Rumford Kitchen

Though primitive cooking ranges had been around for much of the eighteenth century. The first commercially available ³modern² kitchen ranges began to appear about 1800, they were the invention of Count von Rumford, an American.

Quentin Crewe (The Great Chefıs of France) says: Count von Rumford (born Benjamin Thompson) produced a host of useful inventions, including the kitchen range, double boiler, baking oven, pressure-cooker and drip coffee maker . . .

From the point of view of cooking history, the most important of Rumfordıs invention was the kitchen range, which he proposed as the remedy for the waste of fuel and singeing of chefs that resulted from cooking on blazing open hearths. A typical Rumford arrangement consisted of a brick range, enclosing and separating a series of fires, above each of which a pot or stew-pan fitted into a circular, iron-rimmed opening. The heat of each fire could be separately regulated by varying the draught through its ash-pit door and the smoke was carried away by flues leading through the brickwork to the main chimney. Any temporarily unwanted fire was capped with an earthen-ware cover and its draught almost cut off. In this way it could be kept alive, but burning hardly any fuel.

The entire arrangement concentrated heat where it was needed, reduced fuel waste and made the chefıs work more bearable. simple as it seems, this invention, together with the baking oven, was mainly responsible for modern methods of cooking and baking.

Rumfordıs invention revolutionised the restaurant kitchen and the dishes it produced. The number of dishes on the carte was reduced and their types altered so that consistent quality could be achieved. Thus large roasts virtually vanished from restaurant menus and a range of dishes that could be prepared à la minute took over: pan-frying became the norm. It is interesting to note that French cooking with its accent on the "piano" a large flat cooking top varying in temperature from hot in the centre to cool at the extremities is a natural extension of Rumford kitchen range, and is the basis of todayıs French restaurant cooking techniques.

It was the happy coincidence of Rumfordıs range with the conceptual break-through of la carte, that changed eating-out as radically as the French Revolution did, politics. Dining in public would never be the same again.

Tony Knox
July 1997
İ 1997 Mietta's


Much of the information contained here comes from Quentin Crewe's excellent monograph that is the prelude to Great Chefs of France. The extracts from contemporary observers come from Sandy Michell who is working on a study of the evolution of French food in the seventeenth century.

Great Chefs of France
by Anthony Blake and Quentin Crewe
Marshall Editions Ltd., 1978.

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