SAN FRANCISCO — From the Department of Things You Did Not Know You Needed comes … the see-through toaster.
The Magimix Vision toaster, which has glass sides so you can watch your bread brown, is being introduced at Williams-Sonoma stores nationwide this spring.
And at $299.95 a pop, this device takes some serious bread — sorry. But store officials believe there is a clear market for a transparent toaster.
“The ‘wow effect’ is pretty cool on this,” says Bradley Kleparek, electrics buyer for San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma. He sees the toaster, already popular in Europe, finding a home with people who “like those kind of cool gadgets and like to make a statement in their kitchen.”
And like toast. A lot.
Devotion to things toasted goes back as far as fire. But having a nifty gadget to do it with has a long history, too.
Early pieces are just simple forks, but by the 18th century, gadgeteers were dreaming of bigger things, says Val Roy Berryman, curator of history at the Michigan State University Museum, which recently put on an exhibit on food and kitchen utensils.
He was struck by one device, a flat brass paddle shaped like a piece of bread with holes drilled through it and mounted on the end of a long, wrought-iron handle. “Just a beautiful device for toasting,” he says.
Other models were cage-like items that were placed in front of a fireplace and flipped around to achieve the desired level of doneness. Some had the refinement of a metal heart or other pattern worked into the grill to give the toasted bread a decorative effect.
These days you can get electric toasters that leave little Hello Kitty faces on your bread.
That isn’t toast’s only brush with celebrity.
In the rebel road movie, “Five Easy Pieces,” Jack Nicholson makes a dogged, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort to get a side order of wheat toast. And, on a slightly different plane, the 1987 animated film “The Brave Little Toaster,” chronicles the adventures of some older but still useful appliances that seek out their former owner after being abandoned.
What makes toast tasty is known as the Maillard reaction, named for French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard. Exposed to radiant heat, sugars and proteins in the bread combine, turning brown and taking on a nuttier flavor.
Great moments in toast history include the invention of Nichrome in 1905, an alloy used in high-resistance wire that could be heated quickly. In the ’20s pop-up toasters appeared, but the device didn’t really take off until the ’30s and the invention of sliced bread, according to the Colorado-based Grain Foods Foundation.
More refinements followed — a recent model can simultaneously toast bread and poach an egg.
And a few companies have tried transparency, including the fabulously named Toast-O-Lator from the ’40s, which worked on an assembly line concept — the toast went in one end and was slowly propelled to the other with a porthole on the side offering a peek at the process.
Sleek chrome beauties from the early 20th century are desirable collectibles today, testament to the staying power of toast and toasters.
Eric Norcross, founder of The Toaster Foundation Museum, was bitten by the toaster bug some years ago as owner of an art gallery and cafe in Seattle. He wanted to serve something warming, decided on toast, then realized the best way to do that was with tabletop toasters so customers could get their bread at the peak of crispy perfection. One toaster led to another and before long he had a collection that eventually was donated to a museum after he and wife Kelly Godfrey moved to Ontario to open a B&B.
Sleek and modern with infrared technology, patented heat reflectors and four quartz heating tubes, the Magimix Vision toaster stars in its own video, posted on YouTube and set to rather mystical music. Magimix is from the French company Robot Coupe, known for their professional food processors. The design is French, but the toasters being sold by Williams-Sonoma are made in China.
The Magimix “looked pretty good, it seems interesting,” says Norcross, who has seen the video. The price wasn’t a dealbreaker for him since “you have to pay for quality.”
But Berryman wasn’t so sure.
“$299 — is that really the price? I don’t know that I’ll run out and buy one,” he said.
But what if it makes really good toast?
“It better,” he said.