IN­SPECT A GAD­GET

How much thought do you put into those uten­sils you use ev­ery day in the kitchen? Ever won­dered about their evo­lu­tion? Au­thor Tim Hay­ward has...

Dish - Everyday Dish - - Contents -

Au­thor Tim Hay­ward un­cov­ers the un­sung ge­nius of kitchen gad­gets.

It’s some­times the small­est things we take for granted. Tim Hay­ward turns this idea on its head with his new book The Mod­ern Kitchen, which ex­am­ines the ev­ery­day items that serve us so well and yet never get their due. Af­ter read­ing his anal­y­sis, you’ll look at the con­tents of your cup­boards and draw­ers in a whole new light. Dish chats to the Uk-based au­thor about his re­search and what’s in his own arse­nal.

To­day, we re­gard the kitchen as the heart of our home. It’s where we get to­gether as fam­i­lies, where we do the daily work of feed­ing our­selves and those we love. Yet the kitchen in a mod­ern West­ern house is a bizarre hy­brid – part leisure space, part work space – si­mul­ta­ne­ously a room and, when “fit­ted” with a unique com­bi­na­tion of fur­ni­ture, trim­mings and ap­pli­ances, a sin­gle, de­sir­able “consumer durable”.

There is nowhere in daily do­mes­tic life where de­sign im­pinges quite as much as in the kitchen – where Le Cor­bus­ier’s dic­tum that the home should be “a ma­chine for liv­ing”, or Louis H. Sul­li­van’s ob­ser­va­tion that “form ever fol­lows func­tion”, are more in ev­i­dence. In a so­ci­ety that largely re­jected mod­ernism in ar­chi­tec­ture, the ap­pli­ances, the fur­ni­ture, the kitchen it­self are the sur­viv­ing ex­em­plars of the phi­los­o­phy: de­sign with a prac­ti­cal rigour that cuts through any amount of ro­man­tic nostal­gia.

All most of us know of tra­di­tional kitchens comes from two sources: cook­books and the her­itage in­dus­try. Right up un­til the 20th cen­tury, cook­books lived not in the kitchen with the cooks but in the li­braries of masters and mis­tresses, used for the “guid­ance” of of­ten il­lit­er­ate staff. For the aris­toc­racy and most of the mid­dle class, “cook­ing” meant the work done in kitchens staffed by ser­vants. This was the sec­tion of so­ci­ety with sur­plus wealth, who could make choices about food and eat­ing. They ate good food but, in ac­cor­dance with rigid so­cial con­ven­tion, rarely en­tered the place where it was pre­pared.

For me, the story of the mod­ern kitchen be­gins as ser­vants dis­ap­pear and as work­ing peo­ple at­tain the means to own and equip their own kitchens. It is not per­haps a mean­ing­ful idea in the his­tor­i­cal or an­thro­po­log­i­cal sense, but for me it’s when “or­di­nary peo­ple” en­ter kitchens and set about the busi­ness of cook­ing that the space starts to be­come in­ter­est­ing.

For most of us, our kitchens and the ob­jects in them are the def­i­ni­tion of “quo­tid­ian” – so or­di­nary that they seem in­signif­i­cant and near-in­vis­i­ble. But ob­jects so very close to us are the ones best evolved to our lives and most re­spec­tive of them. Ev­ery ob­ject has a de­sign his­tory; some man­u­fac­tured ob­jects have cor­po­rate “ori­gin myths”. All are wor­thy of at­ten­tion. Af­ter all, if ev­ery­day ob­jects can­not tell pow­er­ful sto­ries, why do we have mu­se­ums?

I’m a lit­tle more ob­ses­sive about kitchens than most. For me it’s not just where I cook and eat with my fam­ily, but also a place of work – a study, lab­o­ra­tory and stu­dio. Part of the rea­son I love spend­ing time in it is that ev­ery sin­gle ob­ject is se­lected and placed care­fully and daily judged for its util­ity. If a sin­gle one fails, I am ruth­less in edit­ing it out.

The kitchen is a con­stantly mu­tat­ing ex­pres­sion of self – and I sus­pect this is more than a lit­tle true of ev­ery­one. The home kitchen, its lay­out, set-up and selec­tion of kit has al­ways been a sur­pris­ingly neat il­lus­tra­tion of our be­liefs, tastes, aes­thet­ics and as­pi­ra­tions – si­mul­ta­ne­ously the heart of our homes and a vivid snapshot of our do­mes­tic lives.

Can you tell us a bit about your ca­reer path and how it has lead to The Mod­ern Kitchen?

I was lucky enough to get an art school ed­u­ca­tion so I was im­mersed in de­sign and art his­tory. I cooked pro­fes­sion­ally for a while but moved into ad­ver­tis­ing. I think it was this lat­ter that got me most in­ter­ested in the ob­jects in this book. Al­though there’s a great deal of pure “de­sign” in the items, it’s their im­por­tance as al­most dis­pos­able consumer ob­jects that’s fas­ci­nat­ing. It’s why they’re so rel­e­vant to us even if they don’t nec­es­sar­ily find their way into mu­se­ums. The his­tory of the do­mes­tic kitchen re­ally is, in many ways, the his­tory of mod­ern con­sumerism.

