Appliances: Driving Range

When Claude Monet purchased his home at Giverny, he paid as much attention to its interiors as to its lush gardens and ponds, which he immortalized on canvas. The range he selected for the family kitchen was a La Cornue. The color he chose was a brilliant Provence yellow. Appliances morph at warp speed, so it’s comforting to know that a La Cornue stove still looks and functions pretty much the same as it has since 1908 when Albert Dupuy, a gourmet and artisan, decided to construct the best range in the world.

The gas-fueled oven was the first designed for home use that utilized the principle of cooking with circulating hot air. The line is classic and dependable, and is still built to order by the Dupuy family in France in any number of configurations and colors. The La Cornue name has become a benchmark of culinary excellence, found in the homes of the aristocracy (the Aga Khan and Baron Edmond de Rothschild) as well as kitchen royalty (Alice Waters and Alain Senderens).

So when I learned that hands-on demonstrations of La Cornue ranges were held at various showrooms around the country, I happily made the trek from Manhattan to Stamford, Conn., to Kitchens By Deane, a high-end residential design firm specializing in kitchens and custom cabinetry—and home of the only “live” La Cornue range in the Northeast. As a special service, the company hosts occasional chef demonstrations and private two-hour consultations (by appointment only) for its customers.

The trappings were luxurious: a working kitchen outfitted with maple cabinets and a black granite countertop. The matte black Château 147 from La Cornue’s 5 Étoiles line was the focal point. Nearly 60 inches wide, with nickel trim, this range features four gas burners (one a powerful 20,000 Btus) flanking a cast iron 13,500 Btu plaque (a griddle-like flat cooking plate on which you can place as many as five pans at a time) and an electric grill. It has two vaulted ovens: one, gas, for roasting; the other, electric, for baking.

Carrie Deane, kitchen designer and principal of Kitchens By Deane, had worked out the menu with me ahead of time. Each dish would dem-onstrate a particular feature of the range—risotto for the plaque, asparagus for the grill, roast chicken for the gas oven, and chocolate chip cookies for the electric one.

After a brief primer on how to operate the various elements, we put the chicken into the tightly sealed oven. I tackled the risotto on the plaque. The copper pan hugged the flat surface as I sautéed leeks directly over the flame below. Broth simmered in a rear corner of the plaque where the heat was less intense. This is an incredibly versatile cooking surface. “What is great is that you can be making sauces, leave them on the side, and then boil something in the center, all at the same time,” Deane explained. There are even rings toward the middle that can be interchanged with a wok.

After about an hour, the aroma of roasting chicken drifted through the showroom. While the risotto simmered, we grilled the asparagus and baked the cookies. And as I stirred, leaning comfortably on the stainless steel rail across the front, I realized I was completely relaxed and in total control. Everything was within easy reach. It was “slow cooking” at its best, with enough power to sear the finest sushi-quality ahi tuna. I had mastered an ap-pliance intended for cooks who appreciate the art of fine living.

Photo by Darlene Halaby
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