Kitchen Design

Are 'Hipster Gizmos' Really Ruining Cooking?

November 29, 2016

Happy Giving Tuesday! Say, did you read this article published in the Wall Street Journal last week? In it, Keith Blanchard, former Editor-in-Chief of Maxim, laments the sorry state of American kitchens. He points to a particularly noxious culprit for their recent plunge: “hipster cooking gizmos.”

Blanchard begins his piece by announcing that he’s “a card-carrying dad of a certain age" who's just gotta make his pancakes. Lately, though, he's noticed that his children have turned into joyless automations, their reaction to their old man's cooking considerably more muted than it was before the advent of the cronut. His kids, he suspects, have fallen victim to the buzz that surrounds the latest innovations encroaching upon the kitchen.

He addresses the reader and points out what he assumes is on “your own pantry shelf,” like an aging panini press or forlorn bread maker of yesteryear, before turning his scalpel to hipsters, bemoaning their penchant for Stumptown coffee and non-normative meats like quail. He calls their now-popularized, hegemonic diets “insupportably decadent." He believes that food must now, as a mandate of the hipster control over the dominion of American cooking, be “intriguingly hyper-complex.” This has resulted in the creation of gadgets that are entirely too cumbersome to clean and maintain, and distressingly specific in their aims, like mini-donut makers or coffee art pens or macaron kits or waffle cone makers. “I have some reservations about all of this,” he writes late in his piece, in case we missed it.

Uh, yeah—as Nell Carter once sang, give me a break. Blanchard's piece teeters between humor and anger, and I'm afraid its occasional virtues are undone by the thrust of its non-argument: Blanchard, to me, doesn't ably make the case that this particular demographic is to blame. How demonstrably different is this recent trend Blanchard ascribes to hipsters, a demographic that's much easier to hate than it is to define, from previous kitchen creations? Innovation is sewn into the arc of history.

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The article sent a good number of smart people into fits of fury and rage, for they suspected that Blanchard was sneering and punching down at youth. Two days ago, NPR's Linda Wertheimer interviewed Blanchard about his piece. It’s a startlingly uncritical interview that barely lasts four minutes. Wertheimer doesn’t press Blanchard enough on the, I think, valid criticism to be made of his piece: Is he just getting churlish about kids these days?

So, earlier this morning, I posed the question that Blanchard's piece asks to our hotline. I got a grand total of five responses, many of which were variants of the same hesitant answer: Some contended that unitask-oriented cookware is too good to be true; others believed that such tools are meant for the green and inexperienced. But, as Cav wrote, if the resultant dish is as good as it would've been created under more traditional circumstances, who gives a shit? This was a small sample size, so I moseyed on over to the greatest public forum of them all, Twitter. The responses were, as of writing, near-evenly split between yes and no, skewing slightly towards, "No, that's absurd!"

