The Working Waterfront

My dumb kitchen

Voice-commanded devices have no home here

Sandy Oliver
Posted 2022-07-13
Last Modified 2022-07-14

When you read about smart kitchen appliances, what you learn is everything about them except “Why?”

My life is blessedly free of smart toasters, coffee makers, voice-controlled faucets, and automatic stirrers. I probably wouldn’t even think about them except a favorite foodie website hawked, “Smart Kitchen Tools You Need Right Now.” I said, “Oh, yeah?”

What about the smart 2-slice toaster? The slots apparently are wide enough to swallow bagels, English muffins, frozen waffles, and slabs of bread. LED lights show the progress of toasting and it has automatic one-touch lowering which “makes for gentler handling of your toasted goodness,” a feature I had never even considered important before. Plus they have crumb catching trays.

The automatic pan stirrer supposedly turn sauce-making into an easy and goof-proof process…

Well, so does the second-hand four-slice toaster I picked up at the dump’s Swop Shop. Reviews of the device report that this toaster toasts only one side and warms the other. What? Who wants only one side toasted? I admit, the second-hand toaster I own sometimes falls down on the toasting job in one of its slots so one side of the bread is toasted more than the other, but that is why it was free at the dump.

Then there is the Alexa-voice controlled coffee maker. This one involves Google Assistant sometimes, it appears, and an app on the phone, and has all kinds of settings possible and K-cup compatibility.

I detect the need to be on top of your e-game in order to get the settings right, but a human has to put water in the machine even though you can set it up so a delivery of coffee arrives at your door just in the nick of time so you never run out.

My coffee maker, also second-hand acquired at the same dump swop shop where I got my toaster—though the Baptist Church rummage sale is another great place to find them—has lines on the pot so you can add just the right amount of water, though I actually have to count scoops of coffee put in the filter holder.

I don’t have to tell Alexa to tell the coffee maker anything. I do this in the quiet of the morning when I barely function but at least I don’t have to set up any settings, that whole requirement of electronic smart-world living which is never easy for those of us born before 1980.

Speaking of adding water, how about a voice-controlled kitchen faucet? You might want a touchless soap dispenser to go with it.

Reviews praise the faucet’s good looks and say they are pretty easy to install, though why they are telling the buyer that I don’t completely understand because I’d much rather a plumber did it. (If I could find one, they being in short supply-—which is maybe why the maker encourages the buyer with ease of installation.)

The only reason given for acquiring one seems to be that sometimes we approach the sink with hands full. If I could tell the faucet to “stop leaking, for heaven’s sake,” maybe I’d consider it.

Soap dispensers come with or without batteries; one has a plug-in recharger. They are hygienic, but I always thought that soap was anyway, and I never have to recharge my soap bars.

The automatic pan stirrer supposedly turns sauce-making into an easy and goof-proof process as it circles around in the saucepan. I keep wondering how it knows whether the mixture is catching on the bottom of the pan? It’ll go for hours without complaint but a human has to set the timer so it knows when to quit.

Sauce-making really relies on cooks for the correct texture achieved by experienced eye and feel communicated through a whisk. Like so many strong and patient kitchen tools, I bet this one has as lousy judgement as my food processor has.

The only time I ever long for something even remotely like this is when I make seven-minute boiled icing which requires beating the sugar and egg white mixture for what seems an eternity.

Now if I were severely compromised physically, I can imagine something like a voice-activated faucet would be grand, and also the stirrer. It would offer me more independent living. Otherwise, shrug.

I guess there is something in all of us that wishes we could just boss someone around. “Alexa, go do this or that.” “Faucet, on!” Don’t even have to say please.

Thing is, I like a dumb kitchen where I can be the smart one.

Sandy Oliver is a food historian who lives, gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro. She may be reached at