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The Kitchen Cabinet

Zephyr Baking System Breezes In

February 04, 1988|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

Another innovative culinary device has arrived, and its manufacturer hopes it will change the way America bakes. The Zephyr cooking system, whose name means "warm gentle winds from the West," has been launched from Napa, Calif., literally to sell hot air--hot air that will help you cook like a professional.

Shaped like a miniature flying saucer, the Zephyr Convection Cooking System can "land" in the bottom of virtually any model electric oven. The motor disk has the capability to fan-force the heat generated by the element throughout the oven, converting it into a convection oven.

Yes, a convection oven. You know, the equipment that professional chefs and bakers swear by. Like this expensive equipment, which ranges in price from $800 to $2,000 and up, the Zephyr system ($140) transforms your oven into the kind that gives you mile-high souffles, crisp flaky pastries and succulent roasts that brown beautifully. Cookies at the back of the tray won't scorch and you can even bake on several racks at the same time.

'Eliminates Hot Spots'

"The constant air flow, moving over and around the food, eliminates the hot spots produced by the on-and-off heat cycles in a conventional oven," explained Gerald Sweeney, Zephyr president and chief operating officer. "It seals the surfaces of meats or poultry so moisture is trapped inside; you'll find considerably less amount of juices left in the pan because there is minimal shrinkage."

Not to mention saving time, he added. "Of course, you may not get it in Cornish game hens, but you can cook a 22-pound turkey for four hours versus about 7 1/2 in the regular oven. The bigger the mass, the more time saved."

Aside from time adjustment, some slight temperature reduction, which is energy saving as well, may be necessary. In the instruction booklet provided with the unit, Zephyr includes a helpful convection cooking chart and gourmet recipes that were developed by restaurateur and former White House executive chef Rene Verdon and food writer Jacqueline Mallorca.

"I think that the consumer is becoming so much more aware of what professional equipment can do for him," said Mallorca, who also does product testing for Williams-Sonoma. "When I tested the Zephyr at home, my oven became infinitely more efficient. French breads come out more crusty with a little surface shine . . . souffles rise very well . . . and it's fantastic for tarts and papillotes."

As a separate endeavor for William Morrow & Co., Verdon and Mallorca are close to completing a new cookbook on convection cooking to be released in the fall.

Unusual History

The Zephyr system packaging explains that the unit is "powered by a special heat-resistant GE motor." According to Sweeney, this statement reflects a very unusual product history. The unit was conceived by a San Francisco-based inventor and fishing book author, Ken Thorne, who wanted to have a convection oven to cook his fish but didn't have the room or money to remodel his old kitchen. He then called the engineers at General Electric on their 24-hour-a-day, toll-free number in Fort Wayne, Ind., asking them to develop a motor fan for his oven. It took Thorne a year and a half of calling every Sunday at 2 a.m. (he caught them when they weren't busy, or when he was playing crossword puzzles).

Thorne's persistence challenged the engineers, and after heavy testing the invention took form. The unit has a non-stick surface; and except for its motor, all parts can be cleaned in the dishwasher. The system can be easily installed and comes with a clear instructional audio cassette tape. For more information, call Zephyr's toll-free number at 800-635-7774.

Another product that promotes the use of hot air for cooking is the electric hot-air corn popper from Wear-ever Proctor-Silex. The company that created this category a decade ago is now introducing a stackable Popcorn Pumper ($23.95) in pearl gray with smoke-gray chute and red trim. It's the only hot air unit that can be compactly stored on its collar with the removable shoot stacked neatly over the base.

On top of the cover is a convenient 1/2-cup popcorn measurer that also works for melting butter in the microwave. For the health conscious and for those couch potatoes glued to the television, the Popcorn Pumper produces low-calorie, fluffy popcorn without the use of oil. It is also half the cost of most packaged microwaved corn. You'll also get a lot more popped popcorn . . . the only thing you have to bear with is the noise level, but popping takes only a few minutes.

The Zephyr Convection Cooking System is available at Williams-Sonoma stores or through their mail-order department. Call (415) 421-4242 or write to P.O. Box 7456, San Francisco, Calif. 94120-7456. It will soon be available at the Broadway and at Cookin' Stuff (Torrance and La Habra).

The Popcorn Pumper from Wear-ever Proctor Silex is available at Target stores.

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