I will offer this: I don't really have any of these gadgets, because I'd rather siphon off my precious capital elsewhere. These gizmos he writes of? In this economy? Just can't afford them! But many of you have been cooking for much longer than I have, and with alarmingly more dexterity, so I'd like to know if you think that these are killing cooking. I’m going to go with “no.” But tell me what you think.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Amy R. December 2, 2016
without trendy single-use gadgets, how on earth would kitchen stores stay open?
Tim December 2, 2016
Problem is they all sell the same stuff at the same price. I find pro kitchen supply stores to be a better option.
Lily December 2, 2016
Honestly, I find some of the gadgets useless or basically just overpriced pieces of industrial art that are meant for display but if people want to spend money on them that's their decision.
caninechef December 1, 2016
Like ¾ of the stuff one sees these days online and in all media: Ridiculous ideas, hyped up controversies, manufactured indignation, nonsensical ratings and lists -- All in the name of generating content, whether or not there is any need for said content to ever see the light of day. As to the gadgets, let them rise or fall as dictated by a market economy. Typically (of things and ideas in general, not kitchen gadgets) there will be a ton of chaff that falls by the wayside but perhaps one or two brilliant ideas that become classics.
Mary R. November 30, 2016
Of course, these,or any, so called gadgets do not ruin cooking. Haters gonna hate, and cooks gonna cook. I will add I am a "gadget-phobe." I got a great piece of advice years ago from a chef I worked for. He told me he never wanted an item in his kitchen that only did one task. I have taken that to heart. I have my knives, and my pots and my skills and they serve me well. However, if a budding cook wants to explore a new recipe or technique and buys a gadget in order to do so, I applaud them. Cook, cook and cook some more!
Tim November 30, 2016
What I fail to understand is this –> "hipster gizmo's" are ruining food for whom? I'm not a hipster, but nobody complains about my lamb shanks that I cooked for 48 hours in a sous vide circulator. I'd say the author, Mr. Blanchard not Mr. Sen, needs to check his crankiness at the door, have a seat, have some kale and some artisanal, locally sourced pickles. Chill, dude.
Mary R. November 30, 2016
Yes! Chill, dude!
Carol J. November 30, 2016
This column recently referenced a $3000 appliance that essentially steamed vegetables (a Bosch convection something). Gadgets are definitely out of control. It is good that more people are cooking, if they are - for sure!
Bryan L. November 30, 2016
Two things.
1) After this election, are these - millennials and gadgets - really our biggest worry?
2) As long as people are cooking at home, I don't care if they're using a slow-cooker that is only fueled by matcha, fish-sauce, and truffle oil. They're cooking at HOME! If they have the cabinet space for single-use gadgets, vive la process. They're cooking at HOME! Who are we to judge? Or spend valuable living-time caring? They just might - you don't know - migrate from doughnut-pops to making coq au vin in a Dutch oven with only a spatula and a dream. The most arcane hipster home-gadget is a big step forward from an endless pasta bowl at Olive Garden.
Mary R. November 30, 2016
Precisely. I have to think the WSJ author had to think of something quick to meet his deadline.
Jennifer November 29, 2016
Useless kitchen gadgets--perennial issue, even if Blanchard has only cottoned on to the phenomenon recently. (Isn't there a Honeymooners episode about this?) I've always spent my free time cooking, and I've always had limited storage space--as a result, I haven't accumulated many single-use gadgets. Nonetheless: Don't come between me and my cherry pitter (hardly a hipster invention). My point is simply that every cook figures out what does, or doesn't work, in her own good time.
aeb November 29, 2016
Isn't there a case to be made for each generation of cooks having their "own" gadgets? My grandma used a biscuit cutter, a gravy separator, and a cooking thermometer nearly ever single day. I own those items (inherited) but use them very very rarely. My mother grinds her own wheat, swears by her Bosch bread mixer, and ALWAYS has Arrowroot and Cream of Tartar on hand. I just don't cook like that. I appreciate it - it feels like home to me; but it isn't the way my kitchen operates. That said some items transcend generations: wooden spoon, rolling pin, colander, Maglite roaster, cast iron treasures, copper mixing bowls, etc.
Elizabeth S. November 29, 2016
I am not sure if Blanchard is a cranky old man just come in from shaking his fist at those darn kids who won't stay off his lawn, a columnist desperately searching for grist for the mill of his column, or someone of the Donald Trump 3 am tweet ilk trying to come up with click bait. I have 4 children that fit in the age group to which he refers. The most outlandish kitchen equipment they use is a food processor. The most outlandish food the vegetarian cooks is Tofu. The most outlandish ingredients are coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds. My Christmas gift for my son, whose specialties are Indian, Russian, and Polish foods, will be a set of knives. For his birthday I gave him non-stick ceramic coated frying pans. (Btw, griddles would be too fancy for them and take up too much space in their kitchens.) I am sick of people demonizing the latest generation of young people. For any label that is slapped on one generation in willy nilly stereotyping, chances are those same labels were applied to any other generation viewed in their twenties by the respective coots and grumps of that time!
Stephanie B. November 29, 2016
Hipster: check. Millennial: check. But while the curmudgeons at WSJ are finding increasingly useless things to complain about, I'm putting my macaron baking mat and fresh pasta maker to good use, with excellent results.
Tim November 29, 2016
I have a box of junk, er - I mean, gadgets that collect dust. Periodically I donate them to a charity. When you are a serious home cook, friends and family like to give well-meaning, but useless gadgets as gifts. Smile and be gracious - and find the box for them. I could use a duck press, BTW...
Jared K. November 29, 2016
At the end of the day, if those gadgets, uni-tasker or not, are what draws someone new into cooking, or what helps a veteran home cook put meals on the table with enjoyment, then who are we to judge.

We all have different interests and levels of enjoyment with various methods of cooking. I'll enjoy mine, you enjoy yours.
Ali W. November 29, 2016
You're right, short answer is no. Like yourself, I too would rather spend my money elsewhere. Never mind the economy, kitchen real estate in NYC is too precious to waste on waffle makers or grass-fed artisanal meat grinders or whatever it is we millenials/hipsters are into this month, but I agree with the commenters: who cares? If having these gadgets gets people into the kitchen and it ends up perking up the home cook's interest for more cooking, then hey, that's great!