Sprinkle Guns, Egg Washers, and Other Food Contraptions



Why do the buildings at MIT have numbers instead of names? They're named after alumni. Hah hah. MIT also uses numbers to refer to their classes so mechanical engineers are in Course 2. The two most famous courses are 2.007 and 2.009. The first involves robots fighting and is streamed live on the Internet, and the second is a product design course taught by Dr. David Wallace, a retired competitive figure skater from Canada. This year's theme was "food," and the students formed teams to choose an idea and develop it.

Last year the theme was "emergency," and one project evolved from a "potato gun," but the gun shot life preservers to drowning people. Another project was successfully commercialized. That group designed small, collapsible shoes for women to wear during and after formal occasions when they might be wearing uncomfortable high heels.

One idea was a "gun" that shot "jimmies" or "sprinkles." The sprinkles tended to bounce off the ice cream cone.

Toscanini's was invited to a brainstorming session back in September where students asked about products we might like to see developed. The teaching assistants had cast a wide net and gathered well-known members of Boston's varied food communities, including the Clover food truck, the food nonprofit Community Servings, Joanne Chang's Flour Bakery + Cafe, and Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds, a small farm.

Two projects that involved Toscanini's failed to make it to the finals. One idea was a "gun" that shot "jimmies" or "sprinkles." The sprinkles tended to bounce off the ice cream cone, and if they were shot with enough power to penetrate the ice cream then there was a chance that the ice cream would be knocked off the cone. There was also a ring-shaped, collapsible, reusable coffee cup made from titanium alloy mesh. When hot liquid was poured into the cup it would take on a taller shape. Neat. But expensive.

On December 6, in Eero Saarinen's Kresge Auditorium, the teams presented their projects to a crowd of 1,000 people, in an atmosphere that was part small-town variety show and part Vegas trade exhibition.

One group designed a device for small farmers that would enable eggs to be efficiently washed and dried. Water temperatures could not get too high or the eggs would cook and the washer itself was easy to clean if eggs broke inside. Another group came up with a product for less developed regions that would enable farmers to convert fresh milk into powdered milk. There was a machine designed for gyms that could wash and fill reusable water bottles. But my favorite was a device that would carve potatoes into an unusual shape.

Tournee potatoes are a traditional, and perhaps pointlessly traditional, presentation of the basic spud. All classically trained chefs learn to make these tapered French potatoes, which require at least seven slices to create something that looks like a lifting body or space shuttle. A chef I asked said he didn't think anyone in Boston was serving them because they are difficult and expensive to do. Done correctly each potato can allegedly be worth an additional five dollars to an expensive restaurant.

The yellow group, True Tournee, estimated that there are 22,000 French and French-influenced restaurants in the 20 largest U.S. cities that might purchase the device, as well as other restaurants where French food is served, including many in France. A final comment—that "you cannot put a price on the perfect tournee"—left me optimistic about the future, and the future of French food in good restaurants.