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‘Taste Tomorrow Today’. That’s the strapline from Food Ink London, supposedly the world’s first 3D-printing restaurant.

Co-founded by Marcio Barradas and Antony Dobrzensk, the pop-up opens in London’s stylish Shoreditch area between 25-27 July, outside the Old Truman Brewery, after a successful launch in Venlo, Netherlands.

The restaurant will give ten diners per night the opportunity to eat a nine-course meal made entirely by 3D printers. The furniture and utensils used throughout the pop-up store are all 3D printed, too.

The evening meals have been prepared by chefs Joel Castanye and Mateu Blanch of Spain’s La Boscana, a restaurant serving traditional Spanish cuisine with a contemporary twist.

Castanye worked at elBulli at a time when it was ranked the number one restaurant in the world, five years running.

In 2015, Blanch brought the pop-up restaurant 3D Printshow 2015 to London where he created the first 3D printed five-course meal consisting of caviar cookies, Caprese pasta with basilicum and pesto and a strawberry and jelly carpaccio.

However, the downside to a 3D printed meal is the machine can only process ingredients that have been melted or made into a paste.

This poses the question: is 3D printed food just a novelty?

For £250 a head which is what Food Ink London will charge for a meal, should one should expect to receive more than paste-based dishes?

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How it works

The ingredients must first be melted down or made into a paste. The ingredients are then used to fill a syringe-like container which is loaded into the printer. The syringe will squeeze out the paste in the same way as a piping bag, building up thousands of layers in order to create a 3D object.

To tell the printer what design to do, the dish is designed on modelling software first, similarly to a 3D printer. The main downside to 3D printing with food as oppose to regular 3D printing is the time it takes to produce. Often, the layers of food need to be left to cool, to avoid different food types from reacting or blending together.

Chefs will then have their hand in the cooking process either baking, blowtorching or dressing the plate to give each dish a different texture.

Ideally, 3D printers are best used to produce chocolate, cheese, pizza dough and hummus.

The Food Ink website says: “Simply put, we are putting at work most innovative technologies, like 3D-printing and augmented reality, in order to elaborate the most exquisite interactive edible experience. While there is no real magic here, our energy is dedicated to make every moment an enchantment.

“Just as gastronomy involves more than food, our vision goes beyond technology. It is about the best of what the past has to teach us in order to make the best of what possibilities lie before us. Art, music, poetry, philosophy, tradition… Without all that, technology is meaningless. We believe this heritage has a profound ability to transcend technology itself and bring a fantastic opportunity to experience – today – a taste of tomorrow.”

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How are 3D printers used today?

Chefs all around the world use 3D printers to plate up purees, mousses and cheeses. 3D printing enables them to explore new shapes, textures and flavours that would have been impossible to create by hand.

Michelin-starred chef Paco Perez began working with a 3D printer in two-Michelin-starred La Enoteca, Barcelona in order to produce dishes with more precision and intricacy.

Perez told the BBC: “it has changed the way I work with food…. I am capable of a level of precision that would never have been possible before.

“In its day, traditional food was the avant garde. The people who cooked it would use a blender, or a microwave, an oven, a heat lamp…You see, tradition is innovation – and always has been. In moving forwards, technology will always be present.”

It’s not just chefs using 3D printing to reach new heights. Smoothfoods is a 3D printed product distributed across 1,000 nursing homes in Germany. The food enables elderly residents who have difficulty chewing to receive valuable nutrients.

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The future of 3D printed food

Even with constant developments in 3D printing, it’s hard to see a benefit to printing food, other than to achieve new patterns and designs previously unobtainable by hand. So what’s the point?

Anajan Contract is an engineer who has been given a $125,000 (£93,606) grant from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program in order to create a pizza-making printer. He believes that one day a machine will be able to produce food from capsules filled with powder or oils.

This type of 3D machine would provide a renewable form of nutritional food, and would reduce the environmental impact of cooking whilst combatting world hunger.

cloudy-with-a-chance-of-meatballsIf you’re thinking of Star Trek’s replicators, or the FLDSMDFR from Sony Pictures film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, there’s still a long way to go until 3D food printing is at that stage.

As it stands, the 3D printers we have today have nutritional advantages, too. The benefit of making ingredients into a paste gives chefs the opportunity to add different, and unappealingly healthy, ingredients into something which can then be printed to look appealing.

Perhaps 3D printers will be the next professional kitchen utensil, placed on the countertop next to the microwave that people held the same concerns about 70 years ago.

Maybe we should take Food Ink’s advice: “Put art in your mouth and taste the future!”


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Images courtesy of Food Ink