09 Dec 2012
( 5/5 )
Well, my new cooker has been in situ for a couple of weeks now, so I thought it was about time I reviewed it.
The Falconer Kitchener 90 is a small range cooker. The standard range size is 110, and that's the width of the Falcon Continental I've craved for 20 years, but a range of 110 is too big for our kitchen, where the cooker has to slot into a space between the window and the tumble dryer so that I'm not staring at a wall whenever I cook.
This being rural France, there is also no town gas, and nor was there a strong enough electric point, so the latter had to be installed at a cost of about 500 euros, which was rather a shock.
The cooker itself is dual fuel (gas burners, electric ovens) and cost a little over 1,200 euros - a bargain price from an online retailer called VPC Boost. Full price, it used to cost something like 3,000 euros, but it looks to me like they're clearing old stock as the new Kitchener has an induction top rather than gas burners, which I'm not tempted by - I like my gas.
When I told a friend how much I was thinking of spending on a cooker, he said: "You could buy a car for that." My reply was that I cook a lot more often than I drive...
The Kitchener isn't available in the UK - it's a model only sold in Europe and Australia, as far as I can tell, at least under the Falcon label. In the UK, it's sold as a Rangemaster, which has a lower build quality. However, in terms of build quality, I imagine you can extrapolate.
Since I was buying sight unseen (I can't afford to buy from a shop with retail markup), the build quality was paramount. I know Falcon cookers, and they've been recommended to me by professional chefs, so I needed to trust in the construction.
Here are the reasons I chose the Kitchener:
1 Cast-iron supports. The mild steel supports on my last two cookers have lasted about five minutes, partly because I do a lot of wok cookery on high heat.
2 A grill. I've lived in France since 1996 and haven't had a grill for any of that time, and I did so long for one. I've gotten used to using griddle pans, but that's not much help for cheese on toast.
3 Door-mounted roasting rack. This is a fabulous feature, where the roasting tin is attached to the oven door, so swings out when you open it. Invented, I think, by Falcon, but since copied by other manufacturers. You can remove it for conventional cooking.
4 Fan-assisted electric ovens. Cleaner than gas and no worries about blowout.
When the cooker arrived, it took a while to get it installed (we're not exactly wick with electricians in this neck of the woods, and mine is also my plumber). Then when he installed it, we found, to our dismay that two of the burners seemed weak and went out when we turned them down, while two others were on high all the time.
I emailed Falcon for advice, as my electrician had seemed pretty nonplussed by the whole thing (despite the documentation in several languages), and they suggested that the bypass valves were the wrong way round (they even sent diagrams - so much for their poor reputation for customer service). And indeed that proved to be the case. Now the burners are sorted out, and they are great - clear, even flames and steady cooking. You can whack them down to a simmer with a single turn (the settings go from off, to high, to simmer for one-handed operation).
The whole cooker is built like a tank. The doors close with a satisfying thunk, the knobs are chunky, the cast-iron supports are rock solid and pans clonk down onto them with no messing around. The enamel feels inches thick and throws off dirt and spills easily with a hot cloth.
But the ovens are a revelation. Timers, self-cleaning liners, crisp, even cooking on every shelf. The right-hand oven even has an integral plate-warming rack. I've managed so long with a failing cooker that I'd forgotten what oven cookery can be like, but fan-assist is new to me altogether and it's wondrous.
I once owned a chicken brick (which sadly came a cropper on our taps) and it gave a lovely quality to food - everything tasted wonderfully clear and clean, and retained its texture. The fan assist seems to work in the same way, instantly sealing the outside of foodstuffs while retaining the internal moisture. Roast vegetables don't collapse and end up all tasting the same.
And obviously, it cooks in much less time. They recommend lowering the temperature by 10 degrees and the cooking time by 10 minutes, but it's safer to lower both by 20. This thing can cook a chicken in 45 minutes on full heat, including the pre-heat time, which hardly gives you time to get everything else ready. It's so fast, it's slightly scary, but it's fabulous to decide at 11.30 that you want a roast for lunch, and to then eat it an hour later. It's also wonderful to set the timer and have an oven that turns itself off, and to be able to cook any item on any shelf and not dick about having to move things from one level to another all the time.
That said, we actually christened this cooker with cheese and schwartzwälder schinken on toast, and it was fantastic.
There are a few slight quibbles with this machine, but they are so slight they're hardly worth bothering with. The first is that, for me, the burner ignition is slightly fiddly, as I normally turn the cooker knob with my left hand while holding a pan in my right, but the ignition switch is on the left and you have to push in the heat knob simultaneously (it's a safety feature), so I found myself crossing hands all the time. The trick is to put the pan down, and use your right hand to turn the knob, while pressing the ignition switch with your left.
And because the right-hand oven is very narrow, the terrines, baking trays, etc, have to be very small to allow air to circulate, which has meant that some of mine can only be used in the left-hand oven. This has entailed my buying new baking trays (for a mini-oven, I realised later) and new terrines, and I'm now on the lookout for a deep casserole with a lid so I can cook a larger quantity in a single dish. Still, having to go out and buy new cookware is the kind of chore a girl don't mind.
Others have also mentioned that the grill pan is a bit fiddly - it's a tight fit, and goes in at a bit of an angle. But I'm not personally finding that a problem.
There are many warnings in the manual about cleaning with non-abrasive cleaners and not being rough with the cooker and scratching it, and I am keen to take very good care of it, as it's got to last me a very long time. But all I can say is so far, so perfect.