Saturday, September 10, 2016

THE STOVE THAT STARTED IT ALL

Have you ever been to Cincinnati?  I simply love the place, specifically the "Over The Rhine" area, also know as OTR.  It's were my dad was born, and was our family's summer road trip destination for many of my early years.

For decades Cincinnati's perch on the Ohio river made it the Gateway to the West for immigrants using water highways to make their way from the east coast to lands beyond the Mississippi.  It's frontier port town identity is reflected in dense concentrations of 1800's architecture.  Seriously detailed and colorfully painted residential and commercial brick buildings cling to steep hills overlooking downtown and the beautiful bridges spanning the Ohio river.

John A. Roebling Bridge, 1867 in Cincinnati, Ohio, from Cincinnati side over the ohio river
Yes, this bridge should look familiar.  The John A. Roebling Bridge, 1867, was the practice run for the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883.

The steep grades of many Cincinnati streets puts the fear of God into any flatlander driving a stick shift.  My aunt loved to ride her (1 speed!) bike on those hilly streets as a kid, and cried because her over-developed calves inspired some schoolmates to tease her for having boy's legs.

When I'm trying to sum up Cincy's look and feel to someone in just a few words, "San Francisco of the Midwest" is my default phrase.  The photo I show is this view from our friend's house, in the heart of OTR:

Over the Rhine neighborhood, Cincinnati, Ohio, showing rooftops and church spires and Music Hall

Considering all the contributing factors, my love for the Queen City is unavoidable:  besides the great combination of landscape and architecture, it's also home to a large number of both my mom and dad's ancestors, who I have researched back to the 1830's.  The pleasantly particular accent of its denizens is a spin on "Southern" unlike anywhere else in the South.  The influx of skilled craftsmen during its heyday, along with plenty of the required natural resources, enabled art to flourish in Cincinnati.  Its museums are spectacular, showcasing local murals and ceramic works of international prominence, including Rookwood pottery, which points to the prominent role women had in Cincy's nascent art scene. Cincy was also an early incubator of the Arts and Crafts movement, and has some stunning examples of Art Deco themed buildings.  


Interior great room of Cincinnati Union Terminal Museum Center, showing huge arch window and ceiling


When in Cincinnati, DO NOT, under any circumstances, omit a visit to the Union Terminal train station, a high holy temple of Art Deco. 





Cincinnati Union Terminal Museum Center exterior showing art deco design in face of building and flowing waterfall and pond




Although it's closed right now for renovations, it's definitely worth a visit to experience the grandeur of the building's exterior and grounds.





Then there's Cincinnati's singular food and drink:  Skyline chili, Goeta, Graeter's ice cream, and, mmm - beer.  OTR was the original center of the lager beer universe, and is making a spectacular comeback due in no small measure to - you guessed it - beer!  (See my link page and praise for the book When Beer Was King).

Yeah, so there's all those things that are great about Cincinnati.  Ultimately though, what really motivates my wife Kathleen and I to finally pack up and drive the 5 hours isn't beer, architecture, or cute little hot dogs with chili and cheese - really really tasty hot dogs, chili and cheese - oh they are so good.  No, actually, it's our love for our friends Steve and Denise.

Denise's smile would light up the darkest vault in a mausoleum at midnight, and her singing would bring the inhabitants back to life.   Steve is a master restoration builder, passionate about preserving the genius of Cincy's old world craftsmanship.  Much of what he's seen throughout town he's distilled inside their home, with brilliant color choices that makes it a four story religious experience.  Steve's hand-made hinges, rounded plaster corners, high, sculpted baseboards and other details all attest to his skill, knowledge, and reverence for the artisan craftsmen that rendered Cincinnati into a unique and rich collection of architectural treasures.

Blue Chambers Model C in colorful kitchen in Cincinnati Ohio





So I guess that it's really no surprise that it was in Cincinnati, in Denise and Steve's home, back around 1998, that we first laid eyes on a Chambers stove, their baby blue model C.  







Blue Chambers Model C in colorful kitchen in Cincinnati Ohio showing griddle, thermowell and high back splash
It was awe and lust at first sight.  Besides the sheer beauty of the dang thing, part of the draw was the mystery of it:  where did it come from?  How did it work?  No one really knew.  Supposedly it was made out of cast iron and had a brick-lined oven that let it cook at 1000 degrees, and it could even cook without the gas on.


 All that we knew for sure was that we loved those tear drop handles, the sensuous curves, the deep golden glow of the timer and oven dials, and the chromium blue pattern of the cooktop flames against the deep black porcelain drip pans and burners.


