Tag Archives: technology

The Coolest Kitchen from the International Consumer Electronics Show

Jetsons via Hanna-Barbera

The toasters really did tweet at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.
The ovens downloaded recipes, the refrigerators were on Facebook, and the dishwashers chatted with the washing machines about the hot water.
The kitchen of the future is here, and can be summed up in one word: connected.
You talk to your appliances, they communicate with each other and the outside world.

The LG ThinQ refrigerator has a smart food monitor that texts you updates when you run out of groceries. It recognizes each family member through voice-recognition software and suggests dishes appropriate to each diet. The refrigerator can cue the ThinQ oven to the appropriate cooking time and temperature, and the oven will text you when it’s preheated and completed the cooking cycle.

The app-enabled Samsung refrigerator tracks the expiration dates of groceries and will soon be upgraded with an e-commerce app that will allow you to shop for food straight from a screen on the front of the fridge. For now, the LCD monitor can be used to stream TV and Facebook or download recipes.

You can ring up the internet-connected Jura-Capresso coffeemaker from your smartphone to start brewing before you even get out of bed. It stores individual preferences for coffee strength, water amount, temperature, and milk-frothing steam.

There are features to appeal to the tech-geek inside us, but the real smartness of the appliances fits into the broader conversation around the connected home and overall home management. Connected appliances can minimize down-time and waste by running their own performance diagnostics, and they can connect to the manufacturer for repairs and upgrades. They can tap into signals from power companies and use the data to adapt their cycles to optimize energy usage and shift their energy consumption to off-peak times.

Smarten up your old appliances.
There are devices out there that let you create your own connected home without replacing your old appliances.

The Wifi-connected Twine is loaded with temperature, pressure, moisture, current, RFID, and motion sensors. It knows when the refrigerator door is opened and closed, when the ice maker is jammed, and when your oven thermostat needs recalibration; and it can report on status via emails and tweets.

Remember the Clapper? Belkin’s WeMo is the 21st century version of ‘clap on, clap off.’ You plug in any appliance that has an on-off switch and control or schedule its operations via smartphone or tablet computer.

The connected home is not exactly the futuristic utopia of The Jetsons, where a hungry Jane pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. But we’re getting closer.

 

 

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How to be a Food Geek

[image courtesy of Consumer Eroski]

Food Geeks should not be confused with Foodies.
Foodies talk about past and future meals while eating the current one. They know the pedigree of the eggs they eat and will carry heirloom tomatoes like a newborn baby. They can be profoundly interested and even technically proficient in one or many aspects of food (cheese, restaurants, cooking, wines), but the focus is squarely on the pleasures of the table: the food they eat, the people they share it with, the memories they create and the ones they recall.

Food Geeks are an entirely different animal.
They not only admire a crusty baguette, they can tell you if it’s due to enzymatic browning or lipid oxidation. They measure ingredients in grams and will serve caviar with white chocolate knowing that they match on a molecular level. Food Geeks appreciate the art of cooking while they embrace the science.

In the world of geeky niches, Food Geeks are a little more socially-acceptable than Gamers and Gadget Nerds but not as cool as Music or Movie Geeks. At least according to Gizmodo’s Socially-Acceptable Geek Subgenre Scale, Food Geeks have a middling rank between top-of-the-heap Finance Geeks (Math Nerds turned cool… who’s getting a wedgie after calculus class now,  jocks?) and the bottom-dwelling human/animal fantasy-hybridists known as Furries.

Food Geek Essentials
Food Geeks are well-represented online (no big surprise).

  • The patron saint of Food Geeks is Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, a classic tome of gastronomic science first published in 1984. His blog, the Curious Cook is a must-read for any self-respecting geek.
  • Another essential bookmark is the molecular gastronomy blog Khymos. The blog is the creation of a Norwegian organometallic chemist (a fairly typical career among Food Geeks); don’t ask about the blog’s name unless you want a lesson in Greek and Arabic etymology (also fairly typical).
  • Ideas in Food showcases playful experimentation with food, reflecting the culinary rather than scientific backgrounds of its bloggers.
  • When Food Geeks just wanna have fun, they play a round of TGRWT. Short for They Go Really Well Together, the players start with the hypothesis  that if two foods have one or more key odorants in common, they might pair well in a dish.
  • Show some geek pride with a food-themed t-shirt.
  • Lifehacker has instructions for the Top 10 DIY Food Geek Projects.

