Renovating your home presents a million decisions. A bunch of them are in the kitchen. Installing a showpiece kitchen is made more difficult because independent appliance ratings at the upper end are spotty at best. Manufacturers aren’t necessarily hiding anything, but something that sells millions of units will always be reviewed more than something that only sells a few thousand.
It’s also a bit of a shot in the dark selecting appliance features when you’re not sure how they work and so whether you’d actually use them. Enter the smart showroom that offers tasty demonstrations to prospective buyers to give you a hands-on feel for each piece in your new kitchen.
Of course, we all know that you can find just about everything for your luxury kitchen at Capital Distributing’s Stemmons Freeway showroom, but today we’re branching out a bit. In the past few weeks, I have visited Pirch in NorthPark Center, Miele in the Design District, and Sub-Zero Wolf in Oaklawn to see how they educate buyers.
For those who need to winnow the selection down a bit, Pirch is the place to start. The company began in California and has since expanded, landing in Dallas just as I’d finished my renovations in 2014 (darn). Their large, interactive showroom is chock-full of appliances, cabinets, and vignettes all designed to whet your appetite for a remodel. They also have a bathroom side of the store, but I suspect we all have a pretty good handle on what goes on there.
When I spoke to Pirch Chief Marketing Officer Laith Murad, who was in town to check on the store, he said Pirch’s goal was to enable buyers to appreciate and even extend their comfort with different kitchen appliances and cooking techniques. Their whole cooking program, from stopping into the store to see what the in-house chefs are doing to “Sourcing Saturdays” that breakdown and cook a whole meal to themed classes that rotate monthly, all are intended to stoke the customer’s enjoyment of food preparation.
What’s great about the store is selection, but also useful information. The two full-time chefs are demonstrating and teaching throughout the week. They also have a rotating range cavity that gets a different manufacturer’s range every few weeks. This gives the chefs and students hands-on experience with specific (and changing) ranges. If the brand you’re after isn’t in the cavity today, chances are it’s been there before and a quizzing of the chefs will get you an honest, professional opinion of its performance based on your needs. The chefs admitted that when customers have questions, they often avoid the salespeople and beeline to the commission-less chefs.
On my Sourcing Saturday, I found out that the ovens made by my cooktop manufacturer aren’t their favorites. Whew! My ovens are made by another maker.
On this Sourcing Saturday my dozen fellow students prepared a salad, soup, main course, side dishes and dessert … just in time for lunch! In addition to the appliances, we learned some knife skills (a new way to bone a chicken and dice vegetables quickly) as well as how to secure the best chicken. Appliance-wise we used a pizza oven for grilling chicken, various ranges for sauteéing, making soup, grilling vegetables, and the like.
Students can be as hands-on or observatory as they’d like. I stayed in the background if it was a skill or appliance I was proficient with to give others a chance. But when we were using the pizza oven and the French Top on the La Cornue, I was in the thick of it.
A French Top is that funny looking circular “burner” in the center that looks a little like a flat solar system. There is a single, centered heat source that gets cooler the further from center you get. It’s almost played like a musical instrument. When a pot needs to boil, it’s in the center and as the heat needs to be reduced to simmer, the pot moves to the outer edges. Heat control is achieved by pot movement, not raising and lowering the heat. They take a bit of practice but are used extensively in commercial kitchens. I’d never played with one before (some La Cornue ranges are over $25,000!) so it was interesting to explore.
For more information, stop by Pirch or check out their website for a schedule of classes.
I twice skedaddled over to the Design District to check out a Miele class. The showroom is on Oaklawn Avenue tucked away a bit from the road. Inside there are a few vignette kitchens. It’s also the place for refills and accessories for your Miele collections (from vacuum cleaner bags to cooking utensils).
The first class was to learn about a specific appliance – the steam oven. I’ll admit they’re still not my thing. I’m old fashioned and for those few times I need steam I use a bain Marie. My kitchens also never have that much space that I felt it wasn’t a tradeoff for something I’d use more often. But for those with the space and more expansive palates than I, go for it.
The results are wonderful, gossamer eggs, perfectly wilted greens, etc.
The other class I attended was their Master Class where students used all the appliances. We made pizza, rotisserie chicken, sweet potato fries, steamed fish and banana bread. Unlike Pirch, most of the prep work was done with the focus on assembly and appliance use.
The Miele attendees were either current customers looking for a little refresher course, soon-to-be customers who’d already made a Miele decision, or the undecided. If you believe your customers are your best spokespeople, a good mix.
If you’re a novice, they have product presentation hands-off classes that demonstrate appliance use but keep the knives in the professional’s hands.
Dallas Showroom Manager Lorraine Christensen leads the classes and is a fount of information about the Miele world … and didn’t kick me out for admitting to a Gaggenau kitchen!
You can visit their website for class schedules.
You know where the Sub-Zero Wolf showroom is, right? Lemmon Avenue in the old Tower Records location. Well, A LOT has changed since the discs were flying off the shelves at Tower. The upstairs is a panorama of all things hot and cold. Walls of refrigerators, countertops of cooktops and an assortment of drool-worthy kitchen vignettes. All with a big hole in the middle leading you downstairs.
It’s downstairs that you’ll find the show/classroom kitchen. If you think it looks familiar, that’s because you’ve seen it on Channel 47’s Taste Texas show presented by Chef Garth Blackburn and Amy Kushnir. I’ve been to a couple of the tapings to see what they’re up to. Chef Blackburn knows every rhyming word for competitor manufacturers when he gently points out the superiority of Sub-Zero Wolf’s offerings.
The showroom has between three and five classes per month that can be reserved. Classes are taught either by Chef Blackburn or Sous Chef Rebecca Osborn. The classes taught by Osborn are more hands on with Chef Blackburn’s being more demonstrations. They will also schedule one-on-one time for the serious buyer.
Visit the Sub-Zero Wolf showroom online or in person for class information and schedules.
My recommendations are to start by understanding how you cook. Any cooktop can boil water, but are you a baker, roaster, griller, etc.? Then start with questions. Is steam for you? Induction versus gas? And then think about space and prioritize. You may want 17 appliances but if you’re in an eight-by-ten foot kitchen, that’s not going to work.
Armed with that it’s time to visit the Pirch chefs. Their classes are more frequent and you can ask them what’s what on appliances. They sell all the luxe brands so their bias is limited to those manufacturers they don’t represent (which given where you are, you’re not considering Kenmore anyway).
Once you’ve narrowed it down a bit, then it’s time to go to the manufacturers and get more specific drill down information.
Once you’ve selected “the one” it’s time to negotiate a price.
But remember, in the end, one of the most valuable lessons in any cooking class is to learn how to cook food properly. Many remarked that the various chickens were amazing. What was likely amazing was that they weren’t overcooked to the point of sticking to your teeth. And that’s got nothing to do with the appliance.
* A salamander is a dedicated broiler, a flamberge is a dedicated rotisserie and if you read the whole article, you know what a French Top is. 🙂
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