fred robot

Wow, man—- Turns out I’ve worked on a lot of shows….

Culinary History (Part 28): Mixers and Food Processors

Carl Sontheimer (1914-1988) was an engineer, inventor, and a lover of French food.  In 1971, he travelled to France with his wife, searching for French culinary equipment which he could sell to Americans.  At a cookery show, he found the Robot-Coupe, an incredible piece of technology which could blend, chop, dice, grate, grind and slice.  All in the same machine!  Electric mixers had been sold in America since the 1920’s, but they could only blend.

Sontheimer knew immediately what it could be used for – quenelles.  A quenelle is “pâte à choux, cream, and a purée of raw fish, veal or chicken that is formed into ovals or cylinders and poached in a seasonal liquid.”  It is extremely labour-intensive to make (even more than soufflés).  The chicken/fish paste needs to be pounded and sieved for ages, to make it perfectly smooth.  And then you have to mould the fragile mixture into oval shapes, which is a very tricky job.


But the Robot-Coupe could do all the work of pounding and sieving at the push of a button.  It had been invented in 1963 by Pierre Verdun, for the restaurant business.  It was a large, heavy drum with a rotating blade inside it, and all you had to do was push start, stop, or pulse.

Modern Robot-Coupe.

A smaller version would be excellent for the home, Sontheimer realized. He negotiated the rights to sell his own version of it in America, and took about a dozen of them home to experiment on.  It took over a year, but in the end he worked out a model that would produce the smoothest quenelles most easily.  He called it the “Cuisinart”, because he saw cooking as an art.

The Cuisinart entered the market in 1973, for a price of $160 (nearly $800 in today’s money).  This was expensive, and sales didn’t go well for the first few months.  But after the Gourmet magazine and the New York Times gave it good reviews, it took off.

Cuisinart (1978).

In Britain, another Robot-Coupe version was marketed under the Magimix brand, also from 1973.

Magimix advertisement (1978).

By 1976, the Cuisinart’s price had risen to $190, but it was selling so well that hardware stores couldn’t keep up with the demand.  One shop-owner noted that people who bought a Cuisnart from her often returned to buy more kitchen utensils, “balloon whisks and copper pots and then for whatever was needed once they were launched on a new cooking venture.”  Not only had it made cooking more easy, but encouraged people to be more adventurous in the kitchen, even among those who really weren’t much into cooking before.

Blenders, or liquidizers, had been sold in America since the 1920’s.  The first one was invented by Stephen Poplawski in 1922, as a drink mixer for the Arnold Electric Company.  In 1937, there was the Waring Blendor. It was based off the earlier miracle Mixer (which had had problems with the jar’s seal, splattering milk all over the place).  The Waring Blendor was promoted by Fred Waring (a popular singer) and it was an instant success, with a million being sold by 1954.

Waring Blendor (1937).

Most electric blenders work like this:  A motor on the bottom, a glass jar on top, and small rotating metal blades in the middle, connecting them.  A rubber washer is necessary to stop liquid from dripping on the motor.

There are limitations to it.  Washing up the goblet is a problem, and so is the small size of most blenders.  The immersion blender, or stick blender, was patented in 1950 in Switzerland, as the “Bamix” (although it was seldom used in Britain/America until the 1980’s). It solves both of these problems.

The Bamix.

However, even the Bamix has limitations – a blender or mixer can grind, but not chop.  The blades are too small for that.  Hence why the Cuisinart was such a revolution in the kitchen.

Massive electric food mixers were made to do more heavy-duty mixing and blending.  The first, an electric stand mixer, was invented by Herbert Johnston in 1908 for the Hobart Manufacturing Company, which specialized in motorized meat-grinders.  The idea came to him while watching a baker mixing bread-dough with a metal spoon, which seemed ridiculous to him.  The task would surely be done better with some kind of motorized gadget.

The first Hobart mixers were industrial and massive, with a dimension of 80 quarts (76 litres).  In 1919, Hobart produced a smaller version called the KitchenAid, weighing only 31kg, for restaurants.  A smaller version of that was then produced for domestic use.

KitchenAid (1919?)

The British answer to the KitchenAid was the Kenwood mixer, and it was even better – midway between the KitchenAid in Cuisinart in its usefulness in the kitchen.  It was invented by Kenneth Wood (an electrical engineer who had served in the RAF), and entered the market in 1950.  Wood combined various existing technologies to create a machine that could do many things – a can-opener, potato-peeler, spaghetti-maker (from Italy); a beater, juicer, liquidizer, mincer (and others) – and called it the Kenwood Chef.