You can mingle with the Food Geeks through the Facebook page and Twitter feed of FoodGeeks.com. And keep an eye out for TGRWT— the results from the last round should be posted any day now.

 

 

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A New Flavor Bomb

       [image via Tiscali UK]

How many flavors can you taste?
Way back when we were taught that there were four basic flavors: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. These are the ones you can’t get by combining any others—they’re primary flavors, in the same way that red, yellow, and blue are primary colors.

A few years ago we started hearing about a mysterious 5th flavor known as umami.
Umami is described as a rich, satisfying, mouth-filling, savoriness. It’s that delicious something you enjoy when you eat umami-rich foods like aged beef, mushrooms, soy sauce, and Parmesan cheese, and that something can’t be explained by the four primary flavors.

Umami’s break-through came in 2000 when researchers at the University of Miami identified specific umami receptors on the tongue. That discovery put it in the same category as sweet, sour, salty, and bitter; in other words, we had a genuine, fifth primary flavor. The culinary world was rocked—it was akin to biologists suddenly discovering a third ear on the back of everyone’s head.

Umami is nothing new—just newly embraced by western food scientists. It’s a traditional flavor enhancer for Asian cooking, where it’s concentrated in ingredients like soy sauce, dashi, bean pastes, and oyster sauce. It’s the reason that just a touch of ham can amplify the flavor of pea soup and a mere sprinkle of Parmesan does wonders for a pasta dish.

Just when we were getting used to the idea of a 5th flavor, researchers are honing in on a 6th.
Sort of. Kokumi has no taste. There are distinct kokumi compounds and kokumi receptors on the tongue, so kokumi qualifies as a primary flavor, but on its own it’s flavorless. Kokumi compounds are most plentiful in onions, garlic, cheese, and yeast extract (fish sperm too, but who’s counting); combine them with other ingredients and pow!—it’s a flavor bomb. When the tongue’s kokumi receptors are activated, the kokumi alters other flavors adding a hearty richness and roundness. It deepens the sweetness of sugar and makes savory foods taste more savory.

For the complete story on kokumi science and its culinary potential, you can download the slideshow presented at the 2011 Nordic Workshop in Sensory Science.

 

 

 

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Steve Jobs: The Food World Pays Tribute

The Food World has a soft spot for Steve Jobs.
No, he was not a ‘foodie;’ in fact he had little interest in the distinct pleasures of the table.
His ties to the industry are indirect, his influence is almost incidental.
He was never really one of us.
Even so, the visionary mind of Steve Jobs has touched the lives of diners, home cooks, and food workers everywhere.

Quick food facts about Steve Jobs:
He was a vegan since his college days, although he did eat sushi.
He briefly dabbled in fruitarianism (yes, an all-apple diet).
He often did his own grocery shopping at the Palo Alto Whole Foods.
He was partial to raw foods.
He frequently fasted, believing that digestion was burning up energy that could be better spent on work.
In his role as Pixar CEO, he convinced Disney to drop its McDonald’s Happy Meal toy tie-ins.
Earlier this year, he was ranked #5 on a list of the 50 most powerful people in food.

After technology, media, and entertainment, the food industry is where he had his greatest influence.
Here’s the way Steve Jobs is being honored and remembered by food communities online:

Restaurant Management Magazine looks at the transformative potential of the iPad for the restaurant industry.

Restaurant marketing site Restaurant Commando tells of the lessons learned from Steve Jobs’ marketing of the iPod.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thanks Steve Jobs for his role as one of the world’s most prominent advocates for vegetarianism.

Fast Casual shares ten lessons the restaurant industry can learn from Steve Jobs.

The Food Watchdog looks at the legacy of food apps.

Food Network Musings describes Steve Jobs’ influence on the home cook in everything from from recipe gathering to how we make shopping  lists.

The Daily Weston recognizes the range of Steve Jobs’ food-related contributions from party evites to Yelp reviews.