Any sur­prises in re­search­ing the book?

What a great ques­tion! I was amazed that what I’d al­ways called an “egg slicer” was no such thing. Many Bri­tish house­holds have one of th­ese things… its a sort of mesh of stretched wires that closes over a dished metal base. We put a hard-boiled egg into it and close it and it comes out badly sliced in about the same amount of time it would have taken you to cut it well with a knife. What re­ally sur­prised me was that ev­ery other coun­try in Europe calls this thing a “mush­room slicer” – which, in­ci­den­tally, it does bril­liantly – and can’t imag­ine why we’d ever need to slice eggs.

Do you have a fond­ness for any par­tic­u­lar kitchen im­ple­ment?

My grand­mother’s spring-style whisk. I’ve had it for years and it is ac­tu­ally, gen­uinely mag­i­cal. I’ve never split a sauce or failed with

“Ev­ery ob­ject has a de­sign his­tory; some man­u­fac­tured ob­jects have cor­po­rate ‘ori­gin myths’. All are wor­thy of at­ten­tion. Af­ter all, if ev­ery­day ob­jects can­not tell pow­er­ful sto­ries, why do we have mu­se­ums?”

a may­on­naise when­ever I’ve used it. When some­one put it through the dish­washer years ago and the han­dle fell off, I was so bereft that I cast a new han­dle for it in epoxy. No­body’s al­lowed to touch it now. It’s as ugly as hell but it still works like Harry Pot­ter’s wand.

You’ve said in the book you’ve strictly edited your own kitchen items – what didn’t make the cut?

Food pro­ces­sors, elec­tric pasta mak­ers, a spe­cial ver­ti­cal saucepan for as­para­gus… God, the list is end­less. All I can tell you is that my lo­cal char­ity shop think I’m the great­est bene­fac­tor since Bill Gates. What can I say… it’s an ad­dic­tion.

If you could only have five gad­gets in the kitchen, what would they be?

A good knife, a Peu­geot pep­per grinder, a 12” cast-iron skil­let, my grandma’s whisk and a tast­ing spoon.

Fond­est mem­ory of your child­hood kitchen?

I was fas­ci­nated by a hand cranked egg-whisk. Mainly, I ad­mit, be­cause it made an amaz­ing ray-gun for shoot­ing space mon­sters… but I think that’s a le­git­i­mate thing. I sup­pose the fond­est mem­ory is the gen­eral feel­ing of the kitchen. A kind of lov­ing re­treat – back then ruled by the women of the fam­ily – a place I could al­ways be as­sured of warmth, at­ten­tion and, of course, food.

Are you a keen cook? What would you say is your sig­na­ture dish?

I am. I have all sorts of favourite, show-off sig­na­ture dishes, but I only re­ally im­press my­self when I turn out scram­bled eggs as good as Bill Grainger’s.

What do you think is the most clever piece of kitchen kit in­vented so far?

It would have to be the skil­let. I’ve got a cou­ple of books on out­back cook­ing that prove you can cook pretty much any­thing with a skil­let and I’ve seen chefs use them to turn out heart­break­ingly beau­ti­ful dishes. Noth­ing else is quite as ver­sa­tile.

Are you a fan of kitchens with gad­gets on dis­play? Or do you like to tuck them away?

A clean bench is the sign of an or­dered mind. I’d rather im­press peo­ple with my scram­bled eggs than a shiny ar­ray of consumer goods.

How do you feel about au­to­mated gad­gets as op­posed to man­ual?

To be hon­est, I’m not a ram­pant tra­di­tion­al­ist. I mean, I’m the first to crack out the stand mixer with a dough hook rather than spend hours hand-knead­ing bread. The whole his­tory of the mod­ern kitchen has been one of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance and in­no­va­tion. What’s in­ter­est­ing is the things that have sur­vived and those that haven’t.

What’s the gad­get you wish you’d de­signed?

The Mi­croplane grater. In re­cent mem­ory, it’s been the sin­gle item that’s most made me think “Yes… that’s def­i­nitely an im­prove­ment”.

Who will be in­ter­ested in your book?

I hope it will be peo­ple like me. Peo­ple in­ter­ested in food, de­sign, science or so­cial his­tory… or maybe just geeks who love trivia.

What do you hope peo­ple will get out of it?

I con­fess to be­ing a to­tal nerd and en­thu­si­ast. I had an ab­so­lute blast re­search­ing and writ­ing it and was con­stantly en­ter­tained by the weird stuff that cropped up. I just hope I can pass that on to read­ers.

Tim Hay­ward is a writer, broad­caster and restau­ra­teur. The Mod­ern Kitchen is his fourth book.

This is an edited ex­tract from The Mod­ern Kitchenby Tim Hay­ward. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Sarah Ho­gan. Pub­lished by Quadrille, RRP $42.99.

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