Thursday, 17 January 2008

The future of food

Gordon Ramsay is doing something interesting tomorrow. He is doing a live cook-along; people watch him live having bought the ingredients already and cook the same dish themselves. I have always wondered why this hasn't been a feature of the 7-8ish time slot on TV. I'd love to be able to cook with an expert in the background guiding me through it. Or better, I'd love to video it (which would be fine for BBC) and then play it back as I am going along.

Anyway, the programme gives me the chance to write about a slew of thoughts that have been sloshing about for a while on buying and cooking food.

First, buying. We have all been content to buy ingredients separately for the dishes we want to cook, spending ages in store deliberating about what might go with what and which ingredient were are missing.

But I think the Internet should let us buy dishes outright, and the ingredients can sort themselves out. I just popped over to Sainsbury's website and saw that there is something like this in its early stages, which is great.

Such is the potency of the idea that it could change the way we buy food. Imagine a beautiful Flash site where meals were presented with endless customisation possibilities and nutritional information. Like songs on the iTunes store, meals could be selected, the ingredients automatically arranged, the bill paid and the stuff delivered or made ready for pick-up at a store.

Foodie Web 2.0 could occur. Here people would upload their recipes to the Sainsbury's or Tesco database along with a video of how to cook it. Friends and family could then try each other's dishes, rating and sharing recipes with others in real Web 2.0 spirit. More popularly, top chefs could be brought on board to deliver their own recipes, which you could just drag and drop into your basket.

Once it arrives at your house (or after you have picked it up in store) then videos of the actual cooking process (made by friends, family or pros) could be loaded up near the kitchen or, better yet, in a 'kitchen widget', a standalone kitchen-proof screen, which could wirelessly receive the video instructions.

Like Gordon will tomorrow, you would be able to cook along. Unlike Gordon, you'll be able to pause, back up or go over a bit you know, laugh at the way your sister pretends to be Delia and take advantages of your Mum's great cookie recipe. All the pleasure and goodness of home cooked food and altogether much less fuss. Digital recipe 'books' (screens) would come as standard in new kitchens.

Fast forwarding a bit, when RFID becomes mainstream our fridges and cupboards might even sync with the supermarket's databases and eventually work out from our current food levels what we need and don't need for our chosen dishes, just like updating podcasts. Anyway, I'm getting carried away.

In a nutshell, the web has touched many areas but food remains a minor player. This should change. Instead of buying ingredients we should be buying meals and then have fun cooking them using our kitchen widgets. If this takes off the good old shopping trolley may meet a sad end.

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