Serious Eats asks you to share your own thoughts, remembrances, and thanks in response to the question: “How did Steve Jobs change Food/Cooking?”

iEat. That’s why I mourn his passing.

 

 

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Smelling and Selling

Your appetite perks up the minute you walk into the supermarket.
There’s the homey smell of roasting chickens as they take a slow turn around the rotisserie, a faint herbal-citrusy scent rising from neatly stacked pyramids of produce, and of course the fresh-baked aroma of yeasty cinnamon goodness floating through the air of the in-store bakery.
What are you really smelling?

Supermarkets, restaurants, and other retailers are pumping more and more artificial fragrances through their stores. The practice goes by lots of different names–retail atmospherics, neuromarketing, sensory branding, olfactory marketing, scent logos–whatever you want to call it, it’s making you spend more money.

Sure, food smells make you hungry, but there’s more to it than that. Your sense of smell is directly connected to the emotional control center of your brain, where it triggers a response that influences your behavior. When a particular scent taps into the right emotions, you’re more inclined to make a purchase.

This stuff really works.
According to the Scent Marketing Institute, Nike was able to boost its customers’ intent to purchase by 80% when certain scents were added to their store environment. Gas stations can triple their mini-mart coffee sales, nightclubs serve more cocktails, and toy stores can get parents to linger longer with the right scent (it’s orange-seawater-peppermint for nightclubs and piña colada for toy-shopping grown-ups— go figure).

Food is a natural for scent marketing. Most of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our sense of smell. Our taste buds perceive only bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and umami flavors, and we already rely on odor molecules for specific taste sensations. Plus, it’s easy to perfume the air with chocolate or freshly baked bread, and not so simple to devise a suitable smell for sneakers or Legos .

Sensory marketing is nothing new.
A breakthrough in nebulization technology, in which a scented oil is converted into a dry vapor, has made fragranced air more commercially viable, but for years hotels have pumped a little bacon smell into elevator shafts in the morning to boost room service breakfast business, and theme parks have been tempting you to buy popcorn and sweets with scent machines hidden in the landscaping. More recently, Starbucks became so convinced of the power of scent marketing that it nearly abandoned its successful line of hot breakfasts because of the way the smell of heating sandwiches interferes with the coffee aroma.

Reeking of deception
Aggressive scent marketing by a New York supermarket has opened an ethical debate. Brooklyn’s Net Cost market has had great success with five nebulizers that pipe different fragrances through strategic store locations, seeing sales rise by 7% for the corresponding foods. The problem is that the store also disperses cooking smells for items that aren’t prepared on the premises, and for items it doesn’t even carry. Customers have complained that the store is misrepresenting its products, and that they feel misled and manipulated by the scents.

You can get a good overview of retail atmospherics at the website for ScentAir, the scent supplier to Net Cost markets, among its tens of thousands of global installations. ScentAir offers 350 smells by monthly subscription from its fragrance library, although to me, separate entries for funnel cake and waffle cone feels like so much hair splitting.

Last month’s New Scientist looks at the ways in which smells shape our moods, behavior and decisions while barely registering in our conscious lives. Read The unsung sense: How smell rules your life.

From the Gigabiting archives, February, 2011: Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower. Read Better than Viagra: Arousal by Food Smells.

 

 

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The Latest Food Startups: At the Intersection of Food and Technology

Foodia. Foodzie. Foodily. Foodbuzz. Foodspotting. Foodista. Foodtree. Foodler. Foodoro. Fooducopia. Foodcaching. Food-Ex.
Did I forget anyone?

It feels like every day there’s a new food and technology venture competing for our attention, and still, the food-related startups just keep coming. There is no end to the interesting and innovative ways we can now search for recipes and nutrition tips, track down rare ingredients and bargains, or find out where all our Facebook friends like to go out for dinner. It’s all good, but still, you have to wonder if we really need three different services that can page us when a table is available in a popular restaurant (No Wait, Textaurant, and ReadyPing).

Does it feel crowded in here to you?
Aren’t all the programmers, designers, and entrepreneurs supposed to be building up that ‘cloud’ computing thing? Instead, they’re poking around the food space and even bringing the capital with them. Money managers took notice in August when a chain of grilled cheese restaurants launched with an estimated $10+ million in funding from the same group that backed Google, Yahoo, and Pure Digital. Now every seed fund and venture incubator program worth its salt has at least a couple of food startups in its stable.

