Our friends Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton, creators of the wonderful Canal House cookbook series, have a friend in the appliance business who keeps offering to get them a big new stove for their kitchen studio. NO, they keep saying, We love our little side-by-side stoves!
Every great dish Melissa and Christopher come up with is cooked on their two vin-ordinaire gas stoves, which makes for eight burners and two ovens. And those very same plain little stoves appear in photographs of their unselfconsciously stylish, comfortable kitchen.
Which begs the question: What kind of stove will really help you to cook happily and easily? The answer, we’ve found, is not necessarily a fancy high-end stove as many design magazines would have us believe. Witness the mournful, angry email we got from a wine importer we know who is a serious cook: I want to throw my Viking out the window! Other friends are disappointed with their Blue Star, for its too-small oven and broiler, and wonky burner ignitions.
When we were planning the renovation of ‘improvised life’s Laboratory, we imagined trading in our 25-year-old U.S. Range for a snazzy $7,000 baby with a rotisserie and grill. By the end of the reno, with our finances looking grim, we opted to stay with our old reliable stove. It still looks great and is built like a tank.
In the twenty-five years we’ve had it, we’ve had one part replaced. We can recalibrate the oven ourselves if we need to using a screwdriver. There are no electronic parts to fail when there’s a power outage, a GREAT comfort as we watched people endure weeks in the dark and cold (and more of that coming). The burners and oven are always ready to turn on and stay on (not possible with an electronic ignition). If we had the money, we’re not sure we’d buy that fancy stove after-all.
We’d still love a rotisserie so were looking into hacking the griddle/broiler to see if we can put an electric rotator in there, to turn meats and poultry on a spit under the broiler’s flames.
Now that we think about it, some of the best cooks we know have no-frills stoves. Our friend Mary Rower, daughter of Alexander Calder, could have bought herself any stove she wanted yet insisted on a simple 4 burner. With that and 1-foot square of counter space, she quietly turned out spectacular dinners for twelve or fifteen.
And when we look at pictures of homes without fancy stoves, we realize that their charm and style has to do more with a whole way of life rather than any single element.