By Rory Callaghan
The action and process of cooking food hasn’t changed in all the years of human existence, but the way we go about it has greatly evolved. The microwave oven was truly the first major change in cooking technology, but it barely does an acceptable job of heating up leftovers.
Today’s ovens offer a wide array of smart functions that bring gourmet level cooking to a novice, or even a lazy cook. These improvements have also revolutionized kitchen design and planning in just this past year. They are not temporary trends that are popular now; no, these are here to stay, and I welcome them.
If you’re not ready to fully remodel the kitchen, or even replace appliances, you can put a smart cooking app on your phone that reads the temperature in the oven and the food via a wireless probe. Monitoring foods’ progress is easy and accurate. Some wireless probes have wires, which sounds like a bait-and-switch, but they’re referring to the unit that sends the information to your phone. There are true wireless probes available at a higher cost.
The term smart is overused and some items that claim the function are not particularly useful. It’s as if the technology was added only because it could be and touted as a feature.
Checking on food while it is cooking without opening the door is incredibly useful. Just put your food in the oven, tell it via the easy to scroll through menu the type of food it is, its weight and how you like it cooked. It takes it from there.
If you get distracted when it’s time to remove the food from the oven, there is one brand that knows you are late for retrieval. It briefly opens the door to release excess heat, closes again, stops cooking further and keeps your food hot until you are ready to eat. While the smart function is convenient, the quality of the food that comes out of these ovens is the main reason to get one. Or two.
Let’s get to how modern appliances are changing kitchen planning.
A great looking kitchen should always be made with convenience and functionality in mind. People are choosing larger cooktops, usually 36” wide over the old standard 30.” Whether gas or induction, at only six inches wider, it adds two burners. That’s 50% more cooking surface for being only 20% wider, and for only a little more money. Some people don’t realize they can fit a 36” unit in their kitchen.
Ovens are being ordered more and more in a 24” size. These are all currently European or New Zealand brands, but American makers are tinkering with their designs because they are in demand. When we reduce the width of the oven by six inches, that delivers a few benefits, such as the option to cook faster and can be placed in a tall cabinet at a convenient level for loading and removing large items. No more stooping to the floor and wrenching your back just to get dinner out of the oven.
I had two separate clients recently who looked at these smaller ovens and dismissed them quickly saying, “That’s too small for us.” But after learning about them – and visiting a live demo – they decided to get smaller ovens and are thrilled with their decision.
Vegetarians are particularly drawn to these smaller pieces because they rarely cook something large enough to need a huge oven cavity. The steam option combines radiant heat with steam for a forgiving environment that cooks vegetables quickly with maximum flavor and nutrition. Meat eaters use them to sous vide and skip the immersion tank.
Oh, and we must also thank the U.S military and NASA, because almost all of the technology we enjoy started there. Nobody is thinking about ovens when we say, “Thank you for your service to our country.” But maybe we should, because every officer in the Pentagon knows that “an army marches on its stomach.”
Every decision we make when designing comes down to either/or. I rarely see a kitchen which I believe is a “perfect” design. Every kitchen is a custom product – even when using stock cabinets – and the best we can do is make the most perfect kitchen for that specific space. It might not be perfect, but it will be the best possible plan in the room, considering family members, their ages, cooking needs and how they live.
The writer is a lifelong kitchen designer. He can be reached at email@example.com