By IRENE AUROVSKY, ANNA ENYA DZUBEY & JOE-HYNN YANG
One major aspect of the universal appeal of any Kitchen of the Future should be how it responds and adapts to the cuisines of global cultures, rather than simply be structured to a Western, or French, style of cooking. In analyzing the past, present and future of cultural differences in kitchen design, we will refer to the dominant cultures of Africa, the Jewish Mediterranean, and Asia.
AFRICA – FOOD PREPARATION & APPLIANCES
African cuisine comprises a broad variety of food types. Agriculture and farming is the main occupation of most traditional people of Africa, therefore, many families grow and raise their own foods. Indigenous food is mainly plant species and animals such as goat, poultry, cow, etc. The variation of food comes from the influences and interactions with the different cultures within Africa. While culinary details differ from region to region, they are similar in the method of preparation, and the time and effort required.
One spends hours over an open fire, sweating over the daily dish of banku and fufu, typically the favorite dish of Ghana and other West African countries. This is a tedious process because not only will one have to exert a lot of energy to prepare it but also sit for a couple of hours behind an open fire trying to get this dish done.
Outdoor cooking is an integral part of cooking in Africa due to the heavy nature of their cooking appliances. There is also the aspect of communalism, where families gather to talk and have fellowship with one another while preparing the days meal. The fufu, made from root crops like cassava and yam, is pounded into pasty sticky dough with a thick consistency and eaten with soup. The only appliances used in the preparation of this is a carved wooden mortar and pestle. The cooked cassava is put into the mortar while the pestle is used in pounding. This process can be strenuous, and a lot of energy is used in this preparatory process. Over the years people have tried to find or invent simpler methods or equipment that can be used to prepare this dish and make the process less tiresome. A Togolese electronics engineer, researcher and inventor, Jules Logou, invented the “foufoufmix.” Patented in 2000, it consists of two small paddles mounted on a rotating axis that mixes the pieces of yam or cassava until smooth dough is obtained. With this invention, the noise from pounding is reduced, there is less physical effort involved in preparing this vital staple meal which evokes great emotional connections.
Cooking techniques of Africa are changing but the local cuisine and recipes of Africa continue to remain deeply entrenched in local customs and traditions with only the addition of a few minor changes. Across the continent, there is the introduction of foods rich in protein, the eating of more fruits and the use of native oils such as palm oil, shea butter oil and coconut oil. Many dishes also combine fish, including dried and fermented fish. With the invention of new machines and the process of making these root crops into powdered form, there really isn’t need for hustling to cook on these pots on open fires. Then again, there are those who are so used to these cooking methods that it will be difficult for them to adjust to these new changes.
The technologies available on the market today appear to be just the crux as much headway has been made in recent years with the ability to use smart phones for web based controllers in regards to the integrated kitchen systems. Innovations surrounding the smart phone will allow the connected home to come to fruition and this appears to be the way forward in kitchen innovation.
JEWISH MEDITERRANEAN – FOOD PREPARATION & APPLIANCES
Jewish cooking is a combination of cultures and styles from many places demonstrating the influence of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Spanish, German and Eastern European cuisine. All these different styles are in keep with Kashrut, which are the Jewish restrictions, laws and beliefs about food consumption. In Middle Eastern countries, griddling (heating on a hot surface) was a common way of cooking; such as laffa bread that was cooked outdoors on a hemispherical metal surface placed over a fire.
Bread was even mentioned in the Bible as the essential stuff of life, but another traditional and important dish was actually lentil stew, which can be found in the chapter of Genesis 25:29-34, where Jacob cooked the stew and fed it to Esau. Lentil stew was cooked in pots of clay suspended from a tripod over an open fire. A more recent yet traditional cookware is the tagine, also an earthenware pot that was placed over hot coals.
Shabbat (Sabbath) is the day of rest for the Jewish when one is not allowed to light a fire or turn on electricity for the entire day. In the past, the only way to deal with this was to prepare food cooked in advance, or to keep it continuously cooking until time to eat. With variations depending on the culture, this led to the development of a common dish called cholent or hamin, It is a stew that is cooked in a pot that is brought to a boil on Friday before Shabbat begins and is slow cooked till the following day. It consists mainly of legumes and vegetables.
This situation created a need for appliances that can work under this restriction. Another situation to consider is in the more orthodox Jewish kitchen where there are the laws of Kashrut (eating kosher) that include many restrictions such as separating, in every way possible, the dairy and the meat products. This factor almost creates a double kitchen, where sinks, ovens and all eating utensils are separated accordingly.
These days, people are looking for ways to get closer to traditional cooking in the modern kitchen. The laffa or flat bread that is traditionally cooked outside on a metal surface does not have that possibility. People adapt and come up with an informal way by turning a pan upside down over the fire and cook the bread on the bottom part. The contemporary kitchen is taking away the outdoor-cooking experience.
Another way of cooking that was done outdoors was stewing in earthenware pots over an open flame. Today, the tagine is simply placed over the stovetop, and even an electrical tagine appliance is available on the market, but these may trade authenticity and flavor for ease of maintenance. People look to invest less time and work in cooking due to busy lives and lack of time. Pressure cookers can also solve the problem of long-duration stewing.
For the Jewish kitchen, there was a necessity to come up with appliances that can help in observing dietary laws. Today, a slow cooker is used for Shabbat, begun on Friday evening, cooking slowly for 4 to 10 hours till it is time to eat. Shabbat mode was also invented for other appliances such as ovens and refrigerators, by not letting internal lights turn on.2
To comply with Kashrut food separation, an intense cleaning is needed if an appliance has to be switched from dairy use to meat-cooking use. Self-cleaning appliances might help avoiding two of everything. Contemporary trends are all about adjusting and adapting different cultures and religious issues into the modern kitchen. There are still inventions to be made to make life easier without losing cultural traditions.
