Joy of cooking: The Hestan Cue system has an app-controlled induction burner the size of a Roomba, with temperature-sensing pots and pans. Picture: SUPPLIED
Joy of cooking: The Hestan Cue system has an app-controlled induction burner the size of a Roomba, with temperature-sensing pots and pans. Picture: SUPPLIED

When a recipe says set the stove to "medium-high" heat, what exactly does that mean? Nobody really knows.

Most cooks rely on primitive, vague instructions such as turning the dial to a spot they hope is halfway from medium to high. Cranking the most powerful burner to that point will deliver a good sizzle, but some will give a smoke-alarm-ripping sear.

Knowing and controlling the temperature of a stovetop in the same way as an oven’s is determined as one of the most obvious, useful improvements for kitchens. That is the promise of the $499 Hestan Cue system, an app-controlled induction burner with temperature-sensing pots and pans, and a new line of chef’s pots — all connected to each other via Bluetooth.

Hestan is a part of Meyer, a Hong Kong-based manufacturer of kitchen equipment and parent of such brands as Farberware, Anolon and Silver Stone.

Its 27cm pan is solidly made and weighs a touch beyond 1.5kg. The 1,600W induction burner takes up no more space than absolutely necessary, though the fan is a bit noisy.

Set-up is about as complicated as hooking up a wireless speaker to a phone. The pan’s Bluetooth transmitter is a pinky-sized module that takes an AAA battery and screws into the handle.

The app walks users through pairing the phone with the pan and burner. While the process is seamless, it is also much more in the spirit of Steve Jobs than Victorian chef Auguste Escoffier.

Joy of cooking: The Hestan Cue system has an app-controlled induction burner the size of a Roomba, with temperature-sensing pots and pans. Picture: SUPPLIED
Joy of cooking: The Hestan Cue system has an app-controlled induction burner the size of a Roomba, with temperature-sensing pots and pans. Picture: SUPPLIED

Unlike the recent fad for "smart" refrigerators, dishwashers and juicers, the Hestan Cue is one of the few kitchen appliances that benefits from being connected to the internet, to the extent that it is being used for the app’s recipes.

The app at the centre of the system is more than just a thermostat controller. It is a voluminous recipe bank with video demonstrations of crucial or confusing steps, and it automatically controls the burner. Most interesting is a mix-and-match option, in which a protein — choices include steak, salmon, sea scallops and eggplant, though that’s not technically a protein — with a complementary sauce such as Thai green curry, bacon emulsion and brandy-peach gastrique, to name a few. The app generates instructions on the fly.

Most recipes, whether for a citrus caramel sauce or a pan-seared flat iron steak, start with a short video introduction. The ones I tested were all clearly written and demonstrated. For a crispy skin-duck dish, the automatic temperature control made all the difference on the burnt honey glaze, when the line between perfect and pan-ruiningly carbonised can be just a few seconds (or degrees).

Because the system reads the temperature of the pan and not what’s in it, ingredients need to conform pretty closely to the recipes’ specifications. For example, the duck recipe calls for two (or four, depending on the number of servings you select) duck breasts. In the course of the preparation, you are asked to select how you would like your duck cooked — medium rare, medium, or medium well. Then you are asked to measure and select the thickness of your duck breast, using a (included) steel ruler.

The Control Freak and the Hestan Cue have a distinct drawback: clean-up. Since either is likely to be on countertops, smell and splatter will be less contained

Those two factors will determine the precise cooking time and temperatures for the duck. In my case, it was about 13 minutes, total. If, however, you have two different-sized duck breasts, they fall outside the automated thickness range, or you want one cooked to medium and the other medium rare, the system is ill-equipped to accommodate.

Should you lose the internet connection in the middle of cooking re-establishing a connection and resuming the cooking in flagrante requires a certain unflappability.

But tech-savvy novice cooks happy to stay within the app-given guardrails will turn out impressive dishes and probably become a better cook in the process. For expert cooks wanting a commercial-grade induction burner designed with precision temperature control — both for the pan and the food you’re cooking — consider the standard-setting $1,799 Control Freak from Breville
and Polyscience.

The Control Freak and the Hestan Cue have a distinct drawback: clean-up. Since either is likely to be on countertops, smell and splatter will be less contained.

Should that be an overriding concern, General Electric
offers an interesting product in its $144 Precision Cooking Probe, compatible with Monogram and Cafe series induction cooktops. It fixes magnetically to any induction-compatible pot or pan and provides similar temperature-control functionality.

Induction-cooking technology, which has been around since the beginning of the 20th century, is making inroads into home kitchens.

Hestan is smart to bank on the idea that if you learn to cook using induction heat, it’ll set your appetite for a more precise way to cook on high.

Bloomberg

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