Food

Food culture: 1st 3-D printed restaurant offers food pixels from printer to plate

the best way to predict the future is to invent it

-alan kay

A lot of people don’t know this, but 3-D printed foods are everywhere. All the microwave pancakes available to buy in the local markets in the Netherlands are printed. The U.K. sells printers that melts chocolate and piles it in layers to create custom shapes. A cafe in Japan crafts 3D-printed chocolate faces of customers’ significant others. Last summer, Google introduced 3D-printed pasta in its employee cafeteria. And now Food Ink is the first restaurant to offer three-dimensional dishes, which opened its doors this past week.

Self-described as a “conceptual pop-up dinner series where fine cuisine meets art, philosophy, and tomorrow’s technologies,” Food Ink uses 3D-printing to make the food, the utensils, the furniture — literally everything.

3d-printing-fish-and-chips-1024x683
photo courtesy of Food Ink

The menu of dishes include Air Caviar, Fish and Chips, Caesar’s Flower of Life, Mystic Prawns, Steak TARTRIS, Love Bites and 3D Boscana. Meals are made via a contraption called the By Flow, which allows chefs to use ingredients like hummus, chocolate mousse, or other paste-like foods to create aesthetically spectacular dishes.

“The best way to describe it is that mechanically, it’s the same principle as a pastry chef using a pastry bag to ice cakes. Puréed ingredients are extruded and vertically stacked into the three-dimensional molds from digital files,” explained Food Ink co-founder Anthony Dobrzensky. “In this case, the bag is squeezed and guided by the robotic arm of the 3D printer with a level of precision that’s beyond what a human can do.”

photo courtesy of Food Ink

Edible 3D printing emerged out of researching 3D food printing to help nursing home residents who suffer from dysphagia and have trouble chewing and swallowing food. These elderly people typically get their meals in the form of an unappealing milkshake of pureed chicken and broccoli, for example, leading to loss of appetite and malnourishment.

Several years ago with Cornell’s Fab@Home printer, which won a 2007 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award, people started experimenting, putting in different things like epoxies and silicones, then things like Cheese Whiz, Nutella and frosting and eventually playing with new shapes and textures for artisanal purposes. And Food Ink is born.

Kjeld van Bommel, a researcher at  TNO– a leading organization in sustainability- and an expect in 3-D food printing, says one of the promises of 3D food printing is to create novel consumables with personalized nutritional content. “You can add extra calcium or omega-3 fatty acids, and all done in a patient-specific way,” he says. To this end, Van Bommel’s group at TNO has a grant from the European Union to develop 3D-printable soft replacement foods loaded with nutrients.

photo courtesy of TNO

Printed foods could also use smarter, more sustainable caloric sources, such as algae protein in place of resource-intensive animal meat. In one poignant example, milled mealworm is added to a shortbread 3D cookie recipe. “The look [of the worms] put me off, but in the shape of a cookie I’ll eat it,” van Bommel says. “You eat with your eyes.”

Take a look at the Food Ink website for location and event details!

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