Magazine article Artforum International

Food Network

Magazine article Artforum International

Food Network

Article excerpt

THE DOMESTIC KITCHEN has come a long way since the caveman's fire. But the basic idea--that of transforming organic matter into proper food by the controlled application of heat--is more or less the same. Within this admittedly narrow definition, the kitchen can be understood not only as an instrument of civilization--cooking food is, after all, an activity unique to humankind--but, more specifically, as a means of regulating various flows, including everything from fuel and air to manage the fire, to seasonal streams of gathered plants or hunted flesh, to the cooking by-products and refuse that must be continuously removed. The entire operation is directed toward guaranteeing another flow, that of the energy needed to keep the human body running. Much of that energy, of course, is subsequently expended in pursuit of organic matter to process into food.

It was simple serendipity when the act of making something edible from these intersecting flows of energy and raw food first resulted in something nice to eat. But some fixed part of the human condition--perhaps the gratification that can result from the sheer exercise of our senses--soon redirected our attention from the survival value of food to its sensual appeal. The goal of satisfying taste, and not only sating hunger, has been held in high enough esteem over the years to warrant spaces dedicated to it. For all the ways that the kitchen has changed in the past, it remains essentially a mechanism to turn flows of matter and energy into moments of sensual pleasure.

As such, the household kitchen has evolved in response to changes in the forms and availability of organic matter and in the types of energy used to transform it into food. With the industrialization of agriculture and with more intensified use of energy, especially electricity, as well as with the specialization of labor that led to commercial production of formerly homemade foods, the distinct functional aspects of domestic food preparation, including acquiring and storing, cutting and chopping, pickling and preserving, cooking and cooling, were increasingly associated with specialized devices, such as the pantry or the iron stove, and hand tools, such as peelers or corers, and, eventually, consolidated into a single space: the modern kitchen. As techniques for rationalizing manufacturing processes extended to all spheres, the kitchen became a conspicuous site for domestic reform efforts. Christine Frederick's New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management, first published in 1913 and subsequently translated into multiple languages, became a landmark in the effort to align domestic labor with the methods of other work sites and to thereby make food preparation more efficient.

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Just as machinery and the factory labor needed to operate it came to be regulated by the clock, so, too, were kitchens reconfigured to appease a sharper sense of time. In the modern kitchen, each aspect of food preparation ratchets together the otherwise dissimilar time frames of distinct flows of things. In the pantry, for instance, a variety of products, including baked and canned goods, grains, roots, and spices, all drawn from different parts of local and foreign landscapes, are conjoined under a new and encompassing concept of duration: shelf life. Likewise, seasonal cycles are redistributed within the artificial climate of the refrigerator, where foods from different locales meet foods from different pages of the calendar and blend into a comestible pastorale when the refrigerator door is swung open and the question "What's for dinner?" is asked. Cooking, too, brings together and recalibrates temporal flows as the chef makes use of a cooktop and oven, hot and cold running water, a refrigerator and freezer, to alter the ingredients' physical makeup as a stage in the creation of something entirely new. Various signals, such as rising steam, bursting bubbles, and telltale odors, mark the progress of the edible amalgam as it is shepherded closer and closer to the coming moment of consumption. …

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