Top chef Catherine Fulvio knows exactly what she’s looking for in an oven. She offers some tips and advice to.
Catherine Fulvio is a cook, author, teacher, and TV celebrity chef known for her own programmes and her participation in RTÉ’s retro food show Lords & Ladles.
She’s happily bound professionally and emotionally to her cooker.
Up to her eyes in culinary adventures, travelling, and media demands, Catherine spends much of her year in the bustling, fragrant surroundings of Ballyknocken House & Cookery School, in Ashford, Co Wicklow.
Using the right equipment is key to her success. But could a new cooker make someone a better cook? “Without doubt — some of the latest technologies available can really help,” says Catherine.
“Some ovens do not require pre-heating and this can be a great feature when short on time. In my oven, you can cook up to three sweet or savoury dishes at the same time.”
Fan-assisted electric ovens of all configurations cook faster, more efficiently, more evenly, and reduce flavour crossover between dishes.
Is there anything practical she can’t do without?
Best of all is a function to help when cleaning your oven — a 30-minute programme. Working at 260C/500F, this will steam your cavity, softening any heavy dirt from roasting allowing an easier and better clean.
I asked Catherine to pick a single baking feature she adores — her love of Italian food proves itself again.
“The dough rising function is a godsend for me. We make a lot of pizza at home and in our Italian cookery classes — it’s great for making perfect focaccia bread.”
Splitting the service of oven and hob makes a lot of sense in a smaller kitchen, allowing the area below a hob to act solely as storage for hob pans and accessories.
Does she rate this divide and conquer arrangement? “Yes, I do. I am all about ergonomics in the kitchen as this is where I spend most of my day.
The kitchen is rightly referred to as the heart of the home. It really benefits from careful planning, ensuring ease of use of appliances and workspace while allowing for comfortable modern living.
When I’m at home I want to be able to prepare the family meal while catching up with the children so an island hob is great for this and the oven is behind on the wall. I also like to get them involved — a large workspace is great and very social.
Built-in single or double ovens by top names including AEG, Bosch, Neff, Miele, and Smeg have become something of a must-have in a German-style slab front kitchen, but real capacities and physical position is everything.
For a single, standard built-in allow 60x60x60/90cm (widths depending on model) and consider if an eye level or even under-counter position would suit you best.
Where storage and counter space is short, under-counter ovens can add a good 60cm width of useful additional real estate overhead.
At eye level, a second level to include, say, a microwave or steamer oven can be added above the oven. Loading heavy pans and looking into an oven is far easier in a standing rather than a crouched position.
Heights of 90cm are standard with double ovens stacked one over the other at eye level within cabinetry — superbly sleek with a fan-assisted, multi-function larger oven doing most of the work with a smaller oven below.
Coming at 50-76l per oven, cavities will generally not be split equally. Check usable cooking space — will the lead oven take your largest, favourite pan?
To go under the counter, the combined oven heights will be 72cm, and this can lead to the greatest compromise in a double arrangement in terms of cook size.
The double oven dilemma built in at counter height is exactly as it is for a freestanding cooker. Cool touch oven doors at a low level are vital in a kitchen over-run with young children.
Freestanding cookers offer superb value, and there are highly contemporary slot-in versions that sit well in runs of handle-free cabinetry.
It’s not a case of either or in terms of the edgy, modern look. An induction hob in a modern slot-in delivers a crisp, clean finish that is highly precise to cook with and easy to keep immaculately clean.
Ovens come just as the built-ins in a conventional, fan assisted and multi-function versions.
A freestanding cooker or slot-in version will allow you to take the oven with you when and if you move.
Up to 60cm is generally considered a standard freestanding width, with 70cm straying into the range cooker and double ovens (where they are offered) set side by side rather than one over the other.
Whatever style you pick, planning is essential.
The biggest thing in kitchen ergonomics is the work-triangle which is based around food preparation, cooking, and washing and that all are within easy reach so that you can move freely and comfortably within that triangle.
Apart from features such as fan assist and dual fuel options, the grill position may sway your final choice. With a multi-function oven, the grill will be subsumed in the oven cavity.
The best gas grilling is ‘surface combustion’ but electric grills have come a long way, heating up super fast. Zoned heating oven features have overcome much of the problems with electric cookers heating hotter or colder in areas of the oven cavity.
You can use this to your advantage depending on the dish; it’s a matter of getting to know your oven’s performance intimately.
Hob nobs and fuel choices
For counter-mounted hobs, the smallest hob or additional space is a ‘domino hob’. Rectangular, usually 30cm with two-three rings running in from the counter rather than across it, a slim domino can add cooking options to your existing cooker or act alone elsewhere in the kitchen.
I use both, gas in the cookery school and induction hob at home and since I’ve moved over to induction at home I am amazed at how efficient it is. It does take a little bit of getting used to but when you do you will find it is so responsive and heats up and cools down almost instantly.
The ferrous iron-bottomed pans needed to make use of inductions should be factored into your spend.
It’s worth keeping in mind that a tasty 85% of the heat produced by an induction hob will go straight into cooking, making it 50% more efficient than a gas or standard ceramic electric model.
“My induction hob has a simmer function which automatically senses when something comes to the boil and it adjusts to a simmer which is great if cooking a ham or making a soup or you just get distracted!”