember hovering nervously, watching the French students prepare their suppers. Using only aging hotplates and a warped sauté pan, they rustled up galette bretonne, moules à la provençal and a cheaper version of sole meunière made from nameless white fish, fresh from the market. I learned a great deal, not least how to cook with one hand, and drink wine with the other. For the most part, my cooking style hasn’t changed much. I still prefer simple methods and a low-tech kitchen. However, there are some items I would struggle without: a pull-cord food chopper is used almost daily, as is a garlic press and a battered old blender from Argos. That’s not to say my drawers are bereft of the odd impulse-buy either, such as a blow-torch for the crème brûlée I made just once... six years ago. The plethora of complex devices by brands such as Kitchenaid, Thermomix and Cuisinart make cooking easier and yet, conversely, more difficult. Do we need them? Usually, no. But cooking isn’t just about creating sustenance; for many it’s a fun project, a relaxing hobby, a creative outlet. Some people spend their Sundays, for example, tackling an elaborate roast dinner, a complicated baking technique, or an exotic meal they want to recreate. There’s a certain enjoyment in the myriad stages and steps of a recipe, and if some light engineering with a countertop machine is required, it’s all the more satisfying. Kitchen gadgets are toys for grown-ups, and I can’t see playtime ending any time soon.