Food News

Kitchen appliance buying guide

<b>Killer apps</b><br> Tanya Buchanan reveals the latest in major appliances, from pot-detecting cooktops to denim-clad fridges.

It’s time to be brutally honest. You’re buying serious kitchen hardware, so ask yourself: do I cook frequently enough, and a large enough volume of food, to warrant the cost of professional equipment? Would I rather, when it comes to the crunch, prioritise looks over function? Or do I need to think harder about the budget, and really stretch that dollar? And, finally, can I really, truly, seriously fit everything I want in my kitchen without sacrificing style or practicality?

Today’s leading appliance makers are offering us once-unimaginable features – ovens that really do clean themselves, pot-detecting induction cooktops, now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t range hoods, ovens in bright colours, denim-clad fridges, and outdoor dishwashers for the alfresco entertainer. What you choose is up to you, but we can certainly help you plot a wish list.

Ovens Steam has been de rigueur in professional kitchens for years and now it is, for want of a better phrase, the hot new thing in home ovens. Moist air transfers heat more efficiently than dry air, so steam ovens use less energy and cook food faster than conventional and fan-forced ovens. If you want your roast or veg to be crisp, though, you’ll need to buy a combination (or combi) oven, which allows you to cook with dry heat as well. Most steam ovens hold water in a tank that’s simple to refill, but some models at the upper end of the market, such as those produced by Gaggenau, can be plumbed in.

If dry heat is your preference, you have three choices: a gas fan-forced oven (optimal for cooking roasts, fish and vegetables), an electric oven (thought to be better for baking cakes and pastries because it exudes a drier heat), or a new-generation cooker that offers both gas and electric heat.

Self-cleaning is a feature that’s now virtually standard in better ovens. By raising the oven temperature to 500C for between one and a half to three hours, pyrolytic ovens reduce spills and stains inside the oven to a fine ash that can then be wiped away or vacuumed out. During this process, the oven self-locks for safety. Catalytic liners, meanwhile, absorb grease during cooking and then burn it off to a fine ash when the oven temperature rises above 200C. Steam cleaning gently loosens baked-on grease and food, so it can be easily wiped away at the end of the cycle.

Gaggenau, a pioneer of modern kitchen technology, including the pyrolytic cleaning system, has produced a 76cm combi-steam oven that can be stacked with a 76cm electric oven ($24,998 for the two units). The ovens’ side-hinged doors open 180 degrees, allowing easy placement and removal of pans and trays.

Serious cooks will also like the Wolf dual fuel cookers (1219mm, $30,900; 1524mm, $37,900), which combine an electric oven, 10 cooking settings, a range of gas cooktops (would you like four burners or six? A char-grill cooktop or a teppanyaki cooktop?) and industrial good looks. The new Marc Newson-designed pyrolytic oven by Smeg ($3290) comes in a range of colours and exceeds the highest European energy rating.

If you’re trying to blend contemporary appliances with classic design, Ilve’s new freestanding Nostalgie oven and induction cooktop with bronze fittings is ideal (90cm, $10,949), but if the industrial look is more your style, try Glem’s freestanding bi-energy select cooker (90cm, $3299). The oven offers gas and electric options, so you don’t have to compromise culinary success.

The Electrolux combination steam oven ($3489) lets you steam and crisp and comes with pyrolytic cleaning, while select AEG maxiklasse ovens (from $4099) come with more than 100 pre-programmed recipes.

What’s next? It’s rumoured that Smeg’s prototype stone-lined oven will be released next year, mimicking the cooking conditions of a brick woodfired oven, perfect for roasting meats and cooking pizza.

Cooktops Traditionally, most cooks chose a gas cooktop over electric, for finer and faster temperature control. But induction cooktops, now widely available, have become the new favourite. In addition to being safer and easier to clean, induction cooktops are more energy efficient because they lose less heat and cook food faster. The more setting increments there are, the finer your temperature control.

