I was lucky enough to attend a fun and educational blogger event last week at the World of Whirlpool headquarters in the historic Reid-Murdoch Center in downtown Chicago. The World of Whirlpool is a gorgeous event space with stunning test kitchen after test kitchen featuring the Whirlpool family of brands, including KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Maytag, and Whirlpool. I’m a girl who remembers the thrill of receiving my first KitchenAid stand mixer — the one I still use today, actually – as a holiday gift from my parents when I was in law school. To me, it was a mark of truly being out on my own– my very own KitchenAid mixer! So needless to say, this event was right up my alley. Of course, it was also nice to see many of my Chicago-area blogging friends and meet some new friends as well.
The event began with a tour of the Reid-Murdoch Center’s clock tower, which Whirlpool has turned into sleek, modern event space. But the remaining exposed brick and clockworks pay tribute to the building’s 1913 origins. Whirlpool, which is headquartered in nearby Benton Harbor, Michigan, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, so the Reid-Murdoch Center is a great fit for them.
The clock tower tour was followed by a tour of the various test kitchens and a chance to hear about the latest developments in dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens, cooktops and countertop appliances. I was extremely impressed by the commitment to energy-efficiency that many of the new products demonstrated and how favorite products had been tweaked to be just a little bit better. I am completely obsessed with this glass bowl for a 5-quart KitchenAid stand mixer, for example. Imagine how useful it is to be able to see whether the ingredients at the bottom of the bowl are actually being incorporated into the batter. Plus, who can resist all the cool colors the KitchenAid mixers come in these days? I kind of wish my plain old white one didn’t still work so well.
Other great new products that we learned about included wall ovens that can be programmed to automatically change functions – go from bake to broil, for example, without having to get up off the couch — and food processors that can cut different thicknesses without changing blades. I was also pretty enamored by the KitchenAid dishwasher that was silent as the grave and had a dedicated cutlery tray on the top. For a passionate cook like me, hearing about and seeing these new kitchen appliances was like my husband getting to tour the locker room of his favorite NFL team. I was giddy with excitement the whole time.
After the tour of the test kitchens, we sat down to a delicious lunch. On the menu was chicken Caesaer salad — my friend Chef Druck loved how the chef literally painted the leaves of romaine with the dressing – an amazing artichoke bisque with Kalamata dust and truffle oil; high falutin’ macaroni and cheese with chunks of smoky bacon; risotto served in martini glasses; and smoked turkey and Gouda paninis and it was all washed down with three different kinds of Mimosas. (I liked the guava one but drinking at lunch time is rarely a good idea.)
After lunch, we had a chance to hear from Lyn Cook of Whirlpool’s Institute of Kitchen Science. Lyn, a home economist by training, basically gets to cook and bake all day long to test out how the various appliances are working in real life. (I would be so good at that job. Seriously. Can I be deemed a home economist after 4 years of being a stay-at-home mom? I feel like an expert.) Chef Druck and I both got very animated as Lyn talked about variations in oven temperature. I will tell anyone who listens how cold my oven runs. I finally had to get an oven thermometer just to see how bad it really was — although Lyn tells me that oven thermometers are not especially accurate. I now set my oven for 10-15 degrees hotter than I want it to get and I let it preheat for a really long time. That’s the only way to actually get it to the temperature I need. So much for energy efficiency! Meanwhile, Chef Druck complained that her brand new oven runs hot and she is apt to burn things if she does not watch it. Fortunately for both of us, Lyn said that it is possible to adjust an oven’s internal temperature. Now to find that oven manual….
Here’s another interesting tidbit: Lyn showed us an oven that was at precisely 350 degrees; when she opened it to put in a tray of cookies, the oven temperature literally dropped 100 degrees — and she didn’t even have it open for that long. The moral of the story: be quick when opening that oven! Lyn also showed us some of the variations that can happen in your baked goods depending on the cookware you use. She baked a batch of cookie dough in the same oven using four different cookie sheets. The results were dramatic. The darker cookie sheets resulted in much darker cookies. In fact, both the color and the width of your cookies, i.e., how much the dough spreads during baking, will vary widely depending on the cookie sheets you use.
Lyn’s presentation was tremendously informative, although she mostly confirmed for me things that I had already suspected. The true revelation of the day was the presentation on induction cooking. I knew almost nothing about induction cooking when I went into the event. But I walked out believing that it is the wave of the future. Induction cooking is neither gas nor electric, but rather electro-magnetic. The heat flows directly from the cooktop to the pot or pan, which must be made of ferromagnetic metal, i.e., one which a magnet will stick to, in order to work. The result is cooking that is fast, safe and energy-efficient. Using an induction cooktop, you can boil a huge pot of water in minutes. While the cooktop is on, you can place your hand right next to the burner without danger because only the pot is hot, not the cooktop. And, because no heat radiates out — instead it is transferred directly to the pot or pan — induction cooking is significantly more efficient than gas or electric. No wonder it is so common in Europe, where a higher premium is placed on energy-efficiency, and in restaurants, where speed is of the essence. Proponents of gas cooktops, like me, argue that they like the precise control, but the cooks at the Institute of Kitchen Science assured me that the control of the heat in induction cooking is equally precise. For years, the price of induction cooktops put them out of the reach of home cooks, but now that the prices have come down, induction cooking may be poised to go mainstream. In fact, here’s a New York Times article from a year ago calling induction cooking “the iPad of the kitchen.”
I must admit, I was seduced by the speed of induction cooking. When you are an avid canner, like me, you spend a lot of time bringing large pots of water to boil and heating fruit and sugar mixtures at very high temperatures so that they reach the gelling point. This takes a long time on my gas range. Also, speed is a great boon for parents. Any parent knows that when little kids tell you that they are hungry, they mean they want their food NOW. The night after I came home from the World of Whirlpool event, in fact, my kids demanded spaghetti and meatballs for dinner and they had no interest in waiting 30 minutes while I pulled it together. As my kids whined about how hungry they were, I thought of how nice it would be to be able to boil the pasta water for their spaghetti in two minutes instead of ten.
Sadly, for me, I am not redoing my kitchen any time soon, so I don’t see an induction cooktop in my immediate future. But I would seriously consider one if I were. Interestingly, American cooks seem slow to adopt induction cooking, and many seems unaware of the technology. I extolled the virtues of it to my parents – who are redoing a kitchen in the near future — and they seemed intrigued, but wary. People seem to view induction cooking as a radical change in the way they cook. And it does seem to take some getting used to. No more heating the pasta water while you whip up a quick marinara sauce, for example. And say good-bye to your copper risotto pan or your fleet of Calphalon pots — for me that would be a hardship. But, quicker, safer, more efficient cooking might well be worth the trade-off.
Have you heard of induction cooking? If so, what do you know about it? Would you ever consider switching to it?
Full disclosure time: I was invited to the World of Whirpool blogger event, which was not open to the public, and provided with parking and lunch free of charge. I also received some lovely parting gifts from Whirlpool, such as a cookbook, cooking utensils and cleaning supplies. I was not compensated for my time, nor was I asked to write about the event. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.