It shows no signs of slowing down. Here are some of the newest entrants focused on technology, innovation, and market trends in the food world:

MooBella has developed an ice cream-on-demand vending machine that takes 40 seconds to churn out a fresh scoop that can be customized with 96 different variations of flavors, mix-ins, and butterfat.

Tasted Menu has users rate, recommend, and review individual restaurant dishes to create a database of the best of the best (and worst of the worst) for each city it covers. It joins Foodspotting and Forkly in a crowded field of crowdsourcers.

You’ll never eat alone: Grub With Us plans family-style dinners for strangers to meet at restaurants (currently in 7 cities), and SpoonDate lets you arrange a spontaneous blind date based on location and food cravings.

Culture Kitchen hosts authentic, ethnic cooking classes taught by new immigrants.

Foodcaching consolidates offers from daily deals sites like Groupon and Living Social and turns them into a location-based treasure hunt for food and drink bargains.

Foodoro and Fooducopia have joined the old-timer, three-year old Foodzie, in the marketplace for buyers and sellers of hand-crafted foods that let you set up your own etsy-style shop.

Jeffrey Peden, founder & CEO of CraveLabs looks at why the food industry is so ripe for the tech invasion.

Looking for a piece of the action? Kickstarter is a funding platform that lets you in on the ground floor of start-ups for as little as $5. It’s currently seeking micro-funding for a caffeinated breakfast cereal, a maker of fancy cake kits for home bakers, a crowd-sourced cookbook, and a few dozen other food-based projects.

Food and Tech Connect is an information company that produces networking events connecting innovators—the entrepreneurs, technologists, researchers, policy makers, farmers, and producers—at the intersection of food and information technology. It’s the premier place to stay on top of what’s happening on the cutting-edge of the food world.

 

 

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Will Restaurant Menus Go the Way of the Album Cover?

photo collage via Popphoto

Some of us are still mourning the passing of the album cover.
First shrunk to CD jewel box size, it’s all but disappeared into the straight-to-iPod download.  A once vital contribution to the culture of music, album art and liner notes are increasingly the preserve of gray-bearded collectors.

Could the same thing happen to restaurant menus?
Many of the quick-serve and national chains now use electronic menu boards, self-serve ordering kiosks, and digital table projections. iPad menus and wine lists are popping up at even high-end restaurants, and a restaurant’s website has become the ultimate ambassador for an establishment’s brand identity.

The menu used to be the heart of any restaurant.
Like album covers, menus reflect social, cultural, and artistic values. They are big canvases where restaurateurs can create a visual and tactile experience that invites us in and tells us a story about the meal to come.

Thankfully, there are some who will carry the torch into the digital age.

The preeminent design champions of Under Consideration recently launched Art of the Menu to catalog what they call “the underrated creativity of menus from around the world.”

The fine art publisher Taschen has just released Menu Design in America, a yummy, coffee table-sized book that provides an epicurean tour of dining in America over the past 100 years.

The Italian gastronomic society Academia Barilla has a rich collection of menus dating back to the early 1800’s, giving us a rare view of regional Italian cooking that predates the unification of the individual Italian states.

The Harley Spiller Menu Collection documents one man’s love affair with Chinese takeout. 6,000 of the 10,000 menus in his private collection are of the tri-fold variety that urban dwellers find stuffed in their mailboxes.

The New York Public Library has one of the world’s largest historical menu collections, with more than 40,000 menus that are regularly perused by historians, chefs, novelists, and everyday food enthusiasts.

You can help carry that torch.
For years, the librarians at the New York Public Library have been slogging their way through the process of digitizing their massive menu collection. The progress has been slowed by the idiosyncratic nature of menus. The Optical Character Recognition technology is stymied by handwritten menus, unorthodox layouts, and fanciful typography, and the digital scanners aren’t able to read the menus in a way that creates indexable, searchable data.