A few years later, when our post-infant son started crawling around the sticky floors of our decrepit kitchen, we coughed up a fur ball of dough to start remodeling.  We weren't really considering a Chambers:  for all we knew, Steve and Denise's was the only one in the world (note to digital natives:  This was before the internet).  So we started looking at new stoves, and were immediately, thoroughly underwhelmed by bland looks, shoddy construction, and a weirdly slimy feel of touchpad controls.  Although it may have something to do with the fact that Steve designed the layout of our kitchen, my wife and I decided that no way would the shadow of a new stove ever darken our front door.  We asked our Cincinnati friends to keep their eyes peeled for an old stove, and if it were a Chambers like theirs, well, it wouldn't exactly hurt our feelings.

Turns out Steve recalled that he had helped a friend move into a house 20 years previous, and he was pretty sure there was a Chambers in the basement.  He called the friend and the stove was still there, unused since the move, and it was indeed a Chambers, an older, white model B.

In a blink of an eye Kathleen and I were in Cincy with the minivan, to pick up some Coneys and the stove, er, the stove and some Coneys.  Soon afterwards, the model B was in a heap of parts in my basement shop.  More about that later.

I tell this story practically every time I do a Chambers service call, so why not just put it in my blog for the whole world to see?  Denise and Steve, thanks for welcoming me into your "neighborhood", and for introducing me to the world of Chambers stoves.  I know that I am but one of the hundreds of people who have been inspired by the love and creativity you two surround yourself with, and radiate from every pore.    

Thursday, August 25, 2016

PORTFOLIO

SEEING THE BEAUTIFUL KITCHEN SETTINGS many of my clients build around their Chambers is one thing I love about my job.  Often I will yank a stove in the middle of demolition, with dust and mayhem swirling around my lungs and mind as I'm driving away with the stove on the way to the shop.  Man I wish that I'd been photographing those demos… They can be so gawd-awful, and so entirely different to the scene I return to with the repaired or restored stove.

Here are photos of a few of those stoves and owners in some of the more beautiful settings, some redone, others original:

White Chambers Stove highback in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.



Most of the settings I install Chambers in are vintage, and most of them are visually busy.  That's why I like the stark contrast here, in my client's small cottage in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  Compare this with her brother's place below.
White Chambers stove Model C highback in retro kitchen with steel cabinets, Chicago, Illinois



A modest and elegant setting, brilliantly remodeled with vintage steel Geneva cabinets in a Chicago two-flat.
A couple of Chambers stove owners in retro kitchen, Chicago


Tom and Nancy are both fantastic artists.  They own a nice Model C low back in their funky Chicago bungalow.  The stove shot is nice but heck with it, I love this shot so much better.
Owner of Chambers stove Model C low back in retro kitchen, Elmhurst, Illinois



 Joe with his pride and joy Model C, in a great original vintage "sunrise" kitchen in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Vintage Chambers stove repair, model C highback set in retro kitchen, Glen Ellyn, Illiinois




This gorgeous space - in a similarly gorgeous Arts and Crafts home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois - was created by my friends Jim and Deb.  Does it surprise you that they are designers?
Beautiful white farm sink in vintage white retro kitchen in Lombard, Illinois


The place that inspired this post:  I was working on Mark and Michelle's Chambers in Lombard, Illinois while big guys were ripping out the floor and wall around their wonderful farm sink.  On returning, I found the sink surrounded by clean symmetry, facing their model B blacktop shown below.
Vintage Chambers stove model B blacktop in corner of retro kitchen with vintage plates and bowls, Lombard, Illinois



The presence of the yellow drapes, bowls, plates and tea kettle is so slight, yet so awesome, it totally knocks me dead.  Mommy, I WANT THIS KITCHEN!!!

Vintage Chambers Model BZ stove in modern white kitchen in Mequon, Wisconsin near Milwaukee

To the right is another Model B with black porcelain top and handles.  Ironically, this was the cheapest version of the model, yet the black top and handles create such great accents in white kitchens, this one so very nicely done in Mequon, Wisconsin.
Vintage blue Chambers model C high back set in modest kitchen in Millbrook, New York



On a slim budget?  Here's an instance of how a Chambers can BE the rehab in an existing, non-vintage kitchen.   My friends Eric and Emma simply dropped in Baby Blue (which Eric helped me restore), then cleaned the cabinets, painted the walls, and added furniture and dishes that riff off of the stove.  In my humble opinion, they got themselves the best dang kitchen in upstate New York, Millbrook, specifically.
Vintage restored stainless steel Chambers cooktop in modern kitchen near Chicago, Illinois


I couldn't put two more starkly different photos together than the one above and to the right.  My Munster, Indiana client loved her Chambers Cooktop but needed to do a total rehab for her elderly mom's kitchen.  Normally I prefer color but I gotta say that this contemporary monochrome treatment incorporating the vintage Cooktop is quite attractive.

