Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Better living through food hacking

Over the next week or so, I'll be writing quite a bit about my two weeks late last month and early this month in California, at TED and ETech. (Took me a bit to recover and the renovation at our house is about to deprive us of our only working shower.)

Monday was cooking day here at Jewels and Binoculars and it's Tuesday already, so I'd better get back on track. Let's talk about food hacking, which unites three areas of my interest and incompetence: cooking, technology, and taking things apart. The ETech tutorial on the topic, led by Marc Powell, was a mindblower. Food hacking takes the ideas behind technology hacking -- participation, dispersion, experimentation, and a general distrust of authority and centralized systems -- and brings them into the kitchen. The three-hour-long tutorial, which included dishes with ingredients like liquid nitrogen, was all about joy and testing. And -- lucky for me -- it was all about celebrating screwing up and seeing what happens. Powell went on for a while on why cooking with people was superior to cooking for people. As he put it: "Ever eat a Lunchable? Do you think anyone enjoyed making that?" When I lined up to receive something that had been cooked onstage, I felt, for the first time even, like I was on a communion line.

The second half of the session got weird. We saw randomly generated menus and restaurant menus with plenty of insect dishes. We heard exegeses on pickled crab fat and how to cook fake blood for vegan goths. We learned a little about coffee hacks (see many of Powell's hacks in this wiki). We learned that it's pronounced "feelo" dough, not "feyelo" dough. We heard about placenta kabobs and other gross food experiences.

Hmm, what's for dinner?

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