The library has created the What’s on the Menu? project to enlist the public’s help in transcribing the menus, dish by dish. Eventually they plan to formalize the process a bit, but for now there are no user accounts or tracking systems. You just click on a menu and type what you see. It’s easy and it literally takes just a few seconds of your time for you to contribute to this important preservation of our culinary past.

Give it a try—you can start transcribing right now, right here!

 

 

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Why We Will Finally Buy Groceries Online

[image via Prevention.com]

When’s the last time you busted out a dictionary to look up a word? Or unfurled a map to look for directions? Or looked through the newspaper’s classified ads for anything?
We use the internet to make our lives easier in a million different ways, but we’re still not buying groceries online.

It’s the most universally detested of all household errands.
The parking space feels like it’s in the next county, the checkout line edges forward in tortuous slow motion, and we finish up with bag-splitting trips from car to kitchen; yet we’d sooner chance a shoe size crapshoot on Zappo’s than order groceries online.

On the cusp of success.
It should be a slam-dunk—online grocery shopping is a convenient time-saver, light on the environment, less physically taxing, and prices stack up competitively against supermarkets. But after a false start in the 1980’s and another go-round a decade ago, sales are sputtering along at less than 2% of the U.S. food market. We’re now seeing the third coming, and this one’s going to stick.
Here’s why:

•There’s none of the earlier, paranoia-fueled resistance to online transactions; by now, we’ve all bought something online, and for many of us, online shopping is second nature.
•The new, recession-habituated shopper is disciplined and strategic. For years, we’ve researched and price-compared high ticket items like electronics; now, we may not be ordering our groceries over the internet, but 62% of shoppers say they search for deals online for at least half of their shopping trips, according to a survey commissioned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
•The retailers are ready this time around. Food handling has improved, as have the technology tools available to advance the service and grow transaction size.
•The biggest and savviest players have jumped in, armed with existing distribution centers, retail know-how, and the deep pockets to sustain them through the high-value marketing campaigns and discounting necessary to build market share.

Walmart, already the nation’s largest grocer, is testing its home delivery service Walmart To Go. The retail behemoth is well-known for its mastery of consumer data and pricing strategies, as well as its stingy business practices, all of which serve it well in the grocery sector with its razor-thin profit margins.
Amazon has been tinkering with Amazon Fresh for four years in its native Seattle; once perfected, the service will go national. Unrivaled in expertise and insights into the interconnectedness of lifestyles and consumer buying patterns, Amazon is expected to be a major force in the grocery sector.

You still can’t squeeze the tomatoes or check the expiration date on the sour cream. But once you’ve experienced the time savings and the ease of (often free) delivery, you might never set foot in another supermarket.

The Shopper Marketing series from the Grocery Manufacturers Association is the industry’s road map to the future.

 

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Restaurant Websites: C’mon, people, you can do better.

Listen up, restaurants.

There’s a serious problem with your websites. You lavish attention on the details of food and service, but you put a website out there that would shame a first-year design student with its slow-loading graphics, clunky navigation, and forced downloads. Come on people, first impressions. Don’t you get it?

Here, in no particular order, are our top pet peeves:

Auto-play music: What is this, 1998? That’s the last time that unsolicited music that loaded with a site was kind of fun, kind of novel. Now it’s just annoying.

Flash abuse: You can do the darnedest things with flash these days. Look at all those animated special effects with the twirling, dancing logo. Love the slideshow of  arty closeups. Lucky me with all this time to admire it while I wait for the damned thing to load!

Pre-home page: The home page has finally loaded and I’ll be able to find the information I am looking for. Nope, just a lot of animated frippery and a click to ‘Enter Site.’ I thought that’s what I was doing when I typed the URL and hit ‘enter.’

Hide and seek with the essentials: Don’t make me count off the clicks until I get to the address, phone number, and hours of operation, all scattered throughout the site. Here’s a thought— how about keeping the information together and putting it all on that fancy pre-home page?

The menu: Are you honestly asking me to download a pdf of your menu? It’s not just a nuisance– if I’m on my phone, a metered data plan will make me pay for this privilege.

Get a clue about mobile devices: Hello? Does anyone in the kitchen have a smartphone?

Clean, fast-loading, logical, easy to navigate, mobility-enabled. Get it?

