Just add water!

Just add water!

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Just add water The future of food in early science fiction seemed to be meal-in-a-pill. The people of the future would be satisfied to a meal’s content by just taking a pill without even bothering to eat, not even to mention the fuss with cooking. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the future of food seemed to be anything quintessentially quick and easy. Simple and quick had a magnetic appeal. Time spent in the kitchen seemed to be such a waste; women could spend their spare time in just being beautiful. “Instant” was the magical word, and the phrase “just add water” was the ultimate recipe. That was it. From soup to pudding, all you needed was to get a sachet of dehydrated powder, just add water and voila: the dinner was served!

Actually the earliest suggestion of a meal-pill was first introduced in the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 as an attempt to liberate women from kitchen labor. Political activist and suffragette Mary Elisabeth Lease came up with a scientific solution to free women from the toil of food preparation. She explained her futuristic design as:  “… in condensed form from the rich loam of the earth, the life force or germs now found in the heart of the corn, in the kernel of wheat, and in the luscious juices of the fruits. A small phial of this life from the fertile bosom of Mother Earth will furnish men with substance for days. And thus the problems of cooks and cooking will be solved.”

Since then, the food pills became almost a cliché in all science fiction films, as in the very early 1930 movie: “Just Imagine.” The first meal of the hero, after a 50-year-long sleep, is on pills, though he finds the roast beef sensation “a bit tough” and fondly remembers “the good old days.” The small food phials suggested in the Chicago fair are becoming a reality, at least at the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV). Now, after more than a century, the idea is re-emerging from Chicago again, the initial birthplace of this futuristic design. The work of Defne Koz and Marco Susani, a designer couple from Chicago, is titled “Just Add Water,” perfectly in line with this year’s theme “The Future Is Not What It Used To Be.” In this year’s biennial, many works are related to food, naturally as mankind’s survival is totally dependent on the future of food.

When imagining about the future, one needs to look back at the past. Last July, when I was making a presentation on the traditional soup “tarhana” at Sheffield University for a group of chefs, I noticed that learning from the past leads the way to innovations in the kitchen. I was delighted to see how excited chefs were in discovering the possibility that they can create their own signature dried soups. Tarhana is basically a grain and yogurt mixture, fermented and dried. It contains all the probiotics and nutrients, vitamins, proteins as such; in short it preserves all the goodness of nature. Its past must be as old as the history of agriculture and domestication of animals. It may have originated from necessity, but eventually it became a preference for its taste and practicality. It survived throughout the ages, simply because it was a damn good idea, and a perfectly executed design.

Eventually tarhana was transformed into more elaborate variations, becoming a sourdough laden with herbs and spices, made with a range of vegetables including onions, tomatoes, red and green peppers. The ingredients vary according to geography; sometimes scarcity of certain foods and abundance of others results in wildly creative solutions. The cornelian cherry tarhana soup of Bolu is such a creation, hard to achieve even by most talented chefs. In a way, the good-old tarhana is an archetypal food design; a primeval one prone to various variations.

The future of food is in innovation. The design of Defne Koz and Marco Susani tackle this idea; creating revolutionary home appliances to be used with flavor cubes, spheres, drops, rods, pods or pills encapsulating the taste combinations of chefs with all the goodness of nature. The Koz-Sosani design team explain their objective as “justaddwater’s goal is preparing the best, freshest food combining local raw materials with global chef recipes embodied in ‘Flavor Pills,’ processed at home with innovative appliances.”

The concept “just add water” is not even acceptable in Turkish and Italian cuisines, the country of origin of the designers, where people always start cooking from scratch. The paradox is theirs is actually a very old practice, when you consider the almost archaic tarhana. They may not have initially thought of tarhana, but their design is a thought-provoking one, open to new creations. It made me to think about the future of chefs’ cuisine. This design may lead to the democratization of modernist cuisine, many creations made accessible to the general public. Most creations of modernist cuisine are inspired from the age-old techniques of traditional cuisines. The past is always inspiring for the future, and learning from the very ancient ways of food processing can be the basis of futuristic foods and kitchen appliances.

Indeed, the future is in the past!

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: It wouldn’t be fair not to choose an instant soup for a recipe. The traditional tarhana of Teşvikiye Yufkacısı, home-made by a housewife from Kastamonu, packs in all the flavors. The guru of all chefs, food scientist Harold McGee had some brought home last year. Measure 1 full tablespoon per cup; just add water and cook stirring constantly for 20 minutes! Teşvikiye Kardeşler Yufkacısı; Şair Nazım sok. No. 8 Teşvikiye. 0212 258 29 27. 

Fork of the Week: At the biennial, the work of Tasha Marks AVM Curiosities is almost edible; architectural mouldings made with sugar and gum tragacanth; ornamentally arranged on a dark blue background. Reminiscent of Wedgewood porcelain tea sets, together with rose water scent pumped in the air, it makes you long for a relaxed teatime. She got her inspiration from both British and Turkish cultures, and just added sugar! http://www.avmcuriosities.com/#!istanbul/c1pi5

Cork of the Week: One recent discovery over the weekend was the deliciously deep organic unfiltered reds of Chateau Nuzun, a boutique winery in Tekirdağ. Their Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, and Chateau Nuzun 2009 are so densely dark that you wonder that they must be like the wines Romans used to enjoy with water added. Just enjoy them as they are – don’t add water! http://www.chateaunuzun.com/.