Future Food: Exploring the Trend of 3D-Printed Cooking

3D printers have become increasingly popular in restaurants across the U.S., including many gourmet establishments. 

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August 16, 2016 4 min read

Over the last decade or so, there’s been one technological development that’s impacted everything from engineering to art: 3D printing. In this new and exciting form of manufacturing, people can print out life-sized, real-world objects, including children’s toys and engine parts.

The technology itself is cost effective and as a result is extending into more fields with every passing day. That includes the culinary industry, where 3D printing is already making daring inroads and changing how chefs everywhere think about and prepare food.

“3D printers build objects up in individual layers.”

A new way of cooking
Perhaps one of the most important points when exploring 3D-printed food is to understand how this process works in the first place. As Digital Trends explained, 3D printing in general , but especially with food, can be a complex process for first-timers. The general process is called “additive manufacturing,” and it involves layers of materials built on top of one another until the object is completed. An adhesive sometimes helps these objects stay together.

In the case of food, that might mean taking fine-grain sugar and, using a 3D printer to shape it into the desired geometric shape. Many 3D printers don’t offer what’s called a “soup-to-nuts solution”; that is, the machine can only made a dough but not bake it. As of now, 3D printers are still very much in their infancy, and as one chef told Digital Trends, it will be several years before we achieve food replicators a la the sci-fi series “Star Trek.”

Food magic
Despite the relative age of 3D food printers, there are already several such devices available on the market. As Eater explained, one of the most well-known of these printers is the aptly titled Foodini (referencing famous magician Harry Houdini to demonstrate the device’s magic-like abilities). Running for $2,000, the Foodini, according to its team of Barcelona-based manufacturers, will release “edible material, following a precise, set pattern.”

That is, a user will place the ingredients into reusable capsules, at which point everything is assembled into layers. A pizza, for instance, sees the dough printed out in a circle, followed by the sauce and cheese. As Eater added, Foodini and similar devices are being used to streamline cooking, including tasks like filling ravioli or forming dough. For that reason, 3D printers have already made their way into eateries across the U.S.

Pushing creativity forward
According to the BBC, high-end, gourmet restaurants seem to be the places most readily embracing the 3D-printed technology. That includes chef Paco Perez, who runs the kitchen at Barcelona’s La Enoteca at the Hotel Arts. Perez used a 3D food printer to create a dish he calls “Sea Coral,” which features egg, sea-urchins, caviar, “coral” and Hollandaise sauce.

As he explained, Perez embraced the 3D technology because he believes that creativity can be shaped by technological innovations. To make full use these developments, he explained, is to find new and interesting ways to create food he might not be able to otherwise. For instance, the “coral” featured in his latest dish is made from seafood puree, which can only be assembled through the intricacies offered by the 3D printer. When asked if these printers might stifle creativity, Perez said that years ago, heat lamps or microwaves might be seen in much the same way, as perverting purer cooking traditions and skills. Chefs can’t move forward without some kind of help, according to the Michelin starred chef.

“Chefs are still responsible for creating dishes.”

The final frontier?
So, does all of this mean that one day chefs will be replaced by machines? Not likely. As First We Feast explained, most chefs who embrace 3D printing rely on these devices for precision work and fine details.

Even if these device can one day cook food, chefs still need to be the ones to create the dishes. There is only so much that technology can do, and human beings must still make the decisions about what foods work best together to create the best dishes possible. But with technology streamlining that process, chefs are free to think more carefully about the food itself, and that’s only going to mean better meals for everyone.

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