The Siemens flex-induction cooktop (90cm, $4299), with multiple induction zones and 17 power settings, gives excellent temperature control, while Miele’s induction cooktop ($3999) comes with a function that gives a punch of extra power to the induction surface and allows you to boil two litres of water in less than four minutes – ideal for anyone who regularly prepares family-sized quantities of pasta. And then there are the new full-surface induction cooktops (such as Gaggenau’s new model, $11,999), which detect and heat pots and pans of all shapes and sizes over its entire surface.

Refrigerators LG launched a smart fridge in Las Vegas last year, and while it’s already gone on sale in the early-adopting Korean market, an Australian release date is yet to be set. In our market, perhaps the most widely adopted innovation of recent years has been more pragmatic – the simple, ergonomic migration of the freezer from the top to the bottom of the unit. The popular Fisher &amp; Paykel French-door refrigerator ($3399) is a great example.

Water and ice dispensers are standard on many models today, but many buyers still prefer not to sacrifice the necessary freezer space. LG’s new units (from $3299) come with two layers of doors to reduce the escape of cold air: open just the outer door when you need to grab the milk or butter, or open both the outer and inner doors to access the main body of the fridge.

At the serious-investment end of the market, the stainless steel and glass-door Sub-Zero Pro 48 ($41,900) is the ultimate in kitchen style, and the only refrigerator on the market offering separate compressors and evaporators for the fridge and freezer so that each unit cools independently of the other. This not only keeps your food fresher for longer but also prevents odours transferring from one unit to the other.

Looking for something strikingly different? Electrolux has released a fridge with gloss-black finish and touch controls (700 litres, $4519), and come December, Smeg’s retro-styled denim-clad refrigerator will arrive – yes, that’s right, it’s a fridge upholstered in jeans. Be quick: only 500 have been made.

Range hoods For many years range hoods fell into two categories: the retractable and the canopy. Apart from that, their only defining features were power and noise levels. Recent innovations, though, have brought style to the category. The range hood no longer has to dominate kitchen design: it’s up to you whether you keep it hidden or make it a design statement. Smeg’s telescopic downdraft hood ($4990) can be installed to the side or rear of the cooktop and all but disappears when it’s not in use, while Miele’s latest range hood ($10,999) is integrated into the kitchen wall: a motor angles it into position for use and retracts it back when it’s not needed.

If you’re happy for your range hood to be out and proud, consider Smeg’s Newson-designed range hood, which debuted in Milan a few months ago, or Qasair’s Sapphire range (from $3800), which comes in multiple shades and patterns. The extensive collection combines good looks with optimum power and quiet operation.

LG’s chimney range hood (900mm, $1799) has four fan speeds, touch control and directional halogen lights, and Fisher &amp; Paykel’s vent surface hoods (from $2799) have an automatic setting that senses and starts when cooking begins and cuts out again once the air is clear.

Dishwashers Dishwashers have evolved to meet the demands of a diverse market, including apartment-dwellers with minimal space and couples who need to wash only a few dishes each day. Manufacturers are now producing slimline and bench-top dishwashers, single- and double-drawer washers, outdoor models, and remote-controlled dishwashers that hide behind kitchen cabinetry.

Fisher &amp; Paykel has a range of sole dish drawers (from $849) ideal for singles or couples. For larger-scale entertaining, Miele’s integrated dishwasher ($3749) is a great option, because it recognises how big and dirty each load is and automatically adjusts the water level and program to match. The cutlery tray can be varied in width, depth and height to fit whisks and mandolins, or moved to the side to make room for long stemmed glassware in the basket below. Miele has developed a system that detects the hardness of the water entering the dishwasher and adjusts it to a level optimal for cleaning glassware.

With outdoor kitchens growing in popularity, Asko’s alfresco dishwasher ($2999) – made from corrosion-protected marine-grade stainless steel and specially sealed to prevent insects from entering the electronics&nbsp;– is the perfect Australian barbecue companion.

This article was published in the October 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.