Tuesday, January 07, 2014

In defense of a cluttered countertop

According to the Guardian, high-end kitchen gadgets have recently (!) become status symbols. Is this new in the UK? British readers, fill me in on this. Johanna Derry cites increased sales of some such items since last year, so maybe? But how about the year before? Derry's nostalgic for the days "when the only kitchen appliances we kept on our counter tops were kettles and microwaves." But when was that the case (and student apartments don't count)? Is this because British people moved from tea to coffee more recently?

Regardless, grumpily complaining about the whosawhatsises that now exist for absolutely everything - asparagus peeler! avocado halver! - has been a thing in the States since I can remember. The ingredient-specific knick-knack devices represent the junk that accumulates in middle-class homes (and, more generally, Western decadence), while the really high-end machines, often in an unused kitchen, offend because they're evidence of the rich, who don't have to cook, playing at domesticity.

For a time, the status symbols were these luxury items, preferably housed in a giant suburban kitchen, or in Frasier's Seattle apartment on "Frasier." Then it switched over, and status became, I don't know, a small NYC kitchen where you prepare Greemarket produce? Or maybe it's always been the same - the gadgets have been like expensive workout clothes - cool to hate, but coveted all the same. It's the same dynamic re: wanting to be hardcore.

But allow me to more enthusiastically defend the having of kitchen implements. What I've found is, the anti-gadget brigade are people who romanticize domestic labor. I'm thinking of a recipe for buckwheat crepes I was looking at (I'm on a buckwheat crepe kick, don't ask), and it called for buckwheat and all-purpose flour (all you'd possibly need, flour-wise) and, because why not, some mortar-ground buckwheat kernels. It's as if home cooking doesn't morally count unless it's been made unnecessarily difficult, with a Luddite flourish.

These same commentators also tend to live in cities... where counter space is particularly scarce, but also, crucially, where restaurant meals and takeout are easy alternatives. If you can't so readily outsource, you want to make a wider range of foods at home, efficiently. I mean, I want to do this. Thus the rice cooker, etc. A significant, if not particularly luxe, "etc." that I won't elaborate on.


Nicholas said...

Agree wholeheartedly: as the amount of cooking I've done has increased (and the number of things I make increases), I've come to have more gadgets, and use them all more. We never have trouble finding anything because it's all been used recently enough for us to know where it is.

Also, in re: recipes, I've gotten my hands on some 80s cookbooks (Rick Bayless and Bill Neal, among others), which are remarkably helpful at avoiding those things that are unnecessary to making a recipe taste good. It leaves me with the impression that food in the 80s was more of a wasteland than I remember it to be, but they're a refreshing change from "here's the hard way to do it" or "here's a '30 minute' recipe that will take you an hour, at least, and teach you no discernible cooking skills."

Phoebe said...

Precisely - if you're using the gadgets, and it's increasing the number of home-cooked meals, there's no problem.

In terms of recipes, I think it's fine if there are some that tell you how a complicated dish is done correctly, and there are certainly some things (bread comes to mind) not worth starting on if you only have ten minutes. But the problem, as you say, and as I've rambled on about <a href="http://whatwouldphoebedo.blogspot.com/2010/10/against-home-cooking.html>on occasion</a>, is when recipes are presented as far quicker than they could plausibly be.