Written by: Oliver Wainwright, Thursday 13 April 2017
A sprinkle of washing powder, a dash of fabric conditioner and a good slug of teriyaki sauce? Next time you load the washing machine, you might be adding some extra ingredients, if Israeli design student Iftach Gazit’s idea catches on. In response to our increasingly energy-conscious, time-poor existence, he has come up with a plan for boil-in-the-bag meals you can throw in with the laundry. Your dinner will come out steamed, pummelled and spun to a T.
His project imagines a range of pre-packed foods, from steak with garlic and herbs to salmon in teriyaki sauce, that come in waterproof Tyvek bags complete with washing temperatures and nutritional information displayed in the style of clothing labels. “I was inspired by the craze of sous vide cooking, where food is vacuum-sealed and immersed in hot water for long periods of time,” says the 31-year-old from Tel Aviv. “But rather than cooking a piece of meat at 58C for two and a half hours, you could just set your washing machine to ‘synthetics’ for a long cycle. For vegetables, you could set it to a short hot ‘cotton’ programme.”
His idea wasn’t initially prompted by the restaurant fad for sous vide, but by time spent researching the daily routines of homeless people in New York. He was struck by how important launderettes have become as 24-hour havens. As one homeless blogger put it, the launderette is “probably the most useful place on earth for the homeless, besides the library”. It is a place where “you can clean your laundry, fill your water bottles, find an electrical outlet to plug in a computer or phone, take a bird bath, take a dump … rest for a good few hours and not get hassled”.
So, Gazit thought, why not create an easy and free way of cooking there too? He tested his idea with a Tupperware container filled with pasta and green beans, which he says was “edible, but not great”. So he tried again, putting it in the drier to give it a “final finish”, but it turned into a congealed mushy ball.
He describes the project as an “object for discussion” rather than a practical solution, a commentary on the postwar western dream of TV dinners and labour-saving domestic appliances – a vision that came crashing down after the sub-prime mortgage crisis, leading to the highest levels of homelessness in the US since the Great Depression. “What is the next step for the TV dinner when you don’t have a house?” he asks.
As a student at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, which overlooks the contested West Bank, Gazit’s other provocative projects have included a “negotiation table” for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, made of a hefty slab of concrete that crumbles on touch; and a “panopticon chandelier” of security lights and CCTV cameras. “I suppose I’m the weird bird in school,” he says, of an institution that has been traditionally focused on craft. “I think, as designers, we have a duty to take a position on these political issues.”
His laundry dinners may be more social commentary than the stuff of Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals, but he is not alone in exploring the unlikely culinary potential of domestic appliances. Italian food writer Lisa Casali made waves in 2013 with her recipe book Cucinare in Lavastoviglie (“Cooking in the dishwasher”), accompanied with jovial online recipe videos.
“All you need is a dishwasher and the will to experiment,” says Casali, proceeding to demonstrate how, with the help of some plastic bags, a vacuum sealer and airtight jars, you can conjure a dish of sea bass fillet in a poppy seed crust served on a yellow pepper cream, at the same time as doing the dishes. “This technique allows you to spare water and energy, thus cooking at zero cost and with no carbon footprint,” she beams – before finishing off the fish using a more conventional frying pan.
One Chinese blogger, meanwhile, has done away with the needless paraphernalia of vacuum bags and jars and gone the whole hog, throwing his ingredients straight into the drum to make the perfect “washing machine potato and pork rib soup”. Simply put chopped potatoes, pork ribs and seasoning into the machine, set it to a 95C cycle and – hey presto! – you have a surefire way to destroy your washing machine and produce a disgusting broth in the process.
Other enthusiasts have demonstrated how DIY power tools can be easily converted into handy kitchen appliances, transforming a cordless drill into everything from a food mixer to a high-octane pepper grinder, even showing how a scouring sponge can be attached to help with doing the dishes. Just don’t be tempted to use it for eating corn on the cob at high speed. That way lies disaster. And dentures.