Photos Courtesy of Ramona Gregory
The other night, I attended a Fisher & Paykel cooking demonstration at the A & D Building in Manhattan’s East Side. Upon entering their strikingly designed showroom, I was greeted by the space’s manager, Briana Ryan. She was as convivial as she was impressive with an encyclopedic knowledge of the brand’s current line-up. Since I was early, Briana took me on a thorough tour of the showroom.
We discussed how Fisher & Paykel’s current reputation is for compact efficiency in their appliances. However, they aspire to soar into the rarified realm of high luxury. Considering the aesthetics of their series updates, it would seem they’re well on their way. From the minimalist beauty of the Contemporary Series, to the nostalgic charm of the Classic Series, to the industrial allure of the Professional Series, they absolutely look the part of upper echelon appliances.
They’ve also just launched their Kitchen Companion Series. It includes products you’d expect from a high-end brand such as a combi-steam wall oven and a built-in coffee machine. Briana also beamed with pride as she presented me with the Fisher & Paykel compact kitchen tableau with slim yet luxe appliances. It’s perfectly emblematic of the brand setting their sights high without forgetting their roots. Check this space in the near future as I’ll be posting more in-depth looks at all of these new developments.
There’s something about stimulating conversation that speeds time and stirs my hunger. I was pleasantly surprised that the demonstration and dinner were about to begin when I was offered hors d’oeuvres. I began with a chicken parmigiana bite with basil on an artisanal mini-bun. It was a fitting bit of comfort food for settling into what was to come.
Next, I decided to cleanse my palate of the enjoyable tomato acidity of the parmigiana bite with cream cheese and a single red wine fig on a bit of challah. It did the trick as the richness of the cream cheese complemented the tart sweetness of the fruit.
Finally, also on challah, was a piece of filet mignon with salsa verde. I found it interesting to pair what’s seen as a savory delicacy with something one gets for free at a Mexican restaurant. It worked. The filet was tender and medium rare with a fulsome flavor that was cut nicely by the lightness of the green sauce.
These morsels unquestionably whet my appetite and my curiosity as to how these were prepared and by whom.
The guests (we numbered four) were then introduced to Chef Tageré Southwell. She’s an alumna of the esteemed Institute of Culinary Education as well as a veteran of the beloved and sorely missed Gourmet Magazine. I have to admit, I was quite in awe of her pedigree. It took virtually no time for her to live up to my high expectations. Chef Tageré had the magnetic charisma of a tent preacher. Her altar was a combination 24-inch induction cooktop and 12-inch induction cooktop both from the Contemporary Series. Her tabernacle consisted of a Professional Series double wall oven and a Contemporary Series double wall oven. She was preaching two gospels that night: True Aero and induction cooking.
True Aero is Fisher & Paykel’s version of European convection in which the fan in the rear of the oven is fitted with its own heating element. This heat is dispersed through the cavity and, when used in conjunction with traditional methods such as roasting and broiling, makes for faster and more even cooking compared to conventional convection. It’s a feature that sets apart top-tier ovens from their pedestrian counterparts.
To emphasize the superiority of True Aero, Chef Tageré revealed a roast chicken that was prepared earlier due to time constraints. It was raised above the roasting pan on a rack. We’ll get to that later. It looked impeccably roasted with the skin crisp and brown. She explained that she began by butterflying the whole 5 lb. bird by removing the backbone. We all murmured in appreciation at the ingenuity of this technique.
She continued and said that when setting the roast mode and timer, the oven automatically began cooking in cooking in Aero Broil for the first 10 minutes at 480 degrees F to crisp the skin and seal in juices. That’s a considerably lower temperature than the usual 500 – 550 degrees F normally required for a broil. Then it switched to the traditional roast setting at 350 degrees F, again, lower than expected. The chicken cooked for an additional 30 minutes.
To be certain it was truly done, she showed us how the appliance is equipped with an in-oven meat probe attachment that allows the internal temperature of meats to be continuously monitored. This is another mark of a high-end oven. She reiterated that the total time to roast a 5 lb chicken was 40 minutes. She paused for effect. I couldn’t believe it. That’s only a few minutes longer than it would take a speed oven.
As if registering my incredulity, Chef Tageré brought out a 1/2 lb cut of filet mignon and a salmon fillet of equal weight. They were on a broiling pan which she placed on the top rack of the Professional Series oven closest to the salamander (what lay people call the broiler). She set the oven to a 480 degree F Aero Broil and the timer to 7 minutes. After pressing “Start”, she proceeded to explain, in depth and with the panache we’ve come to know that with the True Aero function, food can be prepared rapidly and at lower temperatures. To illustrate this, she gestured to the smoke merrily wafting about the interior of the oven, indicating that the food was well into the cooking process.
She also took a moment to point out the general build quality of the oven by placing her hand on the oven door exterior. It was cool to the touch despite being blisteringly hot inside. After a couple more minutes of cheerful offhand banter between all of us, she removed the filet and the fillet. With a fork, chef cut into the salmon and it flaked effortlessly. As she tented the steak with foil to let it rest, I became utterly convinced of these ovens’ capabilities.