 

 

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Does a Good Review Make the Food Taste Better?

image via Foodists

We know that food tastes better when it’s eaten outside. Or when it’s free. Or when one of our kids cooks it for us.
What about a meal in a restaurant that’s gotten rave reviews? Researchers who study the science of taste tell us that our expectations actually exert a kind of strange magic on our taste buds that can truly alter our sensory perceptions.

Your taste in music or art is subjective, but those opinions come after you’ve sensed it. Your eyes are seeing a color or a shape and your ears are taking in the tones—they do the sensing before your brain chimes in with its opinion. The sensations themselves are unjudged; there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about them.

Taste is different.
It is good or bad: nutrition or poison; swallow or spit. Taste is survival.

It’s more than the sum of the sensory data.
Your tongue identifies hot or cold, salty or sour, sweet or savory, but the survival mechanism requires your brain to interpret the data: ingest or reject? Taste is created only when the brain takes the sensory data from the taste buds, tosses in data from the other four senses, and views it all through the lens of experiential and psychological factors.

Our expectations play right into the psychological factors, sometimes even refracting the sensory input in defiance of reality.
You’ve probably seen some of the classic studies: the young children who insist the hamburger in McDonald’s packaging tastes better than the no-name burger, or the wine drinkers who show a marked preference for the bottle with an expensive label. The newest studies using MRIs and brain mapping techniques confirm it—your expectations really are defining what you taste. That Michelin star or Zagat 27 score will light up your brain when you sit down to dinner, giving it a head start in delicious before the first bite (You’ll have to trust me on the technical details of this one- I think we’ve had enough neuroscience for one day. Or else read the studies cited below).

Eating is a multisensory experience taking into account genetics and gender, historical and cultural influences, mood, emotions, context, and hunger. The empirical scores of a restaurant review can shape the experience, but no two people can ever truly taste the same thing. Like good art or music, good food is subjective.
Of course food lovers already know this.

Studies referenced:
Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children’s Taste Preferences from the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine;

The Interactive Effect of Cultural Symbols and Human Values on Taste Evaluation from the Journal of Consumer Research;

various studies from Alfredo Fontanini at the Neuroscience Lab at Stonybrook University.

 

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Waiters vs. Technology

Does it take a rocket scientist to split the check?
The gossip was flying when Rajat Suri, a promising Ph.D. candidate, withdrew from MIT and began waiting tables at a nearby chain restaurant. Did he flunk out? Had he cracked from the pressure of the rigorous engineering program? His classmates were certain that one of their own would never choose to abandon all those years of scholarship so close to the prestigious terminal degree.

Clearly, his mind was on more than tips.
It’s now two years later, and this week saw the official launch of E la Carte, Suri’s start up that attracted million dollar funding and a board stocked with heavyweights from the technology sector (the founders of Reddit, Gmail, and Dropbox) and the restaurant industry (senior management from Applebee’s and other national chains).

E la Carte supplies partner restaurants with an ordering system utilizing hand held touchscreen tablets. Customers view pictures and read descriptions of menu items, and orders are fully customizable using a checklist or by typing special instructions. A timer counts down each dish’s estimated time of delivery, and the device provides entertainment and social media diversions for the wait—electronic doodles, a coloring book, trivia challenges (solo or for the table), and Facebook updating. An especially welcome feature allows bills to be split in any number of ways and paid for with any number or combination of credit cards (swiped through the integrated card reader) and cash.

The national rollout has begun; first up—Boston and San Francisco.
E la Carte is currently in just a few dozen locations, but with an enormous backlog of orders and a deal pending with an as-yet unnamed major American restaurant chain (looking at the corporate board’s composition, I’d say the smart money’s on Applebee’s).

The company claims that compared with the traditional service model, E la Carte is more efficient, more user-friendly, and even more profitable for restaurants. According to figures based on six months of data from beta testing, the devices increased overall restaurant revenues by 10-12%. Most of the increases came from impulse orders of high-margin items: the screen asks “How about a nice bowl of soup to start?” while you’re looking at a lovely photograph of steamy bisque, and you’ve been told there will be a 20 minute wait for your entrée. Tap-tap and it’s on its way.

