To take a stroll through a kitchenware or appliance store is to imagine that there is nothing left to invent. You wanted bells and whistles? You got bells and whistles. You wanted motorized? You got motorized. You wanted $2 gadgets, millions of them, each one so specialized that it would do its own little task and nothing else? As close as the nearest store.
But if you consider that we are a people who know the broccoli is done because our microwave ovens tell us so, you will also realize that there is much left to be done in the kitchen.
Here, then, are some ideas, some foundations on which inventive minds can build to produce the things we really need:
The Kitchen Interceptor. This is for the parents of small, or even medium-sized, children. It would be small, unobtrusive, and could be worn like a Walkman. Its technology would be based on the axiom that children know, as the frog knows flies, to ask complicated or loaded questions when the parent is elbow-deep in boiling pasta water, or slicing the truffles.
Once, for instance, while making dinner in a rented beach house, I apparently said "Sure" to a request from my 4- and 5-year-old children to walk to the airport and get a ride on the plane that pulled the advertising streamers. They tell me I even gave them money. Eventually they came back, of course, but in the meantime the police had to be called. The Kitchen Interceptor would synthesize such requests, along with requests for money or attention ("Mommy? Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?" "What?" "Um, Mommy . . . um . . . "), determine their duration and their seriousness, and draft a suitable reply.
The Mold Meter. To be installed on the front of the refrigerator, this device would say things like "eat the cream cheese today, because tomorrow it will be fuzzy," or "The tuna salad will be orange by noon tomorrow." The Meter would come in avocado, harvest gold and white, but the messages would, of course, be delivered in flashing computer red.
An alternative or companion to the Mold Meter: a refrigerator that opens from both the front and the back, similar to some restaurant models and to the load-from-the-back store display cases. This would pose some logistical problems, but hey, it's a small price to pay for accessibility to the capers and all those other once-a-year items that multiply in the back of ordinary refrigerators.
Self-cleaning silverware trays, shelves, drawers and refrigerators. These would eliminate not only crumbs and other loose detritus, but also the sticky goo that attaches itself to all flat surfaces. They could work with suction, or for that matter with lasers. They made a self-cleaning oven, didn't they?
The Magic Wrist. Manufacturers have spent countless millions of research and development dollars trying to reproduce the three-dimensional action of the human wrist. Look, for instance, at electric whisks, cream- and egg-white beating attachments for food processors, electric mixers. But they have failed. Still, it's a worthy goal, and one that would be snapped up by the tired and the weary everywhere.
The Automatic Stirrer. This would be attachable to any size pot and could be set to stir occasionally, frequently, constantly, or just any time what's in the pot is in danger of sticking. It would reach all over the bottom and sides of the pan and get in the corners too. This is one that might actually be in reach, since some commercial pots come equipped this way.
Another almost-possible: pots with built-in thermometers that would automatically measure the temperature of their contents. Thus, the cook could tell when the custard is about to boil, the candy about to reach the soft ball stage or the oil at the right stage for frying, without the inconvenience and danger of a floppy separate thermometer.
Counter-Revolutionary Drawer Sorters. These would be guerilla forces stationed in drawers to counter the effects of the gremlins that come in the middle of the night and rearrange the utensil drawers. If this sounds far-fetched, remember that there are mechanized egg separators on the market. If a machine can separate the yolks from the whites, why can't a machine separate the can opener from the potato peeler?
The Gripper Spatula. As you go to turn the hamburger with the ordinary spatula, it skitters immediately to the far side of the pan, out of the reach of the spatula. This can go on as long as the pan is wide. Thus the Gripper, which would grip the far side of the hamburger (or whatever) and pull it into the grip of the spatula. To be the most efficacious, the Gripper Spatula should be adjustable in dimension.
Finally, for every cook short of Patrick Ewing: The Kitchen Forklift. These would be invisible floor panels located around the perimeter of the kitchen that, at the flick of a switch (possibly located on the Kitchen Interceptor, above) rise slowly, elevating the cook so that the highest shelves become just another simple rim shot on the basketball court of life.