Somewhere out there in a broken-down garage or a large laboratory, someone is inventing a machine to make our lives easier. Perhaps it will peel carrots by looking at them or slice Parmesan cheese with a laser beam.

Whatever it is, six months after adding it to our kitchens, we won't know how to do without it.

Only 50 years ago, the ice man still cameth to so many American homes that in 1930 Kelvinator felt compelled to put out a booklet urging women to experience the joys of the refrigerator.

"The crunchy lettuce, the cold slices of crisp tomato, perfectly blended mayonnaise (made a week before) -- and how her women guests envy their perfection! This hostess has a perfectly wonderful helper -- Kelvinator. Unexpected guests cause her no worry. She takes from her refrigerator vegetable and green stuffs and meats, all perfectly preserved in the 'cold that keeps.'"

No one needs to be sold on the virtues of the refrigerator today, not to mention the dishwasher, blender or garbage disposal.But not all labor-saving devices are a blessing. Someone once gave me a pea podder which not only mashed as many peas as it podded, but would have deprived me of one of summer's greatest pleasures: sitting on the porch with dinner guests gossiping and shelling peas.

Other area cooks have a similar love/hate relationship with labor-saving gadgets. Following are their choices of things they wouldn't want to be without, and others they'd gladly throw in the trash.

Patrick O'Connell, chef and co-owner of the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va. (703-675-3800), would throw out most gadgets.

"Anything plastic breaks instantaneously, and a nutmeg grater lasts three days here."

But there is one kitchen tool he recommends: a mandolin, a slicing tool which he says is worth every penny of the $140 he spent for it in France.

"We use it to slice apples for tarts, paper thin onions for a confiture, slice potatoes for a gratinee, julienne the vegetables. We use it to make a julienne of yellow squash that's as thin as angel hair pasta. Customers who don't like squash at all, much less raw, love it. People who are not very adept with a knife have a very difficult time making the slices the same. The mandolin does it for them."

Alison Zaremba, co-owner of Take Me Home, 3212 O St. NW, says she shudders to think of the knife work and the time she'd spend bent over a food mill if there was no Robot Coup food processor. Give her that and she'll gladly get rid of her lettuce drier.

"I wash the lettuce in advance, give it a good shake and put it in the refrigerator. By the time I'm ready to use it, it's dry."

Instead of throwing it away, she could give the lettuce drier to Judy Kahn, co-owner of Suzanne's, 1735 Connecticut Ave. NW. (483-4633), who says she couldn't live without her salad spinner.

"That's my favorite gadget, that and this thing you put a bagel into, which lets you cut it into two even halves. What I'd get rid of would be electric can openers and electric knives. I think they're a waste of time."