If there’s one man who knows his way around the kitchen and knows where the intersection of cooking and technology lies, it’s Alton Brown. The Food Network star is launching a tech-y, messy live food show tour this week.
Brown, and his show “Good Eats,” is known for bringing more of a scientific and tech perspective to cooking. At his test kitchen in Atlanta, he says he is looking at ultrasonics, room-temperature distillations to make brandy and concentrate flavor. He says he’s applying technology used in the perfume industry to cooking.
He says he believes 3-D printing could revolutionize cooking.
The outspoken chef also will talk smack about his fellow television personalities.
“I don’t have Gordon Ramsay on speed dial,” he says.
We also asked him what he thought the most important inventions in the history of cooking have been.
Here are the four most important tech innovations of culinary history, according to Alton Brown:
1. Fire. “It’s hard to play down fire.” Learning to use fire, pretty big. Pretty much the birth of cooking.
2. The oven. “The development of modern ovens, which is relatively recent.” In 18th-century France it was still pretty much a charcoal-driven system. But then we got into real ovens — actual ovens — in the 19th century. And the development of the wood-burning or free-standing oven was a pretty big deal. Or stove. ‘Modern,’ meaning that it stood on legs, it was made of iron, it had a flue. It was relatively controllable by using dampers. Once we got into using a natural gas oven, then we were really in the modern age. Because now we could control. You would say, ‘Okay, I would like for this oven cavity to be somewhere in the range of 300 degrees’ … If you look back in the history of the oven — which is a project I’m actually doing right now — there wasn’t one big advance. There are several big advances that built on each other, especially during the Industrial Revolution.
3. The Fridge. “The invention of refrigeration.” Moving from ice-based refrigeration to mechanical refrigeration. The invention of the condenser-refrigerant system that we have now, which is really less than 100 years old. Not having to harvest ice — now we can actually make ice. My mother, who is 75-years-old, very much remembers deliveries from the ice man. Ice was harvested as an agricultural product up until fairly recently and then it became a manufactured product but we were still dependent on receiving that into our house and putting it into an ice box. Then with the kind of big boom of electrical appliances that took off in the beginning of the 20th century we got electric refrigerators. The invention of electric refrigeration — that made the safe, modern food system that we enjoy today possible.
4. Microwave. “It’s really difficult to overstate the importance of the microwave oven.” The invention of the microwave was really the first new heat that we invented. We invented a kind of heat. This idea that you could oscillate a polar molecule with the correct frequency of microwaves, and create heat through that movement. That was new. Microwaves take advantage of the fact that water is an incredibly polar molecule. Water is the most abundant compound in food. And that’s what allows us to microwave food. But we still have not even begun to touch on what microwaves can actually do. And the reason for that is — especially in America — we have all the frickin’ natural gas we want. And one of the things that prevents us from moving forward with kitchen technologies like induction cook tops — which I’m a huge fan of — is that gas is cheap.