As summer comes to a close, I'm going to try to get a few posts up to show various projects that students in my Playful Learning Lab and/or I have been working on. The first one is... rather sweet. (TL;DR : Cake and Capacitors is a collaboration between my friend Chef Kate Sigel and I, in which we create custom interactive cakes.)
One of the great things about the collaboration our lab had with the Alinea restaurant group in Chicago was that it led to my meeting Chef Kate Sigel, and incredibly creative pastry chef. As I was collaborating with her husband Chef Eric Rivera, then head of research at Alinea, I got to spend time with Kate and to see the Sweet Tooth Cake Company. A few months later, when it was time to plan the food for the art exhibition my lab had curated, I knew we needed Kate to make a cake. But... what sort of cake does one make to open a show celebrating long term thinking and a clock being built to last for 10,000 years? Kate amazed us all by making a sugary version of part of the clock, complete with a sugar orrery ~1 foot in diameter. Yes, those silver rings are made of sugar, as are the gears. Even better, the cake was delicious.
Then Kate moved to Seattle, where she is now the executive pastry chef at Scout/The Nest at the Thompson Seattle. During my fall 2015 sabbatical, I went out to visit her and see what she and Eric were up to and we spent some time playing with cakes and electricity. We had fun figuring out which icing recipes were the best insulator and mixing conductive, metallic, edible traces.
As all things seem to, these experiments led to our playing with a Makey Makey. Experiments included a cake where each layer mapped to a different note, and using a thin (grounded) knife to cut it. We also turned some chocolate cakes into drums triggered by touch.
Around this time, I agreed to give a talk on Play at the "Factory of Imagination" conference in Denmark. The curator, Adam Montadon, saw the video above on Facebook and made a joke about how I should bring that idea to the factory for my talk. Kate and I talked it over and decided that this would be the perfect excuse for us to try out, for an audience, some of the techniques we'd been working on. (Of course it also meant we'd get to travel together to Denmark which didn't seem like a bad idea. Yay LEGO Land!)
The best way to see what we ended up doing is to watch it in the FOI presentation- AnnMarie Thomas (if you're also willing to hear my presentation on play). To meet Adam's musical cake request, machinist/designer John Angeli made me the fanciest MaKeyMaKey interface that I have ever owned- friends now refer to it as a BlingyBlingy out of wood and brass. When we placed cupcakes on them- and grounded the user by handing them a balloon with a silver string cord- the pastry became a keyboard. I used some simple Scratch code to map the keys to the notes in "Happy Birthday" (and wrote the note order on my hand as a cheat sheet.)
However, I also wanted to have some pastry that allowed Kate to show off her crazy sculpting skills. As a surprise to the conference organizers, we also made a cake (working in the amazing Coworking Odense space for a few days) that matched the factory theme. It ended up being a bit of a challenge to travel internationally with the ingredients needed to make, and bake, a beeping, light-up, exploding cake. That said, despite all of our luggage getting lost (then found) en route, we pulled it off. Pictures below.
Kate and I have plenty of ideas for more interactive cakes so if you are interested in hiring us to create one (or teach a workshop on interactive cakes) please reach out!