Features to Look for in Prosumer Appliances

What level of performance do you need for your kitchen appliances? Some appliances are really "just like the pros use," while others are more consumer-friendly. Here are seven questions to help you choose.

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The Diva 1600 from Diva de Provence is a fully customizable range.

Do you want to cook like a pro or just look like a pro? That's the essential question you should answer before investing in any professional-quality appliances for your kitchen, says designer Ken Dempsey, a 35-year kitchen veteran who owns NorthShore Kitchens Plus in Marblehead, Mass.

"I do a lot of pro-style refrigerators, ranges and ovens from companies such as Wolf and Sub-Zero. They have a bold, commercial look and are heavy duty. If you have the pocketbook and will use and love them, it's easy to make the decision to purchase," he says.

But for those who simply like the visual appeal or rarely pick up a sauté pan? "The pro brands make simpler versions of the same appliances in a more residential style, and there are loads of look-a-likes to consider," says Dempsey.

Before deciding whether you're in the "pro" or "show" market, narrow your choices by answering these seven questions, which are followed by advice from Dempsey and other kitchen design experts:

COOKTOPS

Do I want to sear, braise and fricassee or occasionally scramble some eggs?

"True chef-style cooking requires high heat, which means gas heat," says interior designer Sue Adams of Andover, Mass. While many retailers advertise a "professional" line of electric ranges, they just don't put out enough BTUs for flashing fish or searing meats. "You can't have a pro kitchen with an electric cooktop," she says.

Which statement best describes my attitude? A) I will try any recipe, however complicated, and particularly like to try ethnic specialties. B) If it's not ready in 15 minutes or less, forget it.

If you're going to spend quality time concocting complex dishes, Dempsey recommends a pro-quality range with a simmering feature. "Wolf has that down pat, better than any cooktop or range in the industry," he says. "It allows you to simmer a dish for hours without developing that burn taste or smell."

If you're not going to a lot of trouble preparing food, you're probably better off with a lesser quality range and a high-quality microwave, he says.

I entertain or have the whole family over for a big meal A) once a week B) once a month C) once a year.

"While it seems to be a voguish thing, you really don't need six burners on your cooktop unless you'll regularly have several chefs working madly over high heat," says Adams.

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Lacanche offers a range of French-style commercial stoves.

OVENS

Do my restaurant-quality creations need to stay piping hot for diners who eat at different times, or do I usually rev up the microwave to make Lean Cuisine after work?

The warming drawer is a pro-quality feature that's ideal for homes where a quality home-cooked meal may be ready before everyone's ready to eat. Ken Dempsey has one in his own kitchen and says, "If you have a schedule-crazy household like me, once you have one, you'd never want to live without it again. It keeps food at the ideal temperature, without drying it out and without cooking it more."

Do I like the look of stainless steel because it reminds me of watching my favorite chefs on television, or do I endure the look so I can get pro-quality cooking features?

If you're just putting up with stainless steel when you'd prefer a pro-grade stove with some color, consider Lacanche's double-oven commercial stoves. "They have excellent features you wouldn't find in the typical American oven, like dual fuel and a warming oven for people who really want to cook," says Linda Applewhite, an interior designer in Sausalito, Calif. "Here on the West Coast, we're seeing a trend towards French stoves and one of the reasons is that they're professional-looking and also come in all these great enamel colors."

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Sub-Zero's side by side refrigerators are huge but can be integrated.

REFRIGERATORS

What's in prime working order: my food processor and finely sharpened knives or the speed-dial on the phone I use to order takeout?

"A pro fridge like a Sub-Zero is huge and it's really meant for people who need to store a lot of ingredients for constant cooking," says Sue Adams. "They do have better seals on the doors and compartments at different temps so different things won't spoil, and special gaskets so odors won't go from one compartment to another."

But if you're not a fervent cook, the big fridge is unnecessary, she says. "You can afford to let a lot of milk go sour for the difference in price between a Sub-Zero and a residential model," she says.

Adams does like the design lines of the built-in pro-quality fridge. "It's a nice, clean plane that fits the profile of the cabinetry."

If you do opt for a Sub-Zero refrigerator, Adams advises against the optional glass doors. "Do you really want people to see inside your refrigerator?" she asks. "And if all they'd be seeing is your takeout boxes, you may want to reconsider the purchase altogether."

MONEY AND BUDGET

Is the price a lot lower on one of the "pro quality" brands I'm considering?

While the wannabe claims to "pro quality" appliances are nowhere near as numerous as they are for smaller kitchen implements, like splatter screens or candy thermometers, some manufacturers will claim a "professional" performance edge where none exists. You can usually tell by the price tag, says Dempsey.

"If you pay less, you get less," he says. "The lower-cost model will work differently. If they could make it work the same way as the expensive model, they'd have to charge the same kind of price."

My budget for an appliance upgrade is A) $200-$300 B) $2,000-$3,000 C) What budget?

"If you do have just a little extra, put it where the upgrade would make a substantial difference," says Dempsey. "For example, if you put just $200-$300 more into a pro-quality dishwasher by Asco instead of buying the typical residential model, you'll experience a significant difference in your kitchen atmosphere? the unit's so quiet you can talk while it's running without raising your voice, and it's large enough to hold the really big pots and pans and more dishes."

In contrast, a significant difference in a pro-quality cooktop versus a high-quality residential unit could cost literally thousands of dollars, notes Dempsey.

"Whenever you consider a kitchen appliance, you need to compare different makes and models, feature for feature," he says. "It all comes down to what would benefit you the most and be a good thing for your lifestyle — and what will keep giving you a benefit for the long haul."

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