The idea of “home” began as a single large room in which all daily activities took place. Over the centuries, homes gradually divided into an ever-increasing number of smaller rooms with specialized functions. The specialization continues today — home gyms, media rooms, etc. — with one exception: the kitchen.

In many homes the kitchen now is expanding to include more space for family activities and entertainment. In the South, the result is “the great room,” but whatever it’s called, it reflects a basic truth: Everybody likes to hang out around the kitchen. 

Thus the kitchen means not only food storage and preparation, but entertainment as well.

Entertainment specifically for the cook has arrived in the form of small screen LCD televisions that mount under cabinets so as not to take up counter space. Sony makes a very sleek silver version with a 7” fold-down screen plus radio and CD player for around $330; it includes a built-in kitchen timer and a magnetic remote for easy storage on the refrigerator door. Audiovox sells its VE705 undercounter LCD TV-radio with the same sized screen but a tad less style for $200. And should you have counter space to spare, take a look at Sharp’s 13” LC13AV4U, a very slim LCD set with superb performance for a bit over $300.

Past pure entertainment, the most concerted effort to date to digitize the kitchen is from Salton (the company behind such brands as Toastmaster and Westinghouse). Their Beyond line of products is built around the $1299 iCEBOX, a kitchen computer/entertainment center (complete with washable keyboard) which is also available in a slim under-cabinet version LCD TV and DVD player for $1999.

Salton iCEBOX
Salton’s iCEBOX kitchen computer has a washable keyboard and can also be installed under cabinets (see photo at top of page).

The iCEBOX is complemented by a $165 microwave, a breadmaker at $150 and a $90 coffeemaker. All of the appliances can stand alone but can also be networked together for home automation purposes. Both the microwave and breadmaker can read thousands of barcodes on packages to automatically set themselves for proper cooking. (If the appliances are networked, they go online to download barcodes for new products as well.)

It’s a well-considered approach to adding value to the kitchen as opposed to simple gimmickry; it will be interesting to see how the market responds.   

But there are also smaller bits of advanced technology that should find a comfortable place in the kitchen.

Laser thermometer
Point this radar-gun-like thermometer at a cooking surface and get a digital readout.

For starters, take a look at this high-tech thermometer: the BonJour Culinary Laser Thermometer, a $100 pistol-grip unit that uses infrared to measure the temperature of any cooking surface (without touching it) from 0 to 932 degrees. Pros use costlier versions of these thermometers to make sure the grill or skillet is at just the right temperature for perfect results. Another handy thermometer is the Sure Grip Instant Read Fork from Acurite; spear anything with this stainless steel fork and the round digital readout instantly displays the temperature.

On the beverage side, in lieu of a sommelier, try the Excalibur Wine Master, a pocket-sized $30 wonder that contains the ratings of 10,000 wines from Wine Enthusiast magazine, along with software that lets you pair wines with specific foods. Should your chosen wine need temperature adjustment, you can use the ThermoKool MR-158 Digital Wine Cooler & Warmer, which for about $80 will keep a bottle at any temperature from 37 degrees to 122 degrees. While it’s the rare wine that needs to be served at 122 degrees, this way you’re prepared for anything. 

More here.