Perhaps it was the color. Or the boldness of the design. For sure it was the see-through glass lid and the stainless steel handle that didn't get hot. Anyway, you can call it love at first sight with a cookware.
The attachment started several years ago at a gourmet housewares show when my wandering eye spotted a set of enamel-on-steel cookware in bright, bold cobalt blue. Perhaps the impulsive, risky (because I didn't know anything about cooking on enamel) purchase could also be blamed on the attractive, tall woman with the big veiled hat who proudly spoke about her innovative cookware line that came in brilliant colors. Today when I look at my Chantal pieces, which I use almost daily, I'm amazed at how they stand out like brand-new among my mixed collection of stainless steel, aluminum and copper pots.
A mechanical engineer from Germany, the woman with the big hat behind the cookware was Heida Thurlow, president of Houston-based Lentrade Inc., which was founded in 1976. Thurlow used her work background and German pension money to successfully manufacture the line.
"It took a long time, and I wasn't blessed with a huge inheritance," she said. "But this year we expect sales of more than $5 million. The first three months of this year was already 63% over the first three months of last year."
Aside from word-of-mouth, media exposure has added to Chantal's popularity. In the last year, Chantal's cookware and tea kettles have been stealing the show, popping up in numerous movie and television scenes.
Thurlow chose the name Chantal in honor of her heroine, Coco Chanel. "She's the first lady to go into men's design and I am the first woman to go into cookware design. It's still a man's world out there, you know."
Queried about the hat (which is now a tradition when she goes to the shows), she explained that she bought it to attract attention in her booth in those days when competing with the big guys was tough for the newcomer.
The challenge to bring out something different and useful motivated Thurlow. "It always irritated me when I couldn't see what's inside the pot," she said. "Although there were a few glass-lidded pans then, most of them had plastic handles." Battling the difficulty of attaching stainless steel to enamel, Lentrade won a patent on the attachment mechanism. "We designed an air pocket, a poor conductor of heat, between the pot and the handle, to prevent the handle from getting hot," Thurlow said.
Based on the success of some existing product concepts, Lentrade's newest products are the Fondue Pot with Glass Warming Stand ($100), the Omelette Pan (from $40) and the new Chantal Tea Kettle ($100).
Comeback of Fondue Set
Excited about the fondue set, Thurlow said: "It was popular about 15 years ago, but in the last 12 months, the fondue set has started to show increase in sales in the bridal registry." She particularly likes to use it for Oriental-style hot pot cooking, which cooks paper-thin slices of meat and cut-up vegetables in broth for very light meals. Because the enamel on steel heats up so quickly and maintains heat well, it is suitable for this concept.
Beautifully sculpted into a square light-refractive "crown," the fondue glass stand can also withstand the strong heat of an alcohol burner, which is required for the hot pot. When making chocolate and cheese fondues, Thurlow suggests using votive candles, which generate lower heat.
The stand is a modification of the Grande Stand (from $27.50). Introduced in 1986 for warming tea, coffee, melted butter and foods on the dinner or buffet table, the Grande Stand is shaped like a glass crown with a candle nestled in the center. "The heating element has been around for many, many years," Thurlow said, "the German word is \o7 teelicht\f7 , a light under the teapot. It keeps tea hot at the table without getting bitter."
A unique feature about the fondue set is the stainless-steel fork set, which comes with rings etched on the handles. "I think our aim to pay attention to details is paying off in the fondue set," she said. Inspired by a suggestion from Williams-Sonoma, Thurlow designed the forks to have from one to six etched rings, "so that each person can recognize his own fork."
Oven-Proof Omelet Pan
A timely coincidence, the Chantal Omelette Pan arrived in our Test Kitchen the day we were looking for a nice-looking oven-proof omelet pan while testing a puffy cheese omelet. It's a good investment for cooks who make omelets frequently. Made of extra-heavy carbon steel, the cooking surface is ridged for even oil and even heat distribution. The concentric ridges also prevent warping, which is quite common in omelet pans, and the sides of the pan are curved so that the omelet can slide out easily. Having the smoothness of enamel, very little oil is needed to cook. In fact, we found that a nonstick spray works as a substitute for any fat, a tip for weight watchers.