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3D printing offers wide range of culinary possibilities

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Dessert with a 3D printed sugar cloche (Photo: 3D Systems)

Chefs and other foodservice professionals are just beginning to scratch the surface of what they can create with 3D printers, and the possibilities are seemingly endless. The Culinary Institute of America has teamed with 3D Systems to explore how the 3D printing company’s ChefJet Pro, the first 3Dfood printer, can be used in professional kitchens. Representatives from the CIA and 3D Systems sat on a panel at the National Restaurant Association Show Monday to talk about what the future holds for 3D printing in the food world.

“We feel strongly that 3D printing has something to offer the culinary world, and we’re motivated to make sure the technology is available to the industry. But we don’t want to be the ones to decide how those capabilities are deployed. We want to make sure culinarians are able to explore those for themselves,” said Liz von Hasseln, creative director of food for 3D Systems.

The CIA established a mini 3D printing lab on its Hyde Park campus where students and faculty are experimenting with the technology. “The excitement already — within a few weeks — has been amazing … people have gravitated to printing immediately,” said Thomas Vaccaro, dean of baking and pastry arts.

Kyle and Liz von Hasseln and Vaccaro at the NRA Show (Photo: Tricia Smith)

Vaccaro compared 3D printing to sous vide technology, which seemed extravagant to many chefs when it was first introduced but has since gained a huge following among restaurant chefs, even in casual eateries.

As 3D printers enter the market, it probably won’t be long before inventive chefs add the technology to their arsenal of equipment. “The digital part is not taking away from anything on the culinary side. It’s not overpowering or superseding anything … it’s an extra asset,” said Kyle von Hasseln, Liz von Hasseln’s husband and  co-creative director of food for 3D Systems.

Here are some of the highlights from Vaccaro and the von Hasselns’ discussion of 3D printing.

Complex tech, commonplace ingredients

The machinery involved in 3D printing uses advanced technology to build up very thin layers of wet and dry ingredients to form each three-dimensional figure, but the ingredients are things every chef already has in his kitchen. Sugar and maltodextrin are the most commonly used dry ingredients in 3D printing, although some chefs have experimented with dehydrated vegetable powders.

Applications beyond sugar

Vaccaro said he sees a future for savory products using dehydrated vegetables, and scientists and chefs at the CIA have begun working on “container forms that could be used in savory applications. For instance, as a composed salad, you might have a container that’s printed with beets, and inside of that would have a dressing and the salad surrounding it.”

3D printed sugar spiral and ceramic spoon (Photo: 3D Systems)

In addition to printing edible items, 3D printing offers chefs the opportunity to design and create custom bake ware and serving ware from metal, ceramic and a variety of plastics. For a dinner honoring Spanish chef Ferran Adria, 3D Systems created an absinthe cocktail setup with a 3D printed ceramic spoon that perfectly cradled a brightly-colored sugar spiral above the cocktail glass.

If guests can dream it, chefs can do it

3D printing allows chefs to create shapes that are impossible to form by hand, and ensure consistent results when producing items on a large scale. Liz von Hasseln said the elaborate garnishes and other dish elements made possible by the technology could “enhance the pomp of serving food.”

Vaccaro said the opportunities for customization offered by 3D printing will enhance the guest experience. “You could pretty much say, ‘tell me your dreams, what is it that you really want to have done, because we could probably get that done for you.'”


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