Chef Tageré brought forth yet another tray. This one was expansive enough to stretch the entire width of the oven’s interior. It was filled with a mixture of broccoli rabe and florets. She wanted to demonstrate how True Aero could work as a food dehydrator. She slid the pan into the oven’s top rack and, again, set the oven to Aero Broil at 480 degrees F, this time for only 5 minutes. She extolled the virtues of the dehydration made in making everything from kale chips to fruit snacks to dried herbs for a fraction of the cost grocery stores charge. Once chef was convinced we were fully informed about the full uses of the True Aero feature, she turned her attention to the induction cooktop.
Putting on the hat of an engineering professor for a moment, chef took us on a deep dive into induction technology. She elucidated how it uses electromagnetism to stimulate compatible metals in a vessel to turn pots and pans themselves into the cooking surface. This makes induction cooking safer and more energy efficient than any other method. Click here to read further about induction cooking.
When manufacturers list induction cooktops, the appliances are usually described as “electric induction”. People not familiar with this technology but who have experience with run-of-the-mill electric cooking elements focus on the first word and look in askance. They think of slow heating and cooling, little temperature control, and inconsistent temperature in general. Chef dispelled any of these notions by bringing a large saucepan to high heat within seconds. In it, she stir-fried pok choi, scallions, and chives. As if the cooktop wanted to show off, chef accidentally deactivated the element. When she reactivated it, the pan was again at the correct cooking temperature in less than a second. After just a few minutes on the high heat, the vegetable and herb medley was set aside.
While chef was preparing the stir-fry, the induction cooktop was demonstrating its versatility on low heat by gently keeping melted, in a pot, a concoction of soft white cheese and heavy cream. At this point, the broccoli mixture was dehydrated and slightly browned. Chef emptied the tray into the melted cheese and cream for a creamed broccoli dish that took about 5 minutes to make. For those who’ve lost track, Chef Tageré prepared a veritable feast in just under an hour. We were then led to a spare yet elegant dining room table.
Dinner is Served
We began with the main course that consisted of the roasted chicken, the creamed broccoli, and a sage brown butter jeweled yam dish that was pureed with a white wine reduction. This trio was plated exquisitely. Chef had drizzled the chicken with a Chablis and chicken stock reduction sauce which gave it a louche reddish-brown color. The contrast with the verdant green broccoli and opulently orange yam made for a welcoming sight.
The cut of chicken served was the breast which one usually expects to be a bit dry. However, as I took my first bite, I encountered none of that. As said previously, the Aero Broil process sealed in the bird’s natural juices before roasting. Remember when I mentioned that the chicken was on a metal rack that raised it above the roasting pan? Apparently, chef had slid dill under the skin and lemons beneath the whole chicken. With True Aero completely enveloping the meat with uniform hot air, these flavor zests were infused in every mouthful.
The creamed broccoli broke new textural and flavor frontiers with regards to creamed vegetables. What the dehydration process did to the rabe and florets was to sap moisture and concentrate the broccoli taste. What resulted when taking a forkful was an al dente pop of what I can only describe as “broccoliness” that made its own bold statement rather than just being an aside of desultory sogginess. The sage butter yam side dish presented a subtly complex flavor profile with the sage and white wine reduction somehow simultaneously blunting and enhancing the cloying nature of cooked yams. The amalgam of flavors in this course created a gestalt on the palate that was just gastronomic ecstasy.
Midway through the main course, we were served the broiled salmon and filet mignon. The salmon was garnished with the pok choi and herb stir fry and sprinkled with miniscule cubes of pineapple. I was a bit envious when someone else took the first serving of the fillet’s small edge as I find this bit to be the most tender. As I took my portion from the middle, though, I found my envy was entirely misplaced. It had the consistency of semi-melted butter and had the delicate piscine taste you’ll only get from remarkably fresh fish. It paired well with the slightly alkali bite of the pok choi and the touch of tang brought by the pineapple. As an obiter dictum to avid cooks, a little pineapple goes a long way.
I must confess, filet mignon is not my preferred cut of beef. If I had my druthers, I’d choose a bone-in ribeye. Filet’s vaunted position as a high-end dish always confused me. I’ve always found it to be dry and insipid. It was heartening when the steak was served sliced and beautifully marbled medium rare slivers presented themselves on the platter. As I slowly chewed my first piece, it dawned on me that I’d been served filet mignon entirely wrong in my time as an epicure, even in upper echelon restaurants. Most commonly, filets are prepared as individual medallions. By doing this, all the fat, which bestows flavor, is cooked away. Chef Tageré’s preparation was a revelation of succulence and savor.
Completely satiated, I was prepared for the denouement of a wonderful evening rife with good food and charming dinner companions. About to make my farewells, we were presented with dessert, an autumnal spiced Granny Smith crostada topped with apricot jam and cream cheese sour whipped cream. It was decadence materialized. Chef got in one more well-deserved swagger for the oven. She indicated that the Aero Bake mode was used to ensure a slightly crisp yet crumbly undercrust. It was the perfect conveyance for the understated sweetness of the spiced cooked apple and the rich cream topping. This delight was a fitting coda for the event.