It's amazing what a kitchen gadget can tell you if you know how to listen—who you are as a cook, for example, hidden prejudices you never knew you had, even the fundamental nature of cooking. I learned this by accident, courtesy of three gadgets that were new to me: a food dehydrator, which is exactly what it sounds like; a Philips Airfryer, which cannot be what it sounds like for the simple reason that the verb “to fry” means both “to cook with hot oil” and, more colloquially, “to destroy,” neither of which can be accomplished with air alone; and a plastic contraption called a spiralizer, with blades optimized for turning vegetables into long, curly strands.
Dehydrators, needless to say, have been around for a while. Food-processing companies use them to make snacks like dried mango, and hard-core backpacking enthusiasts have been dehydrating their vegetarian chili since at least the 1970s. Dehydrators also figure prominently in three contemporary food trends: modernist fine dining, in which chefs employ them to create edible soils and so-called “fruit veils,” like thin sheets of raspberry that can be used to gift wrap other foods; the rage for old-fashioned food-preservation techniques like pickling, which has even city dwellers like me yearning to harvest heaps of late- summer tomatoes and dry them for use in the dark days of winter; and the Paleolithic diet, in which dried fruits and vegetables and beef jerky qualify as approved snacks.
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Still, I never would have considered myself modernist enough, pioneer housewife enough or Paleo enough to enjoy dehydrating if not for a chance conversation over cocktails with two acquaintances: Tim Sinclair, a tall and handsome city-employed doctor who roams the San Francisco streets helping people in desperate straits, and his husband, David Funk, an exhibitions coordinator for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I asked what was new in their lives, and Tim said, with a laugh, “Our food dehydrator!” David, who is rumored to be a sensational cook, told me that most available recipes for dehydrators seem aimed at people “either going hiking or predicting the end of the world. I really just wanted to get more flavor into our dinners.” So David was finding ways to dry lemons and grind them into powder for sprinkling onto salads; he had even dried his homemade kimchi to create an intensely flavored sort of magic dust to sprinkle on anything at all.