Vol. 1, Issue 15, August 26, 2003
Fizzy Tea Hits the Spot

Denny's Licenses Ham Spray Machine

Denny's, a leading family restaurant chain with over 1,700 locations, has reached an agreement with the University of Southern California (USC) to obtain specially modified "Contour Crafting" spray fabrication machines capable of creating custom shaped ham-based food products in a matter of seconds.

"We are pleased to be adding the Contour Crafting systems to our kitchens, and anticipate that this technological advance will enable Denny's to maintain the undisputed worldwide lead in ham-oriented family cuisine," said Denny's Board Chairman Charles Moran. The deal is worth an estimated $15 million for USC.

Contour Crafting builds up shapes in layers by controlling the flow of liquid building materials using two movable, programmable trowel-like tools deployed around a nozzle. The inventor of the process, Engineering Professor Berokh Khoshnevis, has been developing the system for five years. Khoshnevis's machines can create three-dimensional items in any desired shape -- cubes and boxes, bowls or domes, cylinders, cones; cones coming out of boxes, rings or disks, either geometrically regular or free-form.

"When I read of the recent National Science Foundation grant to scale the system up to build houses, I knew right away it would be capable of handling our ham-based needs," said Moran. Denny's offers over 150 menu items, 146 of which include ham; these include everything from the signature "Breakfast Slam" ham and egg plates, to ham sandwiches and soups, to coffee served with ham cubes.

"Given the very wide array of ham products they serve, preparing the ham into different shapes and portion sizes has always been a significant logistical challenge for Denny's," said Ruth Ecklesberg, professor of Nutritional Science at Cornell University. "Being able to fabricate custom ham shapes on demand in a few seconds would be a significant advantage. However, I do have some reservations about the process."

Among the potential drawbacks of the system is the ham slurry that will be used by the fabrication system. Consumer advocates have expressed concern that Denny's will be tempted to use the entire animal, rather than just select cuts, in the preparation of the slurry. "I mean, they won't even have to use actual pigs at all," said consumer advocate Chuck Freemont. "A little food coloring, a little extra salt... they could probably throw wood pulp into the goop and no one would call them on it."

Denny's assures consumers that it will only use "quality, almost entirely edible pork products" in the manufacture of the ham slurry to be used by the Contour Crafting machines.

"Moreover, we're looking past our ability to squirt a perfect ham patty right onto the griddle when you order it," said Moran. "Look for seasonal shapes and colors to come. We'll push ham-based culinary science to places it's never gone before. Ham pickle chips, malted ham shakes; I'm telling you, this is a whole new era."

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