Vintage restored green Chambers stove model BZ in funky kitchen in Three Oaks, Michigan near New Buffalo
Photo provided by client



Finally, check out this gorgeous mint green Model BZ in a  quaint cabin in Three Oaks, Michigan, near New Buffalo.  First time I've ever seen a BZ in other than white or yellow plumage.  Next to that brick chimney with that yellow faux lure…  Mmmm mmm!  That's a-nice!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

CAN'T STAND THE HEAT?...

MANY OF US, ESPECIALLY IN THE SOUTH, CHOOSE NOT TO HAVE OUR COOKTOP AND THERMO-WELL PILOTS GOING IN THE SUMMER.  It really cuts down on heat in the kitchen.  Extinguishing the pilots at summer solstice, and relighting at the fall equinox, can put Chambers owners in touch with the seasons.

My wife and I don't actually live in the south but we are of southern Italian heritage, so we don't like air conditioning and generally just like to do things in more difficult ways than is normally done.  So on the first hot days of late spring we turn off the gas to the ThermoWell and cooktop pilots.  Thereafter we must use a grill igniter (we call it Sparky) to light the cooktop burners when we need them.  It usually takes a little getting used to:  we flip a burner lever and stare at the cold dark iron for a few seconds until we remember to grab Sparky and make fire happen.  In those first few weeks I'm sure we waste more gas than the pilots would ever consume over the summer, but it does actually keep the kitchen cooler.  Here's the "How To":

Adjustments for pilot flames on a Chambers Model B, showing the flash tube and burner.
Models A/B/BZ:  Remove the grate and drip pan from the front left burner. My finger is pointing to the flash tube.  Lift it's tip off of the burner body in order to get better access to the control valves for the cooktop and ThermoWell.  The valves, shown at left, are small brass bodies attached to the stove's manifold (gas supply pipe).  You may have to go through the right REAR burner opening to access the cooktop pilot valve.





Using a slotted screwdriver to adjust the pilot light for a Chambers Model B stove.

With a medium to large screwdriver, turn the cooktop valve clockwise to reduce and turn off the pilot.  The valves may be "frozen" if they haven't been serviced.  If so, gently but with some force turn the screwdriver in one direction, then the other, many times until the valve starts to turn.  Now turn the valve gently clockwise until it stops.  The pilot flame should be out and you should not smell any gas.  Repeat the process for the ThermoWell.






Arrow points to the pilot filter assembly inside the service cabinet of a Chambers model C and D stove


Models C and D:  Open up the service compartment door, and to the upper left you will see the pilot valve heads (yellow arrow).












Pilot filter assembly for a vintage Chambers model C or D stove inside the service cabinet.
Sometimes it's a filter with two screws, other times it's a filter to which the pilot valve assembly is attached.



Pilot assembly attached to pilot filter for a vintage Chambers model C or D stove inside the service cabinet.



The upper screw head is for the cooktop pilot, the lower is for the ThermoWell.  Adjust as described above.






Of course when fall comes around we reverse the process, and experience a giddy sense of awe at simply turning a lever and having fire magically appear!  How incredibly awesome and convenient!  Some would argue that a Chambers range with two pilot lights going is not efficient or environmentally friendly.  I respectfully disagree.  During the winter, whatever heat those pilots are putting off are taking load off the furnace for warming the house.

As a Chambers owner, you already know how fabulously interesting life can be.  Make it even more so by getting in touch with the rotation of the planet by the seasonal extinguishing and lighting of your ThermoWell and cooktop pilots!

TECH TIP:  The proper height of you cooktop pilot flame is about 3/4".  Shorter is fine, as long as it still easily lights your burners, and stays lit with whatever drafts exist in your kitchen.  Same for your ThermoWell pilot.  Whatever it's height, you don't want to have any orange in the tip of the flame.  That indicates incomplete combustion, creating excessive carbon monoxide that may cause an unpleasant smell, and gives some people headaches.

Friday, November 20, 2015

KEEP THE TURKEY OUT OF THE CHAMBERS?

(Updated from original Nov. 2013 post)

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  For a succulent turkey with golden crispy skin, nothing beats a Chambers.  Well, almost nothing...

Heretical as it may sound, it's my belief that the best way to use a Chambers for the Great Turkey Day is to save it for all the miscellaneous baked sides:  pie, potatoes, extra dressing, biscuits, etc, etc.  Though I truly worship a Chambers turkey cooked in a Lisk or Reed roaster, the logistics of lots of people to feed with lots of baked items puts a squeeze on the ol' fireless range.