ASIA – FOOD PREPARATION & APPLIANCES
The cuisine of Asia is extremely diverse but we shall draw out a few similar trends in the shift from traditional food preparation and cooking to modern appliances. The main staple food of East Asia is rice, which requires steaming to break down the grain capsule and fluff up the carbohydrate interior. However, careful monitoring is required to prevent the water from drying out, or from the steaming to occur for too long which causes the grain to break down and become too soggy. In Japan, China and India, this was done by constantly monitoring both the heat source and the wood or metal containers which held the rice and the water. Automated rice cooker appliances were first developed in Japan in 1945 by the Mitsubishi Corporation, but the earliest models lacked an automatic turnoff and still required monitoring. A successful commercial product using thermostatic turnoffs was only developed by the Toshiba Corporation in 1956.
Apart from rice, another key area of similarity in Asian cooking is the preparation of long duration stews and curries. Curries are essentially stews using coconut milk rather than water-based stock. The need to keep food stewing over long periods requires pots which do not transfer heat to the contents too quickly (scorching the base), but rather retain heat more consistently through the entire surface; hence a preference for ceramic over metal pots. Particularly given that ceramic technology was developed earlier than metal, the earliest cultures of India, the Near East and China have had a long tradition of using earthenware or clay pots in cooking going back thousands of years. Unfortunately, in the modern kitchen today, earthenware pots are not used since they are heavy, and difficult to clean, so the preference is to use pressure cooker appliances, or to keep stirring over metal pots so the stew doesn’t burn at the bottom. An interesting feature of curry-based cuisine is the use of hands to eat the food in India, and the use of the leaves of the banana tree as a serving plate. Banana leaves are cut down the middle, the heat from the rice and curry releases oils in the leaf which complements the food, but the leaf itself remains impermeable to water and grease, so the table beneath remain clean. After dining, the ‘dinner plate’ leaf is thrown away and is obviously biodegradeable.
One major issue with Asian cooking is the preference for cooking outdoors. A major reason why average Asian families prefer to eat out at open-air food courts or restaurants is that the modern home kitchen is simply not equipped to manage the high-intensity heat, humidity and grease level associated with much of Asian cooking, whether that is the Chinese stir-fry, steamed dumplings or bread-buns, Indian grilled meats, Korean barbeque, and Japanese teppan-yaki.
The use of woks and griddles are common to India, China, Korea and Japan, but this releases the oil spatter directly outwards in water-borne steam which eventually coat every surface in the kitchen, as well as infuses upholstered fabrics with the smell of cooking. While there is a deep traditional longing for this kind of comfort food, much of its preparation is no longer done indoors in a domestic home. Instead, the work is executed in a commercial kitchen, and people pay for the convenience, but this loses much of the hand-made care, authenticity, and uniqueness of Asian cooking.
THE FUTURE: ACROSS CULTURES
Taking into consideration cultural differences over the globe, should the kitchen of the future be flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate all these needs? Present-day kitchen design appears to be a holdover from Western style thinking about modularity, and cooking techniques derived from the European model. The major factors of concern are indoor-outdoor cooking, ease of clean-up, adjustable height-levels, and appropriate appliances.
Integrating a balcony with an outdoor kitchen can help to keep traditions and cook certain dishes the way it was cooked in the past. The communal aspect of African cooking over a central fire can be replicated by having access outdoors, and this communality is equally important to Indian cooking as well. Present-day apartment living has proposed one solution by placing some cooking elements on balconies, but perhaps the future kitchen could have movable partitions that could convert an interior space into a partly outdoor one.
Clean-up is an important issue to all, but especially for Jewish families that need to keep kosher. Since it might be impractical in terms of cost and space to retain the practice of double-kitchens for dairy and meat, self-cleaning adaptations should be developed for all appliances, including refrigerators, cook-tops and microwaves. As kosher cutlery needs to soak in boiling water for long periods, perhaps future dishwashers could have kosher cleaning options. With regards to the high grease spatter of stir-frying and griddles, we recommend the development of cooktops which have integral backsplashes with disposable linings made from paper or some other biodegradable / recyclable product.
Most present day pots are metal-based, yet most of African, Jewish Mediterranean and Asian cuisine rely on earthenware pots. One recommendation might be to develop earthenware cookware which can be used on electrical /induction tops, or be integrally electrified in some way, in order to maintain the sense of tradition and authenticity.
Another key aspect of tradition and authenticity is related to height levels. There are strong similarities in all the cultures discussed above in cooking on the floor. One recommendation for the future kitchen would be to have spaces dedicated to food preparation set at floor level, or sunken fire-pits / hearths, which could be closed and made safe and hygienic when not used. Most of African, Indian and Japanese living is done at very different levels from the European model, and there shouldn’t be the assumption that sitting 15-18 inches off the floor or preparing food 30-36 inches off the floor is better or more ‘modern’.
Good design should be interested in conserving or responding to traditions, creating emotional connections, and serving cultural sensitivities. The form of the present day kitchen has undergone a long evolution to serve present day lifestyles, yet as the world grows smaller and more integrated in information and economics, we appear to hold on more tightly to features of cultural uniqueness and authenticity. The entire concept of “comfort home-cooking” becomes very deep-rooted. As such, the ‘kitchen of the future’ should combine adaptability and technologically advanced features that could perhaps allow us to keep our traditions alive in cooking and food preparation.
On Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture, Harold McGee, 2nd ed, pub. Hodder & Stoughton 2004
McCann, James C. (2009). Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780896802728. Retrieved November 2012.