Appliances: All Steamed Up

<< Back to Robb Report, September 2002

When chef Hans Röckenwagner was growing up in Bavaria, his earliest culinary memories were of his mother’s traditional German dishes prepared in her Gaggenau oven. At the time (the 1960s), the oven didn’t have the sleek aesthetics that have become de rigueur for architects and designers today. Yet its quality and performance were indicative of the company’s early commitment to the Bauhaus dictate “form follows function.” Röckenwagner has been a devotee ever since.

It is fitting that these two beacons of contemporary cuisine, both with roots in Germany but based in Southern California, are now collaborating. Gaggenau introduced its line of cutting-edge built-in appliances and ventilation equipment to the United States in 1980 and is located in Huntington Beach. Thirteen years later, Röckenwagner—whose restaurants Röckenwagner and Catch are known for “old-Europe-meets-Pacific Rim” cuisine—made the move to Los Angeles.

At Chicago’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show, Röckenwagner was happily turning out diminutive chocolate soufflés by the dozen for a long line of eager tasters. The center of attention, however, was the Gaggenau combination steam and convection oven that the soufflés were being baked in. A mainstay in professional kitchens, this dual-oven system is the first of its kind designed for the home. Its minimalist facade, a harmonious blend of shot-blasted aluminum (the new metal of choice) and glass, is a welcome variation on the ubiquitous stainless steel. But it can cook, too. The proof was in the soufflé—light, perfectly risen, and moist without being runny. That is because the ratio of humidity to dry heat within the oven can be ad-justed from zero to 100 percent, and its temperature ranges from 85 to 450 degrees. The high temperature ensures a good crust on breads and perfectly browned roasts. The humidity keeps food from drying out, and a mist button gives an extra burst of steam for a final glow. Vegetables retain color, texture, and flavor. “This oven is so versatile, you can use it to cook everything,” says Röckenwagner, who has installed one in each of his two restaurant kitchens. “You can even make food as simple as soft- or hard-boiled eggs.”

The company’s full complement of appliances, including the 36-inch built-in convection oven, shows the same attention to visual and functional detail. The most au courant are finished in the aforementioned scratch-resistant, fingerprint-proof aluminum—often combined with glass or stainless steel—and feature state-of-the-art technology. Gaggenau ovens have been installed in such meticulous kitchens as that of the French Culinary Institute in New York City. As for Hans Röckenwagner, he has returned to his roots and taken Gaggenau back to his newly renovated bungalow in Venice Beach.

Gaggenau, 800.828.9165, www.gaggenau.com

Photo by Daniel Krieger for the New York Times
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