Speed-bake is yesterday’s news. Everyone has speed-bake now. If tomorrow you were to buy a new oven for your newly redone kitchen, it would come with speed-bake, I can promise you that. What other features your new oven might have … well, that’s a little harder to say.
“Each manufacturer brings something different to the table,” says Al Williams, store manager of Signature Appliance Center.
And he should know. His showroom in West Ashley is sprawling with luxury kitchen appliances. And don’t be surprised if you see an employee pulling hot biscuits out of an oven or find a spatula caked with brownie mix soaking in the sink. There’s a try-it-for-yourself attitude here that’s helpful to anyone searching for that perfect oven.
“Cooking is definitely getting more simple,” Williams says. “People can now make a gourmet meal without grandma showing them how to do everything.”
Your Personal Chef
He’s referring in particular to the Dacor Discovery iQ, a wall oven with a 7-inch touchscreen display embedded above its door. The display runs on the Android operating system and can do things like play Pandora Radio, stream Netflix and stalk acquaintances on Facebook. While tapping through its interface, Williams assures me that it can even cook food.
Every new iQ comes preinstalled with a guided cooking app that controls the oven, which allows you to put a pork roast into the oven, tap an icon for “pork,” hit “start” and let the iQ take over. The oven heats up by itself and cooks the roast to completion. It then texts your phone to let you know that dinner is ready. There’s also an app that lets you control your oven remotely via any Android or iOS smartphone or tablet.
Dacor Discovery iQ 30” Wall Oven
Wow Factor: Access to the entire Android catalog of apps
For: Technophiles, novice cooks
Not For: Those still using a flip phone
Miele Generation 6000 48” Range
Wow Factor: Automatic cooking with touchscreen controls
For: Interior decorators, chefs-in-training
Not For: Anyone making below six digits
Wolf Dual Fuel 48” Range
Wow Factor: 16,000 BTU burner output
For: Head chefs, oven purists
Not For: The TV-dinner crowd
Though it might be hard to appreciate the usefulness of an oven running its own operating system, it’s quite easy to imagine who’d buy something like this. The Discovery iQ is a topof- the-line conversation piece as well as a think-for-you chef. Its interface, which asks you to navigate a series of tabs and sliders and buttons just to set the time, is designed to feel futuristic.
The Discovery iQ is just one oven out of dozens sold at Signature. Williams leads me past the refrigerators and dishwashers and stops in front of a long, modern-looking stove, the Meile 6000 series range.
Form Meets Function
As far as ovens go, this thing has style. Its edges are crisp, its surface dark and dully reflective. The handle to its door swivels with your grip, and the interior, when opened, lights up like a theater production, half a dozen studio lamps trained on its center rack.
The Miele, like most highend home ranges, uses a dual fuel cooking system, with the burners heated by gas and the oven heated by electricity. Since gas is a more enveloping way to cook, Miele has added Moisture Plus to its electrical half. While cooking, the range will periodically send out three bursts of steam, covering the food inside and preventing it from drying out.
This feature alone makes Miele a good choice for any casual chef with some money to burn. But in the competitive marketplace of luxury ovens, your product needs something extra. A “wow factor” Williams calls it. Without a word, he stoops forward and holds his thumb against a specific spot on the paneling. From somewhere inside the oven there plays a short chime reminiscent of the Mac start-up tone. A long panel above the door glides outward and brightens into a menu. Another touchscreen.
Whereas the Discovery iQ seems to be built around its screen, Miele shows some restraint. Its display includes only the clock, the temperature controls and access to a preinstalled Masterchef program for a variety of foods. You can even program your favorite recipes into this oven.
For Power Users
Of course, Williams concedes that touchscreen appliances aren’t for everyone. For truly serious chefs, Williams recommends the Wolf Dual Fuel Range.
“Performance-wise, it’s a beast,” he says. Wolf stovetops can burn up to 16,000 BTU. That’s twice as hot as the burners on a typical American stove, hot enough to flash fry a wok of vegetables or sear a leg of lamb. The burners can also drop to a heat below simmer called melt, the setting restaurant chefs use to make delicate sauces like beurre blanc. Melt is a setting most other manufacturers avoid. Imagine taking the heat from a single match and spreading it across the entire surface of a burner—that’s melt. And yet, somehow, Wolf’s engineers have pulled it off.
The Wolf range is a beast for sure, but its attention to detail is what really proves Wolf’s dedication to complicated cooking. Take the knobs for example. They feel heavy in your hand and turn with the satisfying precision of a combination lock. “Wolf did that on purpose,” Williams says. “They could have made their knobs lighter, made them out of aluminum if they had wanted. But no. The guys at Wolf said, ‘Nah, we’re going to use cast iron and powder-coated porcelain instead.’ It feels better in your hand. It’s the feel of quality.”
Ovens are tools, and the best tools tend to go unnoticed. Do you really need a USB port to cook your supper? Williams plateaus a hand to eye-level and says, “For serious cooks, Wolf is up here.” He flattens his other hand at his waist, “And everybody else, well, they’re down here.”
Jeramy Baker is a freelance writer in Charleston. Read more at jeramybaker.com.