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Chefs, meet your match: 3-D printer as kitchen appliance

A 3-D printer makes tiny pizzas in the shape of the United States at South by Southwest’s trade show last week. The printer was designed by Anjan Contractor, a Houston inventor and mechanical engineer.
A 3-D printer makes tiny pizzas in the shape of the United States at South by Southwest’s trade show last week. The printer was designed by Anjan Contractor, a Houston inventor and mechanical engineer. TNS

Imagine printing your dinner after a long day of work.

That could happen in kitchens across the U.S. in the next two to three years, says Houston inventor Anjan Contractor. The 36-year-old mechanical engineer designed a 3-D printer that makes pizza, chocolate, cupcakes and cinnamon rolls in minutes. He envisions a day when 3-D printers are typical kitchen appliances, along with microwaves and refrigerators.

Contractor showed off his 3-D printer prototype recently at South by Southwest’s trade show in Austin, Texas. He printed off tiny pizzas in the shape of the U.S. for attendees of the film, music and interactive festival.

“Many people ask me, ‘Can you eat this?’ ” he said. “It’s no different than a robot making food.”

Contractor has been working on 3-D printers for years, playing with air pressure levels and sometimes spraying liquid chocolate all over his house. He won a $125,000 grant from NASA in 2012 after developing a 3-D printer that turned dehydrated food particles into food with flavor and texture. The printer may be used to feed astronauts who go on deep-space missions, such as Mars.

His company is called BeeHex, a name inspired by nature’s 3-D printers – bees that make their hives layer by layer.

His 3-D printer uses air pressure to push three ingredients (such as dough, cheese and tomato sauce) though narrow nozzles and create food layer by layer. The food must be cooked in an oven after it’s printed, but Contractor is working on a printer that would create the food and bake it.

Now, he’s working on a printer that could be used in people’s kitchens. BeeHex is launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the prototype, which would print 14-inch pizzas. It will ship pizzas to people who donated to the fundraising campaign.

Contractor said he hopes the pizzas show people that printed food can be delicious. And he said, he’d like to see his printer go head-to-head with celebrity chefs in cooking competitions.

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