Will tomorrow's kitchens do the shopping and cleaning?

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The Independent Online

It's the year 2031. The table is groaning under platters stacked with marinated meats, spicy vegetables, and aromatic rice. Only one thing is necessary to complete the perfect curry party.

At the flick of a button, the kitchen-diner of your three-bedroom semi is transported to the middle of a teeming Delhi street market. The sound of rickshaws and the sight of wandering oxen and clamouring hawkers are recreated via a "mood switch" that generates a backdrop to complement the food on the menu.

It's one of the more exotic ideas dreamt up by a panel of scientists, celebrity chefs, restaurateurs and designers asked by Waitrose Food Illustrated for their vision ofthe perfect kitchen in the year 2031.

Their ideas included a refrigerator that does the shopping, a rubbish compactor that takes the strain out of recycling, unbreakable china and a "forever-sharp" knife.

The mood switch was conceived by Professor Ted Selker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who leads a team dedicated to building "a digitally connected, self-aware kitchen with knowledge and memory of its activities".

His device would be controlled by a central computer that stores a panoply of backdrops and settings. Images will be projected onto the walls while speakers relay the sounds. Professor Selker said: "We'll be able to change the colour and designs on the walls. A bit like the screensaver on a computer or mobile phone,"

According to Theo Williams, a product designer at Alessi, the computer will replace the oven at the heart of the family home, making sure that everything needed for a favourite meal will be available at the press of a button.

"This computer will be so savvy that if you decide you want lasagne for dinner, all you will need to do is simply tell it and it will find the recipe, check the ingredients, and even let you know whether you're missing any," he said.

The same computer could store favourite recipes and order food, according to Professor Selker. It might also interact with a "clever fridge" as envisaged by Helen Conn, a food scientist. A computer screen in its door will display what is in stock and flag up food that has passed its sell-by date. It will also provide recipes on how best to use scraps left mouldering inside, she said.

For other experts, however, it was a case of back to the future. The pantry, which keeps fruit, vegetables and cheese at their ideal temperature could make a comeback, it was predicted.

Ruth Rogers, founder of the River Café, thinks herbs, fruit and vegetable gardens will be the order of the day. "I think that the kitchen of the future will come complete with a little cylinder-type garden, a bit like a mini greenhouse," she said.

Sophie Conran, who has launched a new range of gourmet pies, sees dissolvable packaging as a way forward. "It will have to be made of natural materials, such as potato starch, and you'll be able to wash it down the sink without harming the water supply. In fact, it may even be beneficial to the water," she said.

And there can be few who would not like to see the realisation of the chef Andrew Turner's vision: "The kitchen of the future will definitely be self-cleaning" thanks to jet sprays built into the walls and ceilings."

Help for chefs of the future

* SMART PANTRY: Refrigerators are too cold for storing fruit, vegetables and cheese - the pantry stores them at the perfect temperature

* DISSOLVABLE PACKAGING: Made of natural potato starch which will wash down the sink

* COMPUTERISED COOKBOOK: Will contain favourite recipes and step-by-step instructions

* RUBBISH COMPACTOR: A series of sleek bins will crunch your rubbish into easily recyclable bricks

* CLEVER FRIDGE: A computer screenwill list what's in stock

* MOOD SWITCHES: Special effects computer programme to recreate the atmosphere of your choice

* SELF CLEANING JET SPRAYS: Built-in hoses will clean, disinfect and dry the room in 10 minutes