I’m quite an avid cook, but I admit I am incredibly lazy when it comes to innovation in the kitchen. I cook the same three or four healthy recipes that require minimal effort and time, while providing me with plentiful quantities to last a busy work week. But because I want my time cooking to be such an easy process, I’m always interested in using gadgets that make cooking far more satisfying.
On September 30th, I had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Association of Food Engineers’ (CAFE) online Kitchen Gadget Competition in partnership with SORTEDFood, a food-related YouTube channel with over 2.4 million subscribers who share cooking videos and gadget reviews with people interested in the food world! To be quite honest, I never really thought about the impact that engineers can have within the food industry, especially with gadgets and food systems. But that’s the entire goal of CAFE and their teams!
One thing, however, that always piqued my interest to design products to improve accessibility. This design competition’s case study was dedicated to re-designing current slicing products or designing a new one that would be able to be used by someone with Welander Distal Myopathy — also described as the weakness and degeneration of muscles in the hands in fingers– making it incredibly difficult to complete cooking-related tasks. Teams were set to design a kitchen gadget that follows requirements for the case study, such as making it easy to cut vegetables, protecting fingers, and stability based on vegetable cutting products: rocking knife, pull string chopper, veggie slicer, and mandolin.
After a quick presentation by both CAFE’s president Muskan Malek and members Jamie Spafford and Ben Ebbrell from SORTED, students set out to create a 2-minute pitch for their solution to the case study. Ben and Jamie shared their passion about exploring the cooking community through the Internet, learning about different cultures, trying new foods in the kitchen, and their experiences testing new kitchen gadgets. While teams worked on their designs, I had the pleasure to learn about SORTED and speak directly with Jamie and Ben — who are both incredibly passionate and genuine individuals — about their stories and their reactions to this design competition.
Jamie and Ben expressed their excitement to see what students would be able to come up with in just one hour, sharing that early-stage designs are exciting and discussing how ideas can be developed into real products. Designers, especially young and enthusiastic minds, share different experiences and perspectives. For them, their friendship with the SORTED team is so strong that they can almost finish each other’s sentences. That’s why tapping into a wider community to see what people want to say is so important to see how ideas can be put into tools that can help others and future generations.
In terms of cooking, both amateurs and professional chefs approach challenges differently. In SORTED’s case, three of the members come from an amateur background and two are professionally trained chefs, allowing them to all approach cooking challenges differently. Likewise, they’ve noticed that the younger generation cares about different aspects about food, especially more about where it comes from, fair trade, usage of packaging, and other sustainability and human rights issues that go into eating.
As a community, they have been able to learn that food is more than what we eat. “Food should be a conversation,” they say, in relation to understanding the culture that goes within food that we eat. Throughout their time as cooks, they have learned more about the challenges that cultures face with oppression and appropriation. That’s why they strive to do more comprehensive research with their projects, collaborate with the community, and be as transparent as possible.
We concluded our insightful conversation by discussing how to get people engaged with trying new things. From their experiences, they noticed that preaching and telling people what to do often doesn’t go well, but sharing your genuine experiences and reactions can positively encourage people to try! Have fun with trying new foods and pass on that experience!
As we finished our conversation on a motivational end, teams were about to present their design pitches. Six teams were up to present their ways of making kitchen gadgets more accessible.
I was genuinely intrigued at the designs presented. Some teams presented force analyses, CAD models, ways their designs could be easily cleaned, multi-purpose designs, and much more. Jamie and Ben, the judges for this competition, described their genuine appreciation for the level of quality of ideas and presentations. After a quick deliberation, Jamie and Ben judged contestants based on professionalism, confidence, and creativity.
The winning team — consisting of Emily Dawe, Alyssa Nodello, Olevia Pal, and Mariel Stanco — proposed a sliding handle for a dual action mandolin that doesn’t require the usage of fingers and simple-to-attach cutting board. Their focus on versatility, ease of cleaning and material selection and their confident delivery was what earned them the top prize: a one year membership with SORTEDclub and a cookbook each! All participants also received a three month subscription to SORTEDclub. I have to admit, I totally would buy that product if it was on the market.
In the end though, all of the teams presented wonderful pitches for innovative kitchen gadgets. For a virtual event, it was incredibly satisfying to see online collaboration and partnerships being done with people across the world. The world of cooking is ever-evolving and I can’t wait to see how much easier it’ll be to make food!
Note for online version: add CAFE socials and SORTED socials
@Uoftcafe on insta