Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Robotic Kitchen Planned This Dinner Party (Fork it over, Austin! - Part 13)

This is my thirteenth post on Austin, which reminds that I'm staying on the thirteenth floor of the hotel. I thought hotels never numbered a floor the thirteenth. Anyways.

I love throwing dinner parties. Planning, cooking, decorating, sharing - it's always stressful, and there are always glitches, but it's one of the most enjoyable experiences possible amongst groups of friends, especially at an age where we're less inclined to go out "clubbing" or "bar-hopping" or other things that I was never much into even when I was a little younger.

Some people would probably love to host a dinner party but don't know where to start. Maybe they're intimidated about cooking for other people or are worried about correctly timing all the dishes. Maybe they just wish there was a robot that could do all the work for them. Enter Mike Lee and Will Turnage, presenters of the SXSW talk "My Robotic Kitchen Planned This Dinner Party." I was already a little familiar with some of Mike's work; as a hobby, he plans dinners in unexpected places, and I remember reading about one of his adventures last year, a multi-course fancy dinner party along an NYC subway line. Pretty awesome.

Mike and Will spoke about an app that they're in the very early stages of developing, Food.You.Me., which helps people plan dinner parties, and they demonstrated and described how the app could basically walk you through the steps of the dishes you're preparing, including helping with the timing - what can be done three days ahead of time? When can you spend a few minutes tidying up and setting the table? While it might be most helpful for fairly novice dinner party hosts, I'd certainly find it helpful even though I've already hosted my share of parties and feel pretty comfortable with the process. I'm most intrigued by the way it would help me time things better, as that is, for me, the most stressful part of hosting a dinner party.

A few takeaways that stuck with me:
  • The brain is more important than the gadgets. Focus on learning basic techniques and culinary patterns so that you can build variations upon them. Don't focus on learning individual recipes and using ultra-specific gadgets.
  • "Are you just eating to have a great Facebook wall?" The 'sportification of food' hits close to home for me; although I've been blogging fairly frequently about food for almost four years, and it's opened a lot of interesting doors for me, I constantly have doubts about the depth and usefulness of what I'm doing. When I'm eating for the sole purpose of posting an awesome photo on Facebook or writing a killer blog post, something's wrong. The social sharing should be much less important than the actual act of eating and enjoying food.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. And "structure breeds freedom."

Overall, the talk was full of energy and laughter (and awesome kitchen robot photos), and it rejuvenated me a bit after I didn't particularly enjoy the first panel that I attended.

Other posts in the Fork it over, Austin! series:
Part 1: Whip In
Part 2: Foreign & Domestic
Part 3: Caffe Medici
Part 4: Walking Along SoCo and Lunching at Chi'Lantro
Part 5: The Capitol, UT Austin, and Lunching (Again) at Torchy's Tacos
Part 6: Museum of the Weird
Part 7: Uchi
Part 8: East Side King at The Grackle
Part 9: Franklin Barbecue
Part 10: Flagship Whole Foods and My First Green Smoothie
Part 11: Late Night Pizza at Via 313
Part 12: Kebabalicious
Part 14: Papi Tino's
Part 15: Annie's Cafe & Bar
Part 16: The Peached Tortilla
Part 17: Cupcake Quest: Hey Cupcake!
Part 18: Arancini
Part 19: The DeLorean, Boxing Robots, and Roller Derby Pillow Fights
Part 20: Second Bar + Kitchen
Part 21: Tia Kelly's Navajo Tacos
Part 22: Hopdoddy Burger Bar
Part 23: Gourdough's
Part 24: The Ice Cream Social
Part 25: Walking to Barton Springs
Part 26: Izzos Tacos

I'm also posting daily recaps on the Tasted Menu blog, FOOD=LOVE:
Day 1: A First Taste of Austin
Day 2: Tons of Tacos, Sushi at Uchi, and a Late Night Trip to East Side King
Day 3: Early Morning Barbecue and Late Night Pizza
Day 4: Globetrotting: Kebabs, Enchiladas, Pommes Frites
Day 5-6: Meeting and Eating

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