TGIFOOD

COOKING TRENDS

We assess a new way of cooking (for those who can afford it)

We assess a new way of cooking (for those who can afford it)
Chef Peter Ayub putting the finishing touches to the chicken dish. Photo: Bianca Coleman

For domestic or industrial applications, Welbilt ovens revolutionise how food is prepared. (For those who can afford a kitchen Lamborghini.)

Technology is amazing, there’s no doubt about it, and most of the time you have no idea what you’ve been missing until someone shoves it under your nose.

There are more ways to cook at home than we can imagine. Some people manage with a microwave, others with a one-ring gas bottle. We grill over coals, make crowd-pleasers in skottels, and slow cook in Dutch ovens. There are little table-top stoves, pressure cookers, and electric ovens. And so we get by with what we have.

Then your world is turned upside down by the introduction to a Welbilt oven. I attended a presentation at Sense Of Taste cooking school, with my big-girl sceptical pants on. The first few minutes did nothing to loosen them. These contraptions begin with password protection, and emit an annoying beep, like a truck backing up, when the door is open. My fridge does that, and it drives me mental. Worse, it only does it when the door is wide open, plainly visible for miles, but let it not quite close properly and it’s suddenly, uselessly, silent.

Chef Peter Ayub, owner of Sense Of Taste, is the South African ambassador for these ovens. He, along with his colleague chef Byron Thebus, and visiting-partner-from-Barcelona chef Joan Llopart, put the ovens through their paces, preparing a dozen different dishes.

This entire full English breakfast was cooked all at once. Photo: Bianca Coleman

First, a full English breakfast. Sausages, bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast were all cooked at the same time. How it works is that there are seven levels and seven trays (this is the big hotel/restaurant version aka Convotherm), and each can be programmed separately – temperature and cooking time – to complete a meal. I wasn’t quite ready to be impressed yet, especially since the toast looked quite anaemic. 

Then they moved over to the smaller, home oven, called the Merrychef (I keep wanting to say “merry widow” and I’m sorry, I can’t help myself), in which they toasted some bagels, one with melted cheese, one without.

Look, there’s a great deal of technical stuff about these appliances, which I’m not going to go into here. You can visit the website for all that. The gist of the advantages is that you can cook and bake just about anything, in less time than it takes to plate a dish for service, or super slowly over hours and hours (like sous vide without the bag and water), and there’s the added advantage of energy efficiency. One thing the ovens do not do is brûlée. That still has to be done the old-fashioned way with a blow torch.

To balance that, the Convotherm will clean itself; the Merrychef you actually have to spray the inside of yourself, oh the tedium! Yes, folks, when the Convotherm cools down to a certain temperature, it begins its cleaning process via an array of bottles and pipes stored behind it. I guess there are ups and downs to all modern developments, and the robots are not quite ready to take over the world. As much as you can programme your clever oven to carry out multiple tasks, they are not smart enough to be set remotely.

Chef Byron Thebus prepares the base for the calamari dish. Photo: Bianca Coleman

So the functions and benefits thereof are clear, and your purchase includes a training session with Ayub, because heaven knows you’re going to need it if all you’ve ever done is preheat to 180℃ and set a timer.

But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this idiom misused I’d be able to buy my very own Convotherm), so let’s discuss that.

Slow-roasted for 17 hours, topside is beautifully pink and juicy. Photo: Bianca Coleman

A large topside had been slow-roasted overnight. It was popped back into the oven to give it a nice colour, then Ayub sliced it. The meat – which is brought to the correct core temperature during cooking then sustained there – was uniformly and beautifully pink. Its juices ran out over the chopping board. I perked up and began to show some interest. Ayub ground some salt on a slice and I tasted. It was as tender and succulent as a fillet and flavourful as sirloin. 

Now we were talking.

Lamb shanks which had been languishing at 60-odd ℃ for about 17 hours were plated with mashed potato. The rich, fatty meat slid cleanly off the bone.

Pork belly with fig and apple tartlet, pickled red cabbage and soya fynbos honey glaze. Photo: Bianca Coleman

The pork belly, similarly, had undergone slow cooking, and was placed skin side down on a tray (there are different trays for different applications, including a “basket” one for crumbed foods) to crisp and caramelise. It was served with fig and apple tartlet, pickled red cabbage and soya fynbos honey glaze.

Caprese chicken stuffed with Buffalo Ridge water buffalo mozzarella and basil was baked in a puff pastry cage, emerging gorgeously golden after about eight or 10 minutes. It was sliced and served with slow roasted plum tomatoes and finished with a basil béchamel. 

Fun fact: Buffalo Ridge is the only water buffalo dairy in South Africa and the country’s only producer of buffalo mozzarella. Sure, you can be quite content with any other mozzarella but this stuff is ridiculously good, and so, so rich and creamy. 

Asparagus with a mushroom crumble, roasted onion purée and garlic emulsion. Photo: Bianca Coleman

Other dishes included asparagus with a mushroom crumble, roasted onion puree, and garlic emulsion; calamari tubes stuffed with strawberry and bacon (yes, I know it sounds a bit weird but it was rather nice, like pineapple on pizza – fight me) with spinach and yoghurt puree; and Thai-style crumb-crusted hake on a bed of ceviche courgette and fennel with red curry coconut milk sauce.

For dessert there were individual little crème brûlées (magically baked without a water bath) and apple crumble. Sure, most of the prep had been done in advance but all these dishes were turned out in less than two hours – including wine breaks for the chefs, and opportunities for everyone jostling for the best, most Insta-worthy pics.

The price? The Merrychef is R65,000 and the Convotherm costs R95,000. If you can afford it, and want to drive a Lamborghini in the kitchen, go right ahead. It’s all about needs and wants, but I can see how big hotels and restaurants can benefit from these appliances. As for the password – not actually a bad idea to keep the klutzes away from your precious baby. DM

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