Experimental cooking with a minimum of utensils

In the context of our design challenge we undertook a little cooking experiment. We asked ourselves what is the minimum of tools needed for cooking everyday recipes? Thinking about cooking on the street and therefore designing some mobile advice the equipment question seems relevant to us. How can one transport the object from one place to the other? This is amongst other things determined by the needed utensils. When using the term “needed” one has to take the whole cooking experience into consideration. We have to ask which tools are needed for preparing a specific dish, but we also have to ask how one feels being limited to these?


To examine this question we invited people with different cultural backgrounds to a cooking night. They formed a Syrian, an Israeli, an Austrian and a Chinese group. Along with the invitation they all had to chose one everyday dish from their country of origin, which they wanted to prepare. The ingredients and facility were provided. The real task for each group was to choose very limited cooking appliances from three different stations as well as to get along with only one hotplate (either electric plate or camping stove). We uploaded some pictures of the night here.


Overall I would say that everyone had a good night cooking, eating and mostly laughing together. It was great to share so many different dished by the end of the night and therefore get the opportunity to taste so many different things. The reactions to being limited varied from cheating, getting here and there frustrated to laughing, accepting it and becoming creative.

A few interesting observations, which we have to take into account designing:

  • Everyone constantly kept running to the water basin at the other end of the room – for washing vegetables, cleaning the tools for the next steps, washing hands or cleaning the table with a sponge. The Israeli cook also told us, that water is one of the most important things for him while cooking.
  • Things got dirty very quickly. While trying for example to bake Kaiserschmarrn (cut-up and sugared pancake with raisins) on the camping stove, the pan dropped and some of the still liquid dough ran out.
  • People got creative. They used empty cans to lay down a ladle or fished out flour chunks using a sieve.
  • The different textures and coatings of a cooking pot / pan matter more than we thought. Trying to bake Chinese street food crepes, the group had to change the pan three times before it worked. First they tried out a wok in which the dough unevenly backed thoroughly due to its round form, than the pan surface was to big for the electric plate.
  • Some of the hotplates did not get warm enough. They did not have enough power. For some dishes this was fine, but for others as the Syrian fried potatoes a lot of heat was needed.
  • Being asked afterwards the Syrian group explained that being limited in terms of cooking utensils is no real option for them. They managed to prepare their dish but in general there are too many dishes in Syria for which up to 6 cooking pots are needed. It seems to vary from recipe to recipe, but also from food culture to food culture.

What else would you like to know about this cooking experiment? Maybe your questions could help us with the analysis.

Well done!

Hello! I really like the fact that people are getting involved into this kind of initiative, especially because of the diversity (of people) promoted. I encourage you to ask for as more and diverse feedback as possible and try to engage as many different types of people as you can (different cultures, mentalities, needs when it comes to cooking etc.). I’m sure they would like to help you out with this, as it’s their interest too. Also, I think the way you test the land, step by step, may be very helpful. Are you planning to do any other initiative like the cooking with the minimal utensils one? Or to do it again, but involving other groups of people? Have you got any new conclusion based on this activity? Let me know, I’m curious.

Conclusions for practice applications

Really curious to know more about what conclusions you come to doing these experiments. We have a space where we cook weekly dinners for up to 40 people, but we have a relatively full functioning kitchen. We’ve talked about how we could take our skills of cooking for large groups into situations, such as occupations, blockade/encampments  or the street and do the same with limited equipment most efficently. Have you thought about creating something like a sort of toolkit with your findings about how to best cook in the street, recipes that you have discovered work well with these limitations, etc? Would be really great. Look forward to seeing where this goes.