Bad news for struggling actors?
E la Carte is not necessarily a waiter-less system. Humans still bring orders to the table and perform customer service functions like seating and beverage refills. And yes, you still leave a tip. With higher tabs from all the up-selling of impulse items, plus the system’s tip calculating function (choose from 15-25%—another easy tap-tap—or write in a custom amount), the servers should do just fine, although restaurants will probably need fewer of them.

Vindicated.
As for Rajat Suri, the company he founded currently has 15 employees, most of them engineers with degrees from MIT. And every one of them has a stint of restaurant service on their resumé. Suri requires it.

 

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How Smart is Your Package?

How about a cantaloupe that signals when it’s ripe and milk that tells you when it’s spoiled?
That’s right, in the future no one will ask “Does this smell funny to you?”

Intelligent packaging is coming soon to a grocer near you.

Meat and fish can look fine even when they’re spoiled or tainted with bacteria and toxins. A new smart plastic wrap can sense the molecular changes that indicate decay, and a label will change colors to signal its status. There’s a wrap for produce that can sniff out ethylene gas, which indicates the ripening of fruit and vegetables, and hexanol, which signals spoilage.

Other packaging will be printed with temperature-sensitive inks that can change colors to signal when food has been improperly shipped or stored. They’ll turn the bar code red so that it can’t be scanned at the checkout. And there are refrigerators in the works that will be able to read the smart packages and can text or email food status updates.

It’s not just about spoilage. There are plenty of convenience and marketing applications in the works like self-heating soup cans, self-cooling beer cans, and attention-grabbing, light-up cereal boxes; but the real action is in food safety. That’s because all of the best if used by and sell by labeling we rely on is little more than a security blanket for consumers.

Freshness dating is not required by federal law for any food products except infant formula and certain baby foods. Some states require dating for dairy products, but there is no agreement or uniformity for freshness standards. For all other foods, labeling is voluntary. Producers can choose to slap on expiration dates, but there are no accurate or consistent freshness standards, and except for dairy products and formula, the retailers are free to keep the expired products on their store shelves.

Until the new, intelligent food packaging hits the store shelves, your best bet is the old tried-and-true: “Does this smell funny to you?”

For more information:

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture has Fact Sheets covering many facets of safe food handling and food spoilage.

Still Tasty is a complete guide to the shelf life of commodity and brand name foods. It offers storage and handling tips, creates shopping lists, and can alert you to looming expiration dates. Still Tasty is also available as an iPhone application.

 

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Are Vending Machines the Next Big Thing?

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We saw it happen to food trucks.
Those street corner fixtures, branded colloquially as ‘roach coaches,’ became food world darlings. Instead of withered hot dogs of questionable origins, suddenly you could find pastured-beef burgers on brioche buns, duck-filled dumplings, goat cheese cheesecake, and sustainably-harvested fish tacos. The jangly tune of a Mr. Softee truck was replaced by twitter tweets announcing truck locations and daily specials. Combining food-savvy, tech-savvy, and political correctness, a new breed of entrepreneurs elevated humble and much-maligned street food into a full-fledged culinary phenomenon. Are vending machines next? […]

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With Little Fanfare, Google Rolls Out its Recipe Search Engine.

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One out of every 100 Google searches is for a recipe.

Since Google executes about one billion searches each day, that adds up to 10 million recipe queries a day. A day.
Did you think the Google juggernaut would sit back and let specialized searches like Allrecipes and Epicurious chip away at all that traffic? […]

Posted in cook + dine, cyberculture | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The WikiGullet Project: the new ‘Wikipedia’ of food

 image via Will Write for Food/Dianne Jacob

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Who doesn’t love Wikipedia?
It’s vast, fast, and always up-to-date. It’s the first place we turn to settle disputes.
It’s also messy, quirky, and sometimes less than authoritative—very much a human product.

