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Gaga over Gadgets

Culinary doodads all the rage

By Paula Harris

FLICK THROUGH the slick 178-page Williams-Sonoma holiday catalog and it's all there in mouthwatering glossy color--a myriad of fabulous (non-X-rated) toys for adults.

Wade through the professional cookie press, the Stilton cheese scoop, commercial cream whippers and yogurt makers, chiming waffle makers, egg coddlers, juice extractors, and the latest electric crepe makers.

Yup, the American appetite for kitchen doodads seems insatiable.

We buy culinary gadgets to peel garlic, spin-dry spinach, pit plums, shred Cheddar, fry fries, and slice bagels in less than the time it takes for Jacques and Julia to get into a TV cooking show spat.

The top sellers today are the kitchen workhorses, such as hand-held graters, peelers, and slicers, rather than trendy fads like electric hot-dog makers or the hot lava rock cooking stones of yesteryear.

And, according to an August report by the Arizona Republic, sales are at a record high as the gadget frenzy continues, with New York-based HomeWorld Business reporting that $840 million was spent on kitchen gadgets in 1999, a noteworthy increase of $65 million over the previous year.

Swing by local kitchen supply stores and the story is the same. Culinary gizmos are flying off the shelves and into holiday gift boxes and Christmas stockings.

Louise McCoy, owner of Santa Rosa-based McCoy's Cookware, says sushi paraphernalia is a hot trend. Bestsellers are square and rectangle plates, small bowls, and chopsticks. That includes all manner of chopsticks, to be exact, in pale green, colonial blue, red, and black, some inlaid with ivory or silver, some adorned with dragonfly designs, and even a plain stainless-steel pair. Prices range from $3 to $20 for a fancy set with a ceramic stick rest. There are also sushi-making kits that include a bamboo rolling mat, a rice paddle, and (yes, don't panic) instructions.

New this season is the Gastroflux from Bourgeat ($30). It may sound like an antacid, but McCoy describes these useful items as "flexible nonstick food-quality silicon molds." What? "They're molds for muffins and tartlets," she explains with a laugh. "They're so flexible, you can just pop 'em out and absolutely nothing sticks--not even gooey caramel."

Also still popular this year is the Silpat ($24), a silicon cookie sheet that you place on top of a regular cookie sheet for more nonstick action. "Just wave it to get the crumbs off," adds McCoy.


Photograph by Michael Amsler/sake setting courtesy of McCoy's cookware

THE PROLIFERATION of TV chefs also is fueling the consumer mania over gadgets. You know when Martha Stewpot uses a certain gizmo on her show, that item is going to take off. "One of our best movers is the microplane zester," says Laura Lewis, buyer at Shackfords kitchen store in Napa. "It's like a woodworking tool, but it's used for getting lemon zest and grating peel. Martha Stewart uses it on TV, and it sells like hotcakes."

Culinary blowtorches to caramelize crème brûlée (they use refillable butane gas cylinders) are popular among the gourmet set (and fans of Flashdance). Their price range sfrom $29.99 to $49.99, depending on the model.

Another hot item (this time for those who don't wish to be scorched and singed) is the Shakespearean-era washable suede/leather nonflammable oven mitt ($23), an armorlike adornment that resembles a gauntlet and provides amble protection up to the elbows.

Talking of kitchen accidents, a mandoline is always a good (and safe) idea for budding gourmets because it avoids the potential necessity for reconstructive surgery on the fingertips. This tool lets you swipe veggies across it (just like using your American Express card) to slice, shred, and julienne in comfort. Mandolines range from simple household ones ($33) to a professional model ($139).

Temperature forks--a thermometer in the shape of a barbecue fork, with heat sensors in the tips that give a digital readout to prepare perfect poultry, steaks, or roasts--are great for the barbecue or the oven at $27. Cool for Dad.

"Another new item that's very popular is the heat-resistant spatula," says Lewis. "It can withstand up to 600 degrees." The spatula costs from $1.99 to $8.99 and come in bright colors like flame, yellow, and blue.

And for stocking stuffers, how about toasted bamboo mixing spoons ($3), which are a prettier color than naked bamboo and more durable since they don't get fuzzy from the dishwasher like other wooden spoons.

Another idea is a reference cookbook, such as Michele Anna Jordan's recently released A New Cook's Tour of Sonoma (Sasquatch Books; $21.95) "It's a very good index of Sonoma County producers, with accessible recipes," pronounces McCoy.

Or for pure fun, McCoy has a selection of colorful ceramic cookie jars resembling purses from the 1940s ($29). Fill one with homemade goodies and you're in business.


The items described are available at one or more of the following stores: Hardisty's Homewares, 710 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa (707/545-0534); McCoy's Cookware, 2759 Fourth St., Santa Rosa (707/526-3856); Pots and Pans, 107 Fourth St., Santa Rosa (707/566-7155); and Shackfords, 1350 Main St., Napa (707/226-2132).

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From the December 21-27, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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