Thursday, January 7, 2010

Design: Garlic

This one is admittedly a bit odd. I'm ok in the kitchen, but I'm certainly not a brilliant chef, nor even an aspiring one. And while I like garlic as much as the next person, perhaps even a bit more, I'm not crazed on the topic. So please keep these facts in mind while reading the following.

A few years back my wife signed us up for a "knife skills" class at the culinary school and store in our neighborhood. I had heard good things about the class, have always been interested in knives, and thought it might be a fun way to spend an evening picking up some useful knowledge. And it was all those things. At the end of class the instructor noted that, for students that evening, they were offering something like 15% off all merchandise.

So we meandered about the store for a bit and I found a neat looking gadget; the Rösle garlic press. I picked it up and played with the mechanism, and then noticed the $45 price tag and laughed. But one of the assistants for the class spotted the press in my hands and came up to me with her eyes wide and lit up. "This is probably my favorite thing in this store, and it works unbelievably well. Let me show you!" , and she proceeded to skip across the store to find a garlic clove to mash. The demo was impressive, but I was never going to spend ~$50 for something so trivial as a garlic press. And thus we walked home with our bags full of sliced, chopped, and minced vegetables, happy and hungry.

Here's the thing, though. Every garlic press I had used up to this point had been an exercise in frustration. They all required that you peel the clove first, they were all fussy about positioning the clove so it didn't squirm out, they all felt flexy and flimsy, and they all were amazingly difficult to clean thoroughly. I'd often simply mince the garlic rather than use the press, as it saved me considerable labor and sanity when the entire process was taken into account (especially with my new mincing skills... umm... yeah). So for every dish that we made with garlic, I'd think about that $50 press and briefly wonder what it might be like to own and use.

I must have looked particularly wistful, for my wife graced me with the Rösle press for my birthday that year. I felt suddenly adult, for now I was not only receiving kitchen utensils for gifts, but rather pricey ones at that... But it was a great gift, as it is a wonderfully designed object. The first thing that strikes me is it's heft; this press is solid, and does not flex under use. The materials are high quality stainless steel, and the unit looks as good today after three years of use as it did when I pulled it out of the bag. The mechanics are smooth and well balanced. I liken the feel of the swing to that of a Butterfly Knife (not that I own one, as they're ofttimes illegal), something that invites playing with it as if it were a pair of nun-chucks. The action is reasonably light, as the linkage provides enough mechanical advantage to crush the clove without major effort. And cleanup, while not perfect, is significantly easier, as the grate swings out of the "pressing chamber" so you can easily pick away the big parts and rinse away the rest.

It's not perfect, as the hold-close detents have worn a bit, and sometimes a bit of the garlic squeezes out of the chamber and above the press plate. But pressing garlic for meals is actually a bit of fun now, which feels as odd to write as it does to anticipate in reality. I credit this fully to the design of this garlic press, as I delight in knowing someone (or ones) took the time and effort to deeply understand something as mundane and annoying as the practice of cooking with garlic, and chose to create and market a solution that didn't half-ass anything. Kudos to them.

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