Barilla to let diners design their own pasta

Bored of penne or farfalle? Fear not, Italian pasta giant Barilla is working on a design for a machine which would allow restaurant diners to design and "print" their pasta in any shape they want.

Barilla to let diners design their own pasta
Photo: Guy Renard 25/Flickr

Barilla, which is the world's biggest exporter of pasta, has been working with the Netherlands-based TNO, a scientific research organisation, for the past two years to come up with a way of blending fine dining with 3D printing, La Repubblica reported.

The aim is to create a pasta printer that would let diners and restaurant owners design their own pasta, with custom-made designs taking no longer to make than a classic pasta shape.

Kjeld van Bommel, a designer for TNO, told La Repubblica he was hopeful for the project, though it still needs some refinement. “We are working on improving the speed of the printer,” he said, adding that it was already ten times faster than the first models two years ago.

He pointed out that the printers allow the ordinary consumer to put their own stamp on a restaurant meal.

“For example, you could surprise your wife with pasta in the shape of a rose for your marriage anniversary. You simply save your design in a USB and bring it to the restaurant. The 3D food printer there will print it on site.”

Experimental prototypes of the machine are currently being trialed in several Dutch restaurants, but it is not the printers themselves that Barilla is hoping to make money from. On the contrary, the company plans to manufacture and sell the dough mixtures to be used in the printers. These mixtures would be put into a cartridge, in the same way ink is fed into an ordinary printer.

Although high-end printers designed to make food do already exist, Barilla is the first large food brand to have shown a commitment to working with the printers.

3D printers are expected to revolutionize production techniques in a variety of industries, replacing traditional factory production lines with a single machine which can build almost anything, making different objects out of different materials. 

After making headlines in 2013 with a statement that gay couples would never be featured in his adverts, company boss Guido Barilla seems keen to draw a line under the controversy, with several new strategies for 2014. As well as 'printed pasta', the company is aiming to target the Russian market and expand their range of gluten-free products.

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OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.