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The Kitchen Cabinet

The Era of Haute Couture Cookware Arrives With European Lines

February 11, 1988|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

Some people can fall in love with cookware.

Some cookware manufacturers are aware of this, and they design cookware that people can fall in love with.

Now, some cookware sets are made to look beautiful but that's about it.

In other words, is there a cookware that says that beauty is not only "metal" deep?

Alessi and Bourgeat were designed with both looks and function in mind. As you might expect, the third thing they have in common is the high price tag. For $4,500, Alessi from Italy offers a 23-piece set of avant-garde cookware designed by world-renowned designer Richard Sapper according to the specifications of seven famous chefs from Italy and France. Prices for individual pieces range from $33 for a saucepan lid to $725 for the magnificent copper fish poacher.

The Alessi line was in the simmering pot for seven years before it was done to the liking of its designer and the consulting chefs. Crafted from different metals for specific uses, the collection is eclectic. (Didn't they ever tell you that professionals like to have a combination of pots and pans?)

Copper, which offers the best heat conduction, was the choice for quick-cooking utensils in the Alessi series. Thick copper is sandwiched in stainless steel on the cooking surface with very thin aluminum on the saute pans, cassoulet and the risotto pan. For boiling pots, colander, covers and handles, stainless steel was used. Intended for long cooking and heat retention was cast iron, which was molded into the Dutch oven. Then there's black steel, chosen for the frying pans for constant temperature.

Included in the set are Alain Chapel's lovely sauteuse in copper and stainless and mahogany-handled whisk; Michel and Pierre Troisgros' black steel crepe pans, Roger Verge's copper fish poacher, Raymond Thuilier's cast-iron Dutch oven, Gualtiero Marchesi's stockpots, low pots and colander and Angelo Paracucchi's unique flambe set with chafing dish.

According to Vicki Kriegler, assistant buyer at Lynn Deutch, price seems to be no object for people who demand totally functional cookware.

"It isn't just decorative, not something to hang on the rack above their vintage stove," she said; "it's something to use, similar to what a fine restaurant would use." Kriegler said more of her store's customers are buying groupings or individual pieces such as a crepe or omelet pan. She added, "It isn't Farberware, not something you buy as a whole set . . . people will spread out their buying and come back for another piece. Brides are also starting to come in and register."

Valued like fine jewelry for its warm glow, copper cookware is the preference of many cooks. Another investment possibility is one designed by Jacques Pepin and made by Bourgeat, France's leading professional cookware manufacturer.

"This was the first time I had a chance to create a cookware line by myself," Jacques Pepin said. "In my travels, I discovered a real need among consumers for top quality copper cookware."

The full open-stock line includes 20 gorgeous pieces plus 17 lids and is valued at $3,700. Important pieces include a slope-sided evasee or fry pan, an oval fish skillet and various size saucepans. In the Bourgeat/Pepin Signature Collection (now featured at an introductory price of $495), there are only three covered pieces. The reason, according to Pepin, is that "90% of all your recipes may be prepared with three basic pieces."

The noted chef designed a 5-quart sautoir , which sautes vegetables, browns meat and heats sauces. For sauteing fish, preparing roasts, making au gratin potatoes, he created the long-handled 2 1/2-quart saucepan which has a non-stick lining. The last item is the 5 3/4-quart casserole or sait-tout (which means "do all" in French) for braising roasts, simmering soups or even baking a souffle.

According to Bourgeat president Michel Scheinmann, the cookware was tested by 4,000 restaurant chefs in France, most of whom found the new cookware to be superior to anything they had previously used. The chefs liked the idea that it didn't have to be retinned like old copper cookware, he said. Aside from wearing out quickly, the copper lining reacted with foods. In the Bourgeat, a micro-thin layer of stainless steel acts as a barrier between the food and the copper without interfering with the cooking properties of copper.

Pepin wanted a heavier weight copper cookware, Scheinmann said. "The thicker the metal the more heat energy is stored. The cookware is wonderful for people who are not good cooks . . . the better your cookware, the more forgiving it is. It'll respond to whatever their cooking needs are."

Another plus he mentioned is that although the pans heat up very quickly, they also cool down very quickly. With the stainless-steel interior, the cookware offers durability and easy care. However, from time to time the copper has to be cleaned with non-abrasive polish.

A third metal element in the cookware is cast iron, which is used in the handles so they don't become hot. Aside from versatility in function, the cookware pieces are stunning enough to serve at the table.

The Alessi Cookware Set is available at Lynn Deutch and may be special ordered from the Industrial Revolution or Malibu Art and Design.

The Bourgeat/Pepin Signature Collection is available at Let's Get Cooking in Westlake Village, The Open Hearth in Studio City, and Montana Mercantile. For brochures and mail order, write to: Bourgeat USA, 10 Wheeling Avenue, Woburn, MA 01801 or call 617 933-1990.

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