Daily nuggets of inspiration from the good folk
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Pinterest is changing. Soon you’ll be able to use specific pins for food, retail products and movies. Then you’ll be able to click through and actually buy what you’ve been drooling over, rather than just dreaming about it.
However, the new format will only work when you pin things from their approved partner sites, such as eBay, Etsy or Urban Outfitters. But it’s a big list of big-hitters, and their enthusiasm to get onboard suggests Pinterest could soon attract big brand marketing budgets, just like fellow cyber-giants, Facebook and Twitter.
Imagine your ultimate burger. A succulent, handcrafted patty? Yes! Lovingly topped with all the extras? Of course! But wait. Now, thanks to San Francisco-based Momentum Machines, you can enjoy a burger created by robots – in the world’s first ‘no chefs’ restaurant.
With single-item menus, no cooks and almost no wait times, Momentum Machines’ proposed restaurant is ruthlessly efficient. At just 24 square foot, their miraculous machine can push out 360 burgers an hour and is set to ‘revolutionise’ the fast food industry. Smart or sinister? You decide.
OK, so you’re at a party. But it’s not your party. It’s a friend-of-a-friend’s party. Ahead of you lies that daunting task of talking to people you don’t know, or, just as likely, you don’t want to know. A room full of the dull, heavy sound of idle waffle. You can see strange heads flapping back and forth, conversing and laughing at jokes – jokes that are probably not as funny as yours, but they are laughing all the same. There’s a table laden with snacks in the corner, designed to start up conversation: “Oh, they’ve got those spicy cocktail sausages I love”, “Oh, I love them too!” “These vol-au-vents are delicious, you should try one”…YAWN.
Then there’s the whole introduction thing. If no one is there to introduce you, well, you might as well be a parasite – floating through the bleakness of the ocean. Then, someone you don’t know says ‘Hi’. He starts a conversation by asking your name…
You know those times when you start talking to someone at a party and it just clicks. That point in a conversation when both people think, simultaneously…
After this moment, conversation becomes easier and you can start divulging juicy stories about friends or colleagues…or friends of colleagues. As soon as you admit to yourself that you like this person, you don’t feel weird talking about yourself. You even become interested in hearing what they have to say! After the party, when you get home, your overriding feeling is “What a great night, that Jeff guy is top bloke! I am glad I went” and, who knows, maybe you will tell one of your friends about Jeff.
Now let’s change the dynamics of this scenario. The party is no longer a party – it’s just real life and Jeff is no longer Jeff. He is, let’s say, for argument’s sake, Starbucks. Now you are faced with the same situation: lots of people you don’t know. But now there is one guy who wants to know you. Starbucks. And he starts by asking your name…
Asking someone’s name is ok at a party, but when buying coffee it feels odd. Actually, I’m being harsh. When I go to a cool coffee shop and someone with an ironic moustache asks my name, I have no problem. But when Starbucks asks me…it just feels weird. I know companies are going for this ultra personal service thing, which, don’t get me wrong, I think is great. My issue lies with companies that think the basic task of asking someone’s name constitutes as ‘personal service’. For me: not even close.
… And if you can’t even get that right, there really is no hope.
I have two small obsessions. Cooking and charity shops. So, imagine my joy at finding a whole box of vintage cook books in my local Oxfam at the weekend for the princely sum of five whole English pounds.
I was initially drawn to a massive eighties tome, that promised a whole range of recipes for the home cook. What struck me immediately was how much the book was a product of its time. Whole chapters on how to turn everyday meals into food for entertaining, when entertaining meant a full on formal dinner party with at least three courses and lots of sweating in the kitchen.
This got me thinking more generally about the role food plays in society and how food trends so closely mirror the other social, cultural and economic trends of the day.
Going right back to the medieval period, food provides a window into the soul of a nation. Back then, food for the upper classes was used as a way to display wealth, with lavish banquets lasting for days being the norm. But it wasn’t all wild boars and whole cows on the table. The medieval chef had a penchant for ‘imitation food’ and this was very much a product of the age.
Imitation food was literally food pretending to be something else. Salmon molded to look like ham, minced beef shaped and painted to look like apples and grapes and egg shells filled with jellies. We can’t be totally sure why this started but it’s likely to be a number of things; the unavailability of certain foods during the year, a relief from the fasting imposed by the church (fake meat better than no meat?) and, importantly, it was a chance for chefs to flex their creative muscles and show their mastery of their craft. There was huge competition for good chefs – in an age when display and wealth was everything, having the best could mean the difference between being granted a castle or a hovel.
Skip a few centuries or two to the 1940s, and we have a time dominated by scarcity and rationing. But rather than throwing in the towel it made the everyday home cook, who had to feed a family, incredibly resourceful, especially when it came to sweet things.
With pastry made from mashed potato and reconstituted egg and vanilla extract used to replace sugar they could whip up cakes and pies that would fool a family into thinking they were eating the real thing.
It’s no different today. Food culture is dominated by the global recession. Conviviality culture is on the rise – with more of us choosing to have friends round to share food, rather than pay to go out. When we do go out, we crave comfort and familiarity but with a (cliché alert) modern twist. There’s a whole raft of gourmet burger, grilled cheese sandwich and mac ‘n’ cheese shops opening both in the US and here. Food blogs are filled with home baking recipes for bread and cakes and the grow-your-own movement has never been stronger.
It makes me wonder where we’re headed next. When (not if, fingers crossed) the economy gets back on its feet, will we see a return to the ostentation of the middle-ages or the formality of the 1980s? I don’t know, but I’m really looking forward to finding out.
Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, São Paulo, have created a campaign that offers shoppers bespoke recipes based on the contents of their shopping cart – generating a 44% sales increase in just one month.
Their innovative software, which identifies individual food items, was installed into 100 supermarket cash registers. If someone buys a jar of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, the software picks a Hellmann’s recipe that combines other products purchased and prints it on the back of the customer’s receipt – providing timely culinary inspiration.