MOST NEW products are answers to questions no one's really been asking," said a seller of kitchen gadgets. She was surveyng the fifth annual International Gourmet Products Show, one of the largest collections of pasta portioners, pasta drying racks, pasta makers, cappuccino machines, knives, potholders and thousands of other pieces of kitchen equipment ever collected under one roof in this country.
While the San Francisco show offered nothing sublime, ridiculous more than held its own. On the other hand, there were lots of useful things a cook might be happy to have. Some of them -- including the most talked-about item at the show, an automatic ice cream maker -- require considerably outlays of money, but that doesn't appear to be a deterrent. At one local Washington kitchen equipment store, 10 of the ice cream makers have already been ordered.
And after all, II Gelataio, which requires no more skill to operate than the ability to measure properly, is $400 less than a similar model which has been available for the last two years. This new, $350 model from Simac makes ice cream, sorbet, sherbet and frozen yogurt in about 20 minutes. It also keeps the frozen dessert cold until serving time. One of the demonstrators at the show said, for best results, the frozen dessert should be allowed to "ripen" for 30 minutes before serving, "but with the people around here there's no way you can wait. As soon as they see that it looks ready, they want it. If you don't give it to them, they get testy."
The show's 10,000 visitors were not that unruly about the other free samples, though James Beard is reported to have eaten two jelly omelettes hot off the electric omelette pan, an item for every cook who has ever had omelephobia (the fear of making omelettes?).
Making omelettes in Maxim's new goof-proof pan requires no skill and produces perfect specimens in 45 seconds. Because of the built-in thermostat, it is impossible to burn the eggs or ruin the pan. "Even an idiot can make one," said Beard.In order to become the consummate omelette maker you need turn over only $40 to your local cookware shop.
Only one product at the show, which had 1,400 exhibitors, was actually pitched the way it's done, or used to be done, at your local department store. A woman with a microphone extolled the virtues of what everyone was calling the "poor man's" hand-held food processor, though heaven knows why, since it costs more than the least expensive models of the Cuisinart and Robot-Coupe. c
The Bamix, available only by mail order, has a handle like an electric knife. Attached to the handle is what looks like the single mixer on one of those electric milkshake makers. Looks are deceiving. Put the blades into a container of peanuts and pretty soon you have peanut butter. Let loose in nonfat milk, if produces a milk shake. It chops, purees, whips, beats, etc. Small quantities only.
It works, but it costs $125 and you definitely need a demonstration to become adept. The Bamix, which is distributed by Clark National Products, located in California, was being sold at the show for $99, but the pitch is proof that a good salesperson can sell almost anything.
Almost every other piece of equipment seemed to be a variation of an old theme.Pasta makers continue to proliferate. Osrow is making one that dries the pasta as it extrudes it. But true pasta lovers insist that the hand-cranked machines produce a better paste (because the dough is kneaded), than the electric versions that extrude it.
A couple of coffee makers have introduced a 24-karat gold-plated filter to replace paper filters. Supposedly lifetime filters, they have five-year warranties. Won't the plate wear off after awhile?
In keeping with Americans' simplified cooking and eating style, there is greater interest in cook-and-serve equipment; and some of it is quite good-looking.
Brimstone, individual and serving pieces from Corning, are ceramic but look like earthenware.They can be used in or on the conventional stove, or in a microwave. They can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer and still look good on the table. Prices range from $10 to $35.
Cousance has introduced a very pretty line of gray enamel on cast iron, decorated with large baroque purple and green flowers. The casseroles, for which that type of cookware is best suited, would look attractive on all but the most formal table. The price range is $50 to $80.
The ultimate, however, appears to be a line of copper cookware with sterling silver linings. Now you can polish not only the outside, but the inside. On the other hand, if you want something more eye-catching to hang from the beam in your kitchen than plain old copper. . . Marketed by Cohr Copper Company, a Danish firm, retail prices range from over $50 to almost $200. But if you can afford the three-quart sauce pan ($190) you probably can afford someone to polish it!
Then there were the gadgets. At least eight different gizmos for measuring portions of dried spaghetti (you may not have known there was even one); a simple but practical wire rack to hold asparagus upright for steaming, $6.50; a "hot rock" which heats up in the liquid you are cooking and then is served with the food to keep it hot longer, 3 for $10.
There were four items at the show that I wouldn't mind getting for belated Mother's Day presents (family take note):
Any one of a series of Linque quartz wall clocks, absolutely plain in design, with markings for noon, 3, 6 and 9 only, made by Brod, selling for $40. High tech at its best.
Handsome, hand-forged, hanging pot racks made of steel by Enclume, they cost between $110 and $300, depending on size.
The only metric converter I have ever seen that makes me think I, too, could cook in grams and liters. Metricook Probus from Kitchen 2000 Corp. costs $16, and if we ever convert, I'll need it.
Finally there was a magnet that said "clean" and "dirty." It attaches to the dishwasher and the person who starts the dishwasher turns the magnet so that "clean" is right-side-up. For the $1.60 investment we could save gallons of water in our house.
Note: These products, with the exception of the Bamix, are available in the Washington area at cookware shops and cookware departments of department stores.