If you bought all the attachments, then you could use the Kenwood to extract, grind, knead, liquefy, mince, peel and whisk; it could also open cans, and even make various pasta shapes.  Its slogan was “Your Servant, Madam!”

But the Cuisinart was far better than the Kenwood, because you didn’t need to buy a whole lot of attachments.  All that was needed were the basic double-bladed S-shaped blades, made of stainless steel.  These blades made it possible to liquefy, blend, pulverize, mix…all on their own.  Roy Andries de Groot, who wrote one of the earliest food-processing recipe books, wrote that the processer was “virtually the equivalent of having, as your constant kitchen helper, a skilled chef armed with two super-sharp chef’s knives and a cutting board.” It could “produce all the results achieved by a stone pestle and mortar.  It can tenderize tough ingredients by slashing and reslashing their fibres, just as if they were pounded for an hour.”

The Cuisinart did have attachments, but not to the extent of the Kenwood, and they were small. There was a medium-sized serrated slicing disc (e.g. for slicing raw vegetables & making coleslaw), and various grating discs.  And you didn’t really need them, anyway - the S-blades did almost everything.

Many of the Kenwood’s attachments, on the other hand, were as bulky as the equipment they were replacing.  The liquidizer attachment, for example, was nearly as big as a blender itself.

In 1983, Michael Barry (a British cook) said that previously, “only a few brave and dedicated souls ever tried to make pâté at home” because of the “exhausting process of cutting up, mincing, blending and then cleaning up the equipment.”  Now, it was normal and easy to make pâté - “the processor has changed our way of life.” Ordinary people could make the fancy dishes of haute cuisine and the social elite (such as quenelles).  An army of servants was no longer necessary.

The backlash against the food processor started in 1975, the year the Cuisinart was produced.  A writer in The Times said that it might deprive future generations of the pleasure of cooking by hand – even that the deprivation of tactile stimulation might leave us requiring “group therapy”.  Other complaints followed: the food was robotic, and couldn’t taste as good as if made by hand; it took the joy out of cooking; it turned everything to mush.

There was some truth to the last complaint.  Not that the processor itself was the problem, but that the recipes in the 70’s & 80’s food-processor cookbooks were often written so that that was the result.  People puréed everything that could be puréed.  Fancy dishes became so much the norm that the novelty wore off.

Even restaurant dishes suffered from this problem.  In those decades, the obsession with the food-processor lead to an intense focus on smooth, light food.

But the preferences of cuisine swung back again, to more “robust” and “provincial” cooking, which was a way of showing that it had been made by hand.  Soups and stews were more chunky, and the individual ingredients were no longer blended together, but could be differentiated when eating.

The mortar & pestle also came back into fashion.  Food writers got nostalgic for the old way of life for the women who spent hours and hours pounding food and singing (and getting arthritis, etc…)  And by this time, many peasants had switched to using processors, anyhow. When Marlena Spieler travelled to Liguria (Italy) to see how the peasants made pesto, they showed her their huge ancient mortar & pestle, and then showed her how they made it nowadays: with a food processor.

This was the case especially in the Middle East, where by 1977, more food processors were used (per capita) than anywhere else in the world. One of the reasons was the dish kibbé, which can be raw or cooked. The main ingredient is finely-pounded lamb, usually with bulgar wheat, onion, green herbs, allspice and cinnamon.


Finding Tadashi: Part 2

Lovely cover art for my Of Robots and Gummy Bears Series by Kita. This takes place in between part 2 (The Boy Who Flatters) and part 3 (The Boy Who Tells a Lie). 

Kita does not have a tumblr account, but I have been given permission to post/use her works.

Please do not repost! These works belong to Kita.

Part 1

Okay microbots being used for building and construction is awesome but imagine Hiro meeting a girl in a wheelchair, and all of a sudden a whole new use for these little guys comes into play.

You control these things with your brain like you do your limbs and now there’s hope for any amputee or paraplegic to be able to walk or run or even stand or have both arms again and just like that both Hamada brothers become names not only in the robotics world, but the medical world too, and Hiro completes Tadashi’s dream- to help a lot of people. 

Lol forget my Hogwarts acceptance letter. I just want for my San Fransokyo Institute of Technology acceptance letter now.

big hero 6 AU based on yuumei’s webcomic “knite”, in which you can’t see the stars in the sky of san fransokyo because of the pollution. the pollution also causes thousands of people to develop lung cancer — including hiro, who has always wanted to see the stars. tadashi teams up with a wasabi, honey, gogo, fred, and the robot he made for hiro, to create their own stars using kites. they soon gather enough volunteers and make enough kites to fill the the sky of san fransokyo with “stars”, making millions of people happy.


I am convinced Fred Astaire was a robot because there is no way in h*ck that a human could dance this fluidly