WATCH: Assistive kitchen tool invented in Hamilton by McMaster grads wins major design prize


Published September 8, 2022 at 12:28 pm

A Taco beta tester who lives with Parkinson's slices vegetables without, and with, the assistive tool. (YouTube / Afeef Khan)

It looks like a giant paper clip, but it makes home cooking easier and safer for anyone, including those with limited use of their handss.

Recent McMaster University engineering grads Afeef Khan, Caitlin Kuzler, Clayton MacNeil and Eden Lazar created their assistive kitchen tool, Taco, during a product development course last fall in Hamilton. On Wednesday, Taco was named the Canadian winner of the James Dyson Award, which is intended to motivate and celebrate young inventors in 23 nations. The award comes with an estimated $7,500 grant (5,000 British pounds) that will help the ‘Team Taco’ designers further their project, which they hope to patent and mass-market.

Outlined against Canada’s growing elder population and increasing food insecurity due to the climate catastrophe, the team set out to build a time-saving device. Taco consists of a firm base where one places a cutting board, and two vertical stainless-steel guards that they slide the knife through. One of the team’s beta testers was a Parkinson’s patient known to them as Beatrice, whom Lazar knew through volunteering at her rest home.

“The majority of our inspiration came from Beatrice, the woman with Parkinson’s,” MacNeil says. “We wanted to do something to help her gain more independence and accessibility… It was really exciting to come up with, and shows that is a real solution for people with mobility issues, or those who struggle with the kitchen.

“The initial idea we had in our class last fall was to make something that could fit with any kind of cutting board and any kind of knife,” adds MacNeil, an east-end Hamilton native who attended Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.

A video on Khan’s YouTube channel shows a side-by-side comparison of Beatrice slicing a cucumber without, and with, Taco. There is a marked difference.

Khan says the team of recent graduates, who are in their early 20s, feel gratified they could step up to solve an issue that especially affects people who are decades older. He points out he also benefits from Taco.

“It is definitely important for young folks to try to solve problems in their community or things they see in the world,” he says “I hope that it inspires other folks at McMaster and other universities to try and so the same. That’s the thing I love about the Dyson Award, whenever you look at the submissions, it is always from people who are at university or just recently graduated.

“The interesting thing with Taco is no matter who uses it, there is always some benefit you can find. For me, someone who does not like to cook a lot, the biggest advantage is finding the proper slicing technique, making sure your knife is in the proper technique. And it also makes sure your fingers are clear of the knife’s edge.”

Khan, Kuzler, Lazar and MacNeil have gone through seven iterations of Taco. Their first five were made on a 3D printer, before they created a model to simulate using stainless steel. Getting to one made of dishwasher-safe stainless steel is a major step.

“We were very happy that we were able to fashion the final prototype out of stainless steel,” Khan says. “That makes it so Taco is dishwasher-safe, it won’t corrode and rust.

“It is pretty lightweight,” Khan adds. “It’s definitely a bit heavier than the plastic. It is light enough that you can carry it, but it is heavy enough it won’t slide around while using it with a cutting board.”

As so often happens, the cleverness lies in the simplicity.

“Most of the people that used it when we were testing it were sort of surprised at how big of a difference that it made for them,” MacNeil says. “Another common takeaway was people were sort of surprised — ‘no one’s made this yet?’ ”

There are other devices meant to level the playing field for people who may not have the combo of confidence, kitchen experience and time to learn a Julienne cut. Remember the Slap Chop? The team behind Taco believes they have something that will be durable and convenient.

“Part of what we wanted to go with when we designed and created it is make something that can last,” MacNeil says. “So we went with making it with nice stainless steel. Lots of people are getting more into cooking at home and spending less money out and about, so it is a good fit.”

One of the two national runners-up was also created at Mac. A team made Polyformer, a machine that recycles plastic bottles into 3D printer filament. The open-source machine has already been built in several countries worldwide.

The other runner-up was a University of Waterloo team’s creation, Bio-Brick. It used a a naturally occurring microbial process to form bricks of comparable durability and strength of a regular brick, while producing less carbon emissions. A Dyson Award release said the construction supplies industry accounts for 23 per cent of global carbon emissions.

The 23 nations that participate include Australia, Germany, Japan, Sweden and United States. Khan says being in that elite company is invaluable.

“It’s huge — I do not believe there is another award that recognizes young inventors all over the world,” he says. “To have this idea shared with those around the globe is just priceless. Apart from that, there is the prize money, which we plan to put back into Taco because we want to bring it to market as soon as possible.”

Regarding the name, no, it’s not an acronym. It took root in the design stage.

“One of our earlier prototypes just looked like a taco,” Khan names. “It was catchy, and we just stuck with it. Now it pays homage to one of our early iterations.”

Team Taco’s progress, product development — and potentially purchasing options — can be followed at

(Cover image courtesy Afeef Khan / YouTube.)

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