You too can have a hand in shaping the ‘Wikipedia’ of food.
Like Wikipedia, the WikiGullet Project aims to be a community creation, written an entry at a time by a broad assemblage of volunteers. […]

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Watch Where You Sit: Attack of the Flesh-Eating Furniture

[image via DJ Reko]

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Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of technological advancements.
iPhones, electron microscopes, instant streaming Netflix—all good stuff.
But every once in a while, something comes along that makes you wonder what those scientists are smoking.
This one feels like a big, big mistake. […]

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Potato Chips: Tasting With Our Ears



image via the Loud Food Club

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We Love the Crunch.
Its just potato, hot fat, and salt, but together they make magic. The first chip out of the bag—pristinely crisp and salty, with a crunch that is unsullied by time or ambient humidity— it’s one of our most underrated gustatory pleasures. And it’s an auditory pleasure as well.

It turns out that in the sensory vocabulary of food scientists, crispy and crunchy are not the same thing. When we eat potato chips, we hear the crunch, but we’re really sensing it in our mouths. When it comes to crispness, even though it’s bound up with the crunch, we’re assessing the crispness with our ears. […]

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Google’s Mad Crazy New Search Tool

image via Electronic Illusions

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Have you checked out the new Google labs Ngram Viewer?
It’s either the greatest research tool since the Dewey Decimal System or the internet’s most colossal, pernicious time suck.

It takes the vast, digital library of Google Books and treats the content like data. Choose up to five words or phrases and the Ngram Viewer will graph their published appearance for any period in the last 200 years. Choose well and it can reveal an awful lot about trends, interests, and inclinations. […]

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The Geekiest Beer on Earth

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Open source beer?

You’re already using open source software.
Maybe you’re running a Linux-based operating system or web browsing with Mozilla Firefox. Wikipedia is your go-to for open source content. This blog runs on the open source WordPress blogging platform. It’s called open source because the source code is right there for anyone to learn from or tinker with, and you don’t have to pay a royalty or fee to the license holder. […]

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, cyberculture | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Breakfast Breakthroughs

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The Rube Goldberg-esque automated breakfast cooking machine is a pop culture staple.
The comically convoluted gadgets are like shorthand for mad scientist. Think of Doc Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy; the father/inventor in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; even Pee Wee Herman got one in his Big Adventure. Toast, coffee, juice, and eggs at the push of a button is the holy grail of kitchen technology. Here are some recent kitchen innovations that take us a few steps closer to that reality.

 

The Cuisinart Egg Cooker handles up to seven eggs at a time. It hulks futuristically on your countertop where it boils or poaches to the precise consistency.

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http://www.ipmart.com/contents/products/P57000/57710/extra_pic/NostalgiaElectrics_Dough-Nu-Matic_DON-100.jpg The Dough-Nu-Matic automatically forms, fries, and drains mini-doughnuts in under a minute. It drops the finished doughnuts into a receptacle at the end, but you’ll be tempted to position your gaping yaw directly beneath.
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Is there any better way to wake up than to the sizzle and smell of bacon? Before bed, you slide frozen bacon strips into the cooking drawer of the Wake n’ Bacon alarm clock/bacon cooker. The 10 minutes cooking time is better than a snooze button.
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http://blog.gadgethelpline.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/chefstack.jpg If you’ve ever tried to make pancakes for a crowd, you’ll appreciate the ChefStack. It’s a fully automated pancake maker that can crank out a flapjack every 18 seconds—that’s right, 180 pancakes per hour.
It’s only 3 functions but we’re getting close with the toaster oven-hot plate-coffee maker combination that is the Maxi-Matic EBK-200 Elite Cuisine 3-in-1 Breakfast Station 4-Cup Coffee Maker.
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See the modern-day Rube Goldbergs who took a Craigslist curb alert’s-worth of castoffs and spare parts to create an all-chain reaction breakfast-maker. It scrambles eggs, juices oranges, brews coffee, makes toast, and plates the whole thing up with jam, meat, and cheese. A single push of a button sends an egg rolling from a chicken cage down a chute and onto a hot plate where it breaks and cooks.  Simultaneously, a coffee grinder is dropping freshly ground beans into a cup while water boils, oranges are squeezed into a juice glass, and a loaf of bread rides on a conveyor belt for slicing and then drops into a toaster. When it pops, the toast moves to a butter and jam paint roller. The toast and scrambled egg drop onto a plate on a sliding tray where they are joined by juice and coffee. Voila, breakfast!
View the video here.
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Posted in appliances + gadgets, diversions | Tagged , , | 2 Comments
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