Kitchen gadgets come and go. Yet so few stay with us unless stored well out of sight and accessibility.
There is a damned good reason for this; cooking is a sensory art. A touchy feely joy; the fondling foreplay before the final act of love – presenting your creation.
It can be as simple or as complicated as its creator wishes but at all levels it is intensely personal.
Whether it is something small and simple (eggs on toast for a breakfast in bed) or a main meal spread (the full-on weekend roast), there needs to be love and caring from the very start.
Culinary skills, however, are not essential; although generally welcome. As it has long been stated, it’s the thought that counts, Which brings us back to that overriding “ingredient”, the personal touch and the emotional heft behind it.
Eating, dining, chowing down, grabbing a bite – whatever you wish to call it – is at heart a social activity. Whether it be sharing a pizza, chucking prawns on the barbie, carving up a spit roast or being lovey dovey over a candlelit dinner a deux.
To succeed, however, it needs that elusive something extra.
Which is why you hear the better chefs enthusing about their ingredients in terms approaching endearment. A lovely leg of pork, beautiful beets, succulent fruits, superb heritage tomatoes, flavoursome fillets, same day seafood freshness. And gently fondling them as they speak. Salivating almost, with not snippet yet tasted.
And when the portioning, preparation and cooking gets under way, this display of care and affection continues.
A gentle prodding of fish or meat to test whether it is “over” or “under”. No guesswork but a sensory probing.
Wafting the aromas arising from a simmering pot, using an innate sense of smell to test the balance of flavours. Precise and caring work with the personal touch.
No machine, device or gadget can achieve what eventually results.
Gimmicks come and go. Alleged time- and money-savers that usually turn out to be neither. Limited in their capabilities and excessive in their cost.
When was that costly bread-maker last used? Or the pressure cooker? And surely not that faddish and redundant spiraliser. How about the ice cream maker, the waffle iron, the rice cookers and the fondue set?
Has space been found to store them or are they daily irritants taking up valuable workbench space? Reminders of hasty purchases to remain on trend.
And now we have the air fryer.
This gadget of dubious merit has generated an orgy of buying verging on the levels of panic associated in pandemic times with such essentials as toilet rolls, milk and baked beans.
And, like a virus, the word has rapidly spread that this noisy bit of kit is the must-have gear for producing hassle-free meals. Hardly a word is to be heard suggesting that might not be the entire truth.
It has its uses, but they are limited. The list of what it cannot do far exceeds what it can do.
Claims that they are quicker, healthier and energy-saving are dubious. Any such benefits are minimal at best.
An emphasis on how they produce allegedly perfect roast potatoes and chips skews the story. This ignores the trials and tribulations of achieving vegetables that are not either almost raw or shrunken, dried out and limp.
And those crisp roasties might happen if you first parboil the spuds and spray them with oil, before you “roast” them in the air fryer for twenty minutes. Time-saving, energy-saving, healthier? Really?
Broccoli and similar vegetables are likely either to dry out or end up soggy. Dry food coated in seasoning loses its seasoning as it cooks.
And you can forget any thought of achieving a rare burger or steak. By the time the outside has browned, the inside will be well done.
It is useful for heating up such “healthy” delights as frozen chicken nuggets and fish fingers, packet chips, burgers and pre-prepared mass produced meals untouched by a home cook’s hands.
Nothing that a microwave or a quick burst in a conventional oven cannot do (and over a wider range) and probably at no greater cost.
All it does is drive a deeper wedge into the widening divide between farm fresh food and its eventual presentation to friends, family, lovers and all those we care about and cherish.
It also adds to the diminishing lack of knowledge about food selection and preparation that is having a huge and costly, yet largely ignored, impact on household budgets.
Watch any of the multitude of TV foodie shows and note how the best cooks handle (actually fondle) and treat their raw ingredients.
Almost misty-eyed, gentle, caring. They use superlatives to describe a well-marbled steak, a fresh-eyed turbot, a luxuriant bundle of foraged greenery.
As the judges on MasterChef demand, “We want to see you on a plate.”
In other words, food that is produced with heart and soul. Watching your personal creation become a reality.
By feeling as one stirs a sauce, or finger tests a steak, gentle probes to make the cleanest cut, eyes on a simmering mixture for that precise moment to remove it from the heat, sniffs of an aroma or plucking a floral bud for a colourful garnish.
Everything is happening in front of them; all the melding, simmering, browning, crisping and colouring that is the alchemy of cooking. Not hidden away in the oil-sprayed drawer of an air fryer.
Something that an air fryer and a plethora of other gadgets will never achieve.