During the Winter Olympics I listened to a reporter talking about her dining experiences at the media centre there. Robots, she explained, rather than people, were there to cater to everyone's whims and needs — taking out the trash, making coffee, whipping up a cocktail, even cooking and serving dumplings — which, she remarked, were the best-tasting dumplings she'd ever eaten.
If you hop on to YouTube, you can see it all happening. Diners ordering food from their phones, their meals delivered through tracks along the ceiling, with a huge ceiling-mounted robot arm lowering down each meal on a little pink umbrella tray to their tables. Each diner sitting in their own little plexiglass cubicle, chatting through the acrylic barriers that separated them. Fancy a cocktail? Make your choice and a disembodied arm wields a shaker, selects a glass, neatly pours the cocktail, and delivers it to you. All in a mere 90 seconds.
The use of robots at the Olympics was designed to maximise efficiency and limit the spread of Covid-19 by minimising person-to-person contact. The state-run Xinhua News Agency wrote, "The intelligent meal preparation and meal service system here not only improves the efficiency of meal supply, but also saves manpower to the maximum extent and avoids excessive human interaction in the context of epidemic prevention and control."
Is this the future of food? So much of the way we show our love and care is through cooking. If we lose this, then what becomes of our humanity?
The cook's role is to seek out the best-quality, freshest ingredients they can find, engaging all their senses to smell and touch, see and taste. Such ingredients require little enhancement. A glistening fillet of fish fried in a buttery pan needs nothing more than heat, salt, pepper and a lick of lemon. Ditto a good-quality free-range or organic chicken or a carefully aged piece of red meat.
The kitchen is the heart of the home and the table, its backbone. A meal shared around the table, with spirited conversation and lots of laughter, is always a meal remembered. As the Italians say, "A tavola non s'invecchia." At the table one does not grow old.
Can a robot sniff out the sweetest, ripest peach, or cradle an avocado and know for certain its perfect ripeness? Maybe one day it will. But for now there are so many delicious harvests to enjoy, that require next to nothing in the way of effort to prepare. No robots are required.
Prosciutto peach wraps
This works wonderfully with fresh figs too.
Ready in 15 mins
Makes 24 wraps
4 peaches or nectarines
1 small log of chevre or creamy goat's cheese (about 100g)
12 super-thin slices of prosciutto, halved lengthways
Basil leaves, to garnish
Wash fruit and, if using peaches, rub off fuzz from skins under cold water. Halve, remove stones and cut each half into thirds.
Spread ½ tsp cheese on one side of fruit slices, then wrap a strip of prosciutto around, tucking a basil leaf inside each.
Serve within a couple of hours.
Beans and burrata
This tastes so lusciously indulgent and it's such a simple assembly.
Ready in 10 mins
1-2 handfuls green beans, trimmed
¼ tsp salt
400g can butter beans, drained and rinsed
3 heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 large fresh burrata or mozzarella, torn into large chunks
Basil leaves, to garnish
2 Tbsp pesto or salsa verde
2 Tbsp olive oil
Place green beans and salt in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to stand for 2 minutes, then rinse under cold water and drain. Transfer to a large bowl and add butter beans and tomatoes. Toss to combine and season to taste.
Top with burrata or mozzarella and basil leaves. Mix pesto or salsa verde with olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Drizzle over salad and serve.
Watermelon and coconut granita
This keeps in the freezer for weeks and will safely refreeze if it gets slushy. When you want a fix, just use a fork to scrape shavings from the surface. I often keep the serving bowls in the freezer so it stays frozen for longer once served. The exact amount of watermelon doesn't matter – I used 6 cups of finely chopped watermelon but if there's another cup or so the mix will still be fine.
Prep 10 mins + freezing
Makes 5 cups
½ smallish watermelon, rind and seeds removed and flesh finely chopped
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup coconut cream
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Mint leaves, to serve (optional)
Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth.
Tip into a large, shallow tray (about 28cm x 18cm) and freeze for at least 6 hours until firm.
To serve, scrape a fork across the frozen surface to break up into fine shavings and garnish with mint leaves, if desired.
Match these with ...
by Yvonne Lorkin
(Peach and prosciutto wraps)
Nautilus Vintage 2018 Methode Traditionelle Cuvee Marlborough Rosé ($49)
On The Smiths' 1987 banger Strangeways Here We Come, Morrissey once warbled, "Stop me, oh oh oh stop me … Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before" — and that's how I feel about recommending this superlative sparkler. Whenever I see the words "peach" and "prosciutto" in the same sentence I automatically dovetail to the soft, berry brioche, creamy cashew and cloud-like characters of this ferociously lovely fizz. Not sorry, either. Don't be fooled by those feather-lite, pinprick bubbles, it's a beast in pink clothing.
(Beans and burrata)
Zaria Hawke's Bay Malbec Rosé 2021 ($20)
I love that on the website listing for this wine it starts with a haiku.
Peach Cream Confection
Electric pink and bursting with bright, energetic red apple, redcurrant and raspberry layers, cherry and zesty citrus characters and a long, vibrant, citrus-stacked finish. Fresh, crunchy and punchy in all the right places, it's beyond brilliant with beans and burrata.
(Watermelon and coconut granita.)
Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light Wild Raspberry Tonic Water 200ml ($9.50 x 4pk)
Ah yes. The icy flakes of watermelon granita, while visually and tastily highly appealing, can create a car crash in your mouth when combined with an acidic beveragino like wine, yet pair it with your favourite gin, a wedge of pink grapefruit and a hefty, fizzy glug of the glorious new Fever-Tree raspberry tonic and you've got a flash mob of flavour. Bright and brisk and with only a whisker of bitterness, it boasts a very pure, raspberry core and great length of flavour.