TurboChef oven
James Marks  /  Turbochef
Industrial oven maker TurboChef, whose technology led to the toasted Subway sandwich, is taking its fast-cook technology to the high-end residential market. It won't be alone.
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updated 10/31/2005 9:03:12 PM ET 2005-11-01T02:03:12

The idea is the stuff of cable infomercials: a gizmo that can cook a side of beef to medium-rare perfection in less time than it takes to wash a load of laundry. But the price is way off in luxury-land.

A host of manufacturers is lining up in the big-ticket major appliance realm to push speed-cooking technology into kitchens of McMansions and estates nationwide.

Electrolux is unveiling its $1,699 fast-cook oven, an addition to its new Icon product line aimed at "premium" buyers. Viking Range, undisputed brand leader in the kitchen jewelry category, is in talks with Sharp Electronics about marketing a speed-cook oven under the Viking brand. The Greenwood, Miss., appliance maker already sells microwaves produced by Sharp.

Thermador, which in 1955 made wall-mounted ovens the must-have modern convenience for the Baby Boom generation, already has a fast-cook oven on the market at $3,500 per unit.

And one company, TurboChef Technologies, whose industrial technology led to the toasted Subway sandwich, has bet its whole business model on the concept. Next year, it will take what it has learned in the commercial-kitchen supply sector and apply it to the residential market, with a patented speed-cook oven it says will revolutionize the American kitchen — for $6,000, according to some analyst estimates.

"In the world of speed cooking, we're the think tank," says TurboChef chief executive Jim Price. "We have a disruptive technology that the others don't have. It's life-changing."

Well, at a minimum it certainly has the potential to be money making. The residential-oven market is estimated at $4 billion in the U.S. and $15 billion worldwide, according to research by Banc of America Securities. That market is driven by wealthy consumers who are updating their homes in a race-to-the-finish scramble to have the latest and best equipment and the funkiest technology.

Speed-cooking machines use a combination of convection and microwave technologies to cut cooking times by 30% or more. Most companies are offering smaller machines that are meant to complement traditional ovens. In TurboChef's case, full-size ovens use a patented combination of air jets, microwave and infrared technologies to slash cooking times to a fraction of normal.

Just think about a chocolate cake in 1 minute 10 seconds, or a 13-pound turkey in 35 minutes.

"There are customers that will love it," says Sue Bailey, lead product manager for major appliances at Viking who went to visit TurboChef and see its product in use. "My biggest concern is: Can we teach the average cook how to use it?"

Newcomers have to overcome the seemingly insurmountable grip on the premium market held by the Viking and Wolf brands, though Wolf, which also owns SubZero, does not have a speed-cook oven. Not yet.

Endorsements from high-profile "shelter" celebrities and star chefs have been a key strategy. Electrolux lined up Hollywood-party planner Colin Cowie to spread the word about its products. The Swedish company, best known in the U.S. for its vacuum cleaners, is also holding private parties, where celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud demonstrate its speed-cook oven.

Electrolux oven
Electrolux
Electrolux is adding a $1,699 fast-cook oven to its Icon product line aimed at premium buyers.
Keith McLoughlin, chief executive of Electrolux home products for the Americas, said as home builders create bigger kitchens and put them at the center of the house, home owners have come to demand more eye-catching designs and products that are easier to use and service.

TurboChef has been piquing the interest of chefs and wealthy individuals by showing a Styrofoam prototype of its residential speed-cook oven in private meetings this month and throughout the fall. It also has the backing of society doyenne and foodie Sybille Van Kempen, who has promised to sell them in her Bridgehampton, N.Y., shop alongside Viking products.

Price proudly notes that celebrity chef Gray Kunz, of the flaming-hot New York eatery Café Gray, uses TurboChef's commercial oven to make his hazelnut soufflés.

But as Banc of America Securities analyst Fitzhugh Taylor notes, "The success of the residential line will more likely depend on the ability of the company's marketing efforts to develop the product as a "must have" status symbol."

There's also the question whether speed sells to the high-end audience. Florence Perchuck, a kitchen designer in New York who works with the Park Avenue crowd, says she is skeptical about whether the high-end public will embrace speed-cook technology, even if they have the money to spend. What well-heeled hedgefund manager wants people to think he's rushing home to shove a two-minute veal chop in the oven instead of having his personal chef slave all day over a hot stove?

As for everyone else, "Convenience is what people are really looking for," says Perchuck. "Must of us just want a well-regulated oven that's going to purr back at us."

© 2012 Forbes.com

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