Oven temperatures in the oven were off by 50 degrees; its hottest temperature seemed to be about 390 degrees; the infrared broiler--never its best feature, it turned out--died halfway through browning a trout last year; and, worst of all, the burner flames had become irregular, sending up blue then gold flames, high on one side, sputtering low on the other. Without a reliable simmer, my gorgeous Soupe de Poisson scorched and my favorite fat Italian beans burned. For someone whose mainstay is stovetop cooking, this was, I finally admitted, untenable.
However, I'm a faithful lover and wasn't going to cast aside my long-time companion and good friend without some serious counseling. I called a specialist in Viking repairs. He arrived on time, looking old enough to be competent and trained in the latest techniques but not so old as to be blasé about a woman's distress. I explained to him that I wrote cookbooks and how important it was to me to have everything on my range working properly.
He asked if I had a show on Food TV. When I said "No," he opened the oven, tested the broiler, tried out the burners, opened the bottom panel, and then closed it. Standing up, he put his tools away. "Sorry, lady, this thing is too old. There aren't any parts for it anymore. You gotta buy a new stove. Might even get you a TV show."
Yes, but could I really strike up a lasting romance with a brand new stove? One tricked out with brass and stainless steel? Was there a person lurking inside me who wore glamour like an old shoe, ready for love with a stranger? And, more practically, was this the economic moment for such an extravagance?
I plowed my doubt into cooking. I prepared a pot-au-feu, an economical stovetop dish I'd learned to make during the years I kept goats and pigs in Provence. I cleaned spring greens from my garden, braising them in olive oil, adding tender green garlic. I pan-fried pork chops with rice and simmered them (watching carefully for burning) with the last of my homemade Shady Lady tomato sauce from last summer's crop. I made some simple syrup to pour over sliced blood oranges from my trees. The old stove worked mightily to please me.
A week later a fateful email sailed into my inbox. Correction: two fateful emails. Reps at Wolf and La Cornu would like to offer me--the emails said, respectively--a "professional discount" on their stoves. Half price, they said, about $4,000 (or twice what my current stove had cost). Nothing like a deal to convince me I truly need something.
But, on the first night after the offer, I woke up with sweaty hands and a thumping heart at 3 a.m. I got out of bed, pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a sweater, made a cup of chamomile tea, turned on my computer and looked again at my options. There was the highly regarded, most-recommended by dealers, distributors, and consumers, 6-burner, 15,000 btu WOLF range with industrial red knobs and a cavernous gas oven--like my current range, but so new and efficient as to be practically unrecognizable as a relative; or, the glamorous CornuFé beckoning me with its shiny, dark green enamel, stainless trim, brass knobs and double electric ovens.