Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens.
The rooms where we cook, eat and schmooze can no longer be described as just "kitchens." Visit an event like the
International Contemporary Furniture Fair
that recently wrapped up in New York City or check out well-trafficked blogs like
and you will see that kitchens have become full-fledged design statements.
A top-of-the-line kitchen from, say,
-hip Italian design shop
is fabulous and environmentally correct, but I personally couldn't care less. The kitchen as bowling alley or jet runway or whatever is not part of my eat/drink/consume caffeine DNA. What I do care about, being a tech geek, is simple: the oven.
Boxes that bake and broil have become crowded with different offerings. Oven makers, under pressure to be more energy efficient and find a niche in this jammed arena, are cramming every possible feature into their ovens: convection modes, microwaves, yet more fans here and there, heaters of every possible material. It's all pretty dizzying.
But before you dive in to the world of oven tech, a word to the wise:
"You need to know what types of cooking gear you can use in each setting," says Jay Brewer, editor of
, an online kitchen testing and information service in Arlington, Mass. "You have to have two sets of stuff - one that works in microwave only, one that works in convection and some that work in both.
So assuming you can handle this sort of complexity, here is what's hot right now in making things, well ... hot.
30" Double Wall Speedcook oven (Approx $7,500 uninstalled)
If it's good enough for Subway, it's good enough for you. Dallas-based TurboChef should be familiar to some investors. This one-time stock highflier supplied the ovens to the nation's Subway sandwich franchises. Now the company has rolled its commercial oven expertise into a line of consumer products.
Heavy-handed marketing aside, speed is the TurboChef thing. By using a preset mix of traditional under-food heat, convection fans and microwave heating elements, the oven can bake in a fraction of the time it takes in traditional ovens. I liked the TurboChef's American "Leave it to Beaver" retro feel. The unit is controlled by easy-to-use knobs and beefy handles. The display in particular was easy to read. And there is no denying the results. My test pizza made in about seven minutes was crispy yet not gummy. Very tasty.
The new E Series from Wolf Appliances, a unit of Madison, Wis.-based Sub-Zero, is pretty much state-of-the-art right now in traditional, better-quality ovens.
What's impressive about the Wolf is how many features come packed into a relatively straightforward unit. This oven comes with all the standard heating elements: two convection fans, four heating elements, and eight ... count 'em ... cooking modes. With just a bit of tinkering - the control panel, while far from idiot proof, is relatively manageable to program -- can be adapted to everything from getting that roast perfectly moist to getting that pie crust perfectly crispy. All of that gives the average stove user some pretty formidable control over the cook process. There's no reason not to get stellar results with Wolf.
I must say I liked the nifty "Sabbath Mode," which runs very sophisticated cooking cycles from pre-determined times. But if you're buying it for that feature, be sure to check with your rabbi to see if these settings pass muster. Baking food could still count as work, at least for some.
If you want a truly one-of-a-kind cooking experience, hop across the pond to England's AGA. Legend has it that Nobel Prize-winning Swedish physicist Dr. Gustaf Dalen lost his sight developing this oven. And the unit carries with it plenty of attendant mystery.
AGA cooks food in every possible style -- fan, broil, bake, you name it. And I kid you not -- if you so desire, and it is installed properly ... and you keep it on all day -- you can heat you whole house with the thing.
Still done in retro enamel over cast iron, the AGA can be powered by oil, electricity, natural gas or most any fuel for that matter. It has also post-modern features the modern geek must have: plates that boil water super fast, an intelligent heating management system - remember the thing can be on 24/7 so it needs complex thermostats to remain efficient.
The AGA also has a conventional oven, and a nice place to warm bread. The company brags that the oven casts "gentle, friendly warmth" in your kitchen; as the owner of a lovely "period home" -- in other words, a damp, drafty money pit - I love the idea of padding around the house with the AGA keeping me cozy and well-fed.
While any of these stoves might not turn you into a terrific cook, they certainly make you feel terrific while you are cooking.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.