Classic chef Julia Child eagerly adopted time-saving appliances

Consumer Reports News: August 15, 2012 02:57 PM

Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. The imperturbable chef, author and television personality believed that even home cooks could make sophisticated French fare if they followed a clear recipe. Her kitchens were simple and functional and she depended on some everyday gadgets and appliances to prepare her food. Updated versions of some of her favorites, including a stand mixer, food processor and blender, have done very well in Consumer Reports tests.

According to author Alex Prud'homme, Julia Child's great-nephew, she liked to describe herself as "a knife freak, frying pan freak, and gadget freak." She donated the entire kitchen from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts to the Smithsonian Institute. And while the centerpiece of the room is her six-burner Garland commercial gas range, many of the other tools of her trade would be comfortable on anyone's counter. Here are a few that made an impression on us.

Stand mixers. Child said her blue KitchenAid stand mixer was "absolutely marvelous." Like her recipes, KitchenAid stand mixers have stood the test of time. Of the four stand mixers on our list of top picks, three are KitchenAids that range in price from $200 to $300. The KitchenAid Classic has held the top position in our stand mixer Ratings for years because of its excellent whipping, mixing and kneading capabilities.

Knives. Child liked to say that she had "enough knives to outfit a pirate ship," according to Prud'homme. But she advised cooks to start with three: a chef's knife, a paring knife and a bread knife. She also wielded a cleaver and a butcher's saw for meatier tasks. We don't know what brand of knife Child preferred but in our tests of knives, sets from Zwilling J.A. Henckels, Wusthof and Kershaw made the cut. We can also imagine Child brandishing knives from Ginsu Chikara, at $75 a CR Best Buy, because of their excellent cutting performance.

Wall ovens. While Child preferred her "big Garland," she used an electric convection wall oven on her last three cooking shows, according to the Smithsonian. The cooking champs in our wall oven tests include two Whirlpools and a Bosch. Both the Bosch and the top-scoring Whirlpool WOS92EC0AH have convection modes. Handsomely outfitted in stainless steel, they are ready for their close-up.

Food processors. When it came to food prep, Child was quick to adopt any gadget that made her work easier. In the 1960s, she brought a prototype of the Robot Coupe food processor to the United States for demonstration. An American version was later produced by Cuisinart. But the one featured in her kitchen at the Smithsonian was made by KitchenAid. "This thing is one of the greatest breakthroughs since the mixer," Child's is quoted in the display. A $100 KitchenAid in our food processor tests earned a CR Best Buy. But our top machine is the Breville Sous Chef BFP800XL from Sur La Table, which costs $400 and was excellent at slicing, grating shredding and chopping.

Blenders. Child once said she loved "that Waring blender" but the one in the Smithsonian is a Cuisinart. In her early cookbooks, she featured blender recipes for Hollandaise and mayonnaise. The Vita-Mix 5200, $450, tops our list of recommended blenders but the $60 Ninja Master Prep Professional matched it task for task in our tests for durability, ice crush and icy drinks. The Ninja was not as good at pureeing soup and grating cheese, so maybe not the best choice for Child.

Whenever Child used a new gadget on one of her cooking shows, her viewers were quick to adapt it, says the Smithsonian. She whipped home cooks into a frenzy when she used a whisk and a salad spinner and she encouraged them to try non-stick cookware when it was new to the market. She also introduced home cooks to such traditional tools as the French rolling pin and mandoline. But it was Child herself who was the real classic. Some of the recipes she made famous are available on the PBS website. As she always said in her signature sign-off, "Bon appétit!"

Mary H.J. Farrell

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