A gadget site Taste Test week wouldn't be complete without a hat tip to that fictional food-creating staple of the Star Trek universe, the replicator.
A replicator was a device that used transporter technology to dematerialize quantities of matter and then rematerialize that matter in another form. It was also capable of inverting its function, thus disposing of leftovers and dishes and storing the bulk material again. [Memory Alpha]
Yes, I know it's not real. We got that bit out of the way right up there in the lead. Now we can have some fun hypothesizing and waxing all futuristic like about how these fantastical infinite buffets could (stress could) be possible some day.
In fact, in the most primitive sense, there's a form of replication happening in manufacturing shops around the world right now. Called 3D printing, the technique isn't even that new, with roots extending back to the 1990s. They were really expensive then, of course, but today they're relatively ubiquitous in companies large and small. The technique is pretty simple. In layman's terms, a user creates or downloads a 3D model of real world object on their workstation, and then a special printer works to recreate that object using resin or plaster or plastic or whatever the material may be. Voila. Instant prototype, and you can have all the tchotchke trinkets your heart desires, on demand, beamed to you from anywhere in the world.
But you can't eat a resin hamburger. And you can't drive the mockup that just got spit out of your rapid prototyping rig. The replicator could do both these things.
What we need is something that physically assembles atoms and molecules into tasty shapes so we can tell some uber supercomputer with a soothing female voice to get us some Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. Oh, and it has to create a little glass cup for us to drink it in too (Quick trivia: What did Picard do with all those dirty dishes? Answer above!).
This is where things get a bit sticky (food!), exciting (recent discoveries!) and depressing (its a LONG way off!) all at once. Theoretically, people are debating and thinking about "molecular assemblers" right this instant. In fact, these hypothetical machines would implement some form of nanotechnology, which is already used in everyday items like batteries, fuel technologies and even bikinis. Hell, there's a Wikipedia page for molecular assemblers up right this instant—our replicator must be right around the corner, right?