"DON'T play with your food."
Sure, we all heard that as kids.
But today, the kitchen is everybody's playpen. And food is fun personified - worthy of TV channels and specialty gadget shops celebrating food-as-entertainment.
Gizmo Guy traces the trend back to last-century novelty peddlers like the Johnson Smith Co., the back-of-the-comic-book advertiser that introduced gag-gift dribble glasses, plastic ice cubes with a bug floating inside and kitchen aprons imprinted with "Beware of Chef" warnings. Although no longer printing catalogs, they're still up to no (and some) good online at johnsonsmith.com.
Later came class acts like Michael Graves - the Princeton, N.J.-based architect and product designer who passed away March 12. Graves brought a "postmodern" form-follows-function whimsy to gadgets, most famously with a whistling-bird-tipped tea kettle and a toaster shaped like a loaf of bread. (A celebration of his work, small and large, can be found at Grounds for Sculpture, in Hamilton, N.J., through April 5.)
And still the beat goes on.
Lots of exhibitors at the recent International Housewares Show, in Chicago, didn't mind a bit when this floorwalker laughed heartily at their new kitchen tools.
GOOPY TUESDAY: Take, please, the PancakeBot, a robotic, liquid-spewing 3-D printer device that "prints" (read: carefully dribbles) pancake batter in a design of your choosing onto a hot, nonstick griddle. (Flipping the flapjacks is still done manually, dang!)
Inventor Miguel Valenzuela perfected the device after a Lego-constructed prototype won approval from his daughters, he told me. A Kickstarter campaign confirmed that people really wanted this silly thing.
Backers have pledged more than $200,000 in "I'll buy one" support (the original goal was $50,000). Doesn't hurt that early-bird sponsors can still nab one for $179, a steal as 3-D printers go.
Likely to serve as a teaching aid, too, PancakeBot's batter-dispensing system uses compressed air and a vacuum to trace the pattern you've stored on an installed SD card. Included software also lets you trim the pancake with, say, a team logo. Details at kickstarter.com.
THE YOLK'S ON YOU: Already a Euro-smash, the BeepEgg egg timer (coming soon for $19.99) looks like an egg, likewise stores in the fridge, then gets dropped into hot water with your eggs at cooking time. But you'll know this one is a "ringer" when it tells you the real ones are ready.
BeepEgg chimes "Oh! Susanna" to retrieve soft boiled eggs, then "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for medium-soft doneness. You'll hear "Hail, Hail the Gang's All Here" when the eggs are truly hard-boiled.
More decorative, Americana-tuned "Patriot" and "New York" BeepEggs ($24.99) are also floating to our shores and shelves, said Brainstream GmbH marketing manager Markus Gabriel.
FRED 'N' FRIENDS: We had the best time at the Fred & Friends booth, yucking it up over gadgets like Mr. Tea ($10). He's their (most) popular, androgynously gray silicon tea infuser who hangs arms over a cup's sides as he soaks his, um, leaves in the water.
Also butt- (and "Seinfeld"-) obsessed are Muffin Tops, a set of silicon muffin-baking cups shaped like the derriere of a pair of jeans, out of which bubbles a very large and crusty muffin top ($10-$15).
Wine'O is an insulated beverage carrier (about $7) that could pass for a crinkled brown paper bag. Pass the Thunderbird?
Your kids likely will finish eggs if you cook 'em up in the Funnyside Up egg corral ($6-$10). This silicon mold adeptly centers two yolks and arranges the egg whites so the thing slides out of the frying pan shaped like an owl with big, orange eyes. What a hoot.
Freeloaders are less likely to steal your food from the office fridge if stored in a Fred Lunch Bug - a sandwich bag decorated with a supersized, creepy-crawly bug. Don't worry, it doesn't eat much (box of 24, $8-$10).
Fred & Friends' The Obsessive Chef cutting board ($21-$26) has grids and angles burned into the bamboo. So a slicer/dicer can cut up carrots, cheese cubes or anything else with a methodical (OK, insane) degree of uniformity.
No surprise, founder and still-president Fred Roses used to be in the educational toy business, running the science-and-nature-focused Club Earth brand.
Based in Providence, R.I., Fred & Friends is also ripe with talent from the Rhode Island School of Design. "People really love working here," said company spokeswoman Deb Dompkowski. No joke!
Check out the whole line at fredandfriends.com.