Cooking on all six burners


The 30-pound turkey was browning nicely in the oven, and various pots and pans were gurgling and bubbling with foods on all six burners. Even the built-in griddle was in use.

Claudia Mayer surveyed the scene with a nervous eye.

Her new 48-inch Thermador professional range -- measuring nearly a foot wider than a regular stove -- was getting its first real workout, as she prepared dinner for 27 guests.

Mrs. Mayer wasn't really surprised at how well the range was performing. She had done her homework before having her kitchen remodeled last fall and knew she and the Thermador would be a perfect match.

"I love to cook," says the Columbia homemaker, who often welcomes guests to her home for her favorite recipes.

The mother of three is among a growing number of home cooks who are trading in conventional stoves for state-of-the-art models with names like Viking, AGA, Dacor and Jenn-Air -- commercial-style ranges that have become the status appliances of the '90s.

Serious cooks buy them, says Linda Andrews, interior designer and owner of Andrews Design Associates in Fells Point. Or people who want people to think they are serious cooks, she says, with a laugh.

"It's the look that's popular now," she continues, referring to the stoves' resemblance to stainless-steel restaurant ovens. "Sophisticated cooks want more flexibility these days, and commercial ranges have the features people want."

These amenities include such niceties as extra burners, grills, rotisseries, woks, cutting boards, double ovens and warming compartments.

There's a price tag for this luxury. Professional ranges can cost from $3,300 for a basic, 36-inch Thermador to $18,000 for France's La Cornue, the Rolls-Royce of cooking appliances, owned by such celebrities as Robin Williams and Danny Glover.

That's compared with about $500 for a traditional stove.

La Cornue is in a class by itself, though; no one in the Baltimore area owns one yet, says Linda Clare, marketing manager for the company.

The stove is a beautiful, custom-made specimen with rich

enamel colors and metal trims. And, of course, there are all the cooking features, including what the company calls the "heart of the stove" -- a cast-iron simmering plate.

For cooks who don't want to spend the price of a car on a professional stove, there are plenty of other options, as was evident at February's Home Builders Show in Las Vegas.

Manufacturers there were optimistic about the improving economy and demand for goods such as appliances. They pointed to a flood of upgraded products and features on the market.

"We made major introductions in 1993 and will aggressively promote these products in 1994," says Anthony Joseph, president of Dacor, which offers a six-burner, 46-inch cooktop with a barbecue.

Keinhard Metzger, executive vice president and general manager of Thermador, says his firm is making narrower 30-inch and 36-inch models to meet demand, while still offering the popular gas cooktop features.

"The result is a cooktop that appeals to a broader audience," he says, referring to its compatibility with standard-size kitchen cabinets in the home.

In fact, the interest home cooks began showing in restaurant stoves in the early 1980s led to most of the adaptations available for residential use today, says Stu Dettelbach, a Baltimore kitchen designer and owner of SD Kitchens in Pikesville.

The much-admired commercial ovens with all the bells and whistles didn't transfer easily into the home kitchen. The ranges are bulky, heavy and not insulated enough to be placed next to cabinets, he says.

Today's adaptations are available in a variety of widths -- from 30 inches to 48 inches -- to suit nearly every kitchen configuration. Some are all gas, others are a combination of gas and electric. Unlike restaurant-size ranges, they don't require any special bracing to sit on the kitchen floor.

And these new ranges also have zero clearance, which means they are sufficiently insulated so they can be placed anywhere in the kitchen without fear of combustibility.

Even sapphire and emerald hues are finding their way now to the ovens.

"The purists are still using stainless steel," says Mr. Dettelbach, who is president of the Kitchen and Bath Association, a national trade association. "But there are colors as well, blue, green, high-fashion colors."

"People seem to want color-coordinated more," Ms. Andrews agrees.

It's a particular kind of customer who buys one of the new commercial-style stoves, says Pam Prather, manager of Williams-Sonoma in Towson Town Center, which showcases a 36-inch Viking. The kitchen chain has displayed -- and special ordered -- a variety of ovens in its 230 stores throughout the United States since its beginnings in 1954.

"Usually, it is someone who is building a home or remodeling a kitchen," Ms. Prather says. "Sometimes, we sell three or four a year, some years none."

Stebbins Anderson in Towson recently added a Viking to its housewares display, and it has attracted a lot of attention, says Douglas M. Frisch, the store's merchandise manager.

"We've sold two so far," he says. The 48-inch range with six burners, double oven, back guard, side pot rack and wall hood costs about $7,000.

Currently, Andrews Design has requests for four high-end ranges in kitchens it is designing in custom homes, Ms. Andrews says.

While Mr. Dettelbach has seen a great deal of interest in the professional ranges, cost and other factors can be a deterrent.

"We are getting more calls about [professional ovens], but they result in fewer sales," he says, especially when customers learn the price.

There are other drawbacks. For instance, some models don't offer self-cleaning ovens, and the stoves' varied amenities may not be for everyone.

"It's a matter of overkill," says Mr. Dettelbach, referring to features such as extra and high-heat burners for home owners who may only boil water.

"It's very powerful," admits Mrs. Mayer about her range. "When you want to simmer, sometimes you have to push the pans to the side."

Potential customers should realize they must also purchase an efficient exhaust system that can run from $1,000 to $2,000, Mr. Dettelbach says. "Ventilation is an integral part. You need something to capture the intense heat."

But for the kitchen connoisseur, the high heat and cost of the ranges aren't a flash in the pan.

"You just need one of these," insists Mrs. Mayer, who wonders how she ever managed in the kitchen before, without her professional stove.

"For someone who enjoys cooking, it's worth it to them," Ms. Andrews says.

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