Fortunately, there is a more than adequate solution:  the fantastic Nesco Electric Roaster.

My advice, of course, is to look for a vintage Nesco, just to maintain the esthetic.  Easily found at estate sales, Goodwill or other thrift stores, or online on Craigslist or Ebay.  I think the old ovals are very cool looking, but most often you'll find them in a rectangular shape, plenty big for a 20 lb. turkey.

Woman with deluxe vintage Nesco electric roaster on rolling cabinet

Vintage or modern, these countertop cookers do a fabulous job on Tom Turkey while keeping the Chambers free for other things.  That's how Tillie (grandma Oliver) did it throughout my childhood.  Man, the smells are wafting through my olfactory as I type.  Tillie's children, grandchildren and great grandchildren still do it that way.

Vintage Nesco electric roaster art deco insignia

Some are fancier than others, such as the Deluxe with Timer Clock featured above.  These can be programmed, er, excuse me, pre-set, to start and stop at desired times.  If you are lucky you'll run into one with it's own rolling cabinet so it doesn't take up any countertop space.


Woman viewing contents of vintage Nesco Roastmaster electric roasterMy oval Roastmaster, shown at right, has a simple temperature knob with indicator light.  I love it.

Like a Chambers, they're well built with little to go wrong.   Make sure it comes with the wire rack to place the turkey on:  it keeps the bird from directly contacting the bottom, and makes it possible and safe to lift the finished bird out in one piece.





Nesco's often come with cool nesting containers for cooking items separately from each other.  The original manuals are very useful and often entertaining (possum recipes, interesting narratives on domesticity, etc.).

Three nesting containers for cooking separate items in vintage Nesco Roastmaster electric roaster

The usual fix-up for them is to replace their frayed, brittle power cord or a knob, easily done at your local Ace Hardware.  Just bring in the old one for reference.
Mom and daughter viewing cherry pie cooked inside vintage stove with vintage electric roaster in backround
With your cool looking and ultra practical vintage Nesco roaster infusing your home with saliva-enducing aroma while turning tom turkey into a golden ball of protein, your Chambers oven is free to take on all the other goodies.  Holiday stress?  Thing of the past.  Sometimes your own fabulousness is hard to ignore.



This time - just before the baking holidays - would be the time to make sure your Chambers is operating at peak.  You will enjoy your Chambers so much more when it's adjusted and lubricated to operate and perform the way it was meant to.  Call now to schedule an inspection and low cost tune-up

Check out this Vintage Video of a Westinghouse Roaster

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

VINTAGE STOVES ARE RIDICULOUS(ly efficient)


Vintage photo of a man speaking through a huge megaphone, proclaiming how a vintage Chambers stove is carbon friendly




VINTAGE STOVE OWNERS ARE AS NUTS AS VINTAGE PARACHUTE ENTHUSIASTS!




If you are a flaming anti-vintage-stove fanatic (I did NOT plan that pun.  Wish I had), I have no idea how you ended up here, but since you are,  let me guess on the reasons for your viewpoint.  I'll make this as quick and painless as possible.

Your issues with vintage stoves probably center around three things:  it's unsafe, it's far less efficient, the oven is too small.

I cover safety elsewhere, as well as the insanity of granting "Energy Star" ratings to ranges that in 10 years will end up as metallic chips being shipped back to China to be re-formed into brand new "Energy Star" appliances, then shipped back here.

For now I'd just like to start by backing up a bit up and getting one thing out of the way:  the overall negative connotation surrounding "vintage".  As in "Ma!  Ya got a vintage stove!  I'm gonna get that clunker outta here and get ya a modern stove."  Vintage meaning "old" and Old = Bad?

With parachutes, medicine, diapers, a gallon of milk, I'm sure we all agree:  old is bad.  What about wine, cheese, Mozart, a '66 Mustang GT, the Grand Canyon?  Picasso?  You would never discard any one of them out of hand, just because they are old.  Dear old Ma might be a pain, but where would you get Ma's chocolate chip cookies from, without Ma?

So we're agreed?  Old can be good?  Great.  Let's move on to efficiency.

It's not a myth, it's simple math:  the energy efficiency of a Chambers compared to other gas stoves is off the charts, easily understood by pointing out a few numbers.

First and foremost:  R value, the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow.  We are talking massive R value here from the mineral wool insulation - the same stuff used to insulate kilns - that is densely packed into the jacket surrounding the oven (and ThermoWell).  No other stove has this.

Illustration showing a cutaway view of the mineral wool insulation surronding the oven of a vintage Chambers stove

Even when a Chambers oven is used conventionally - just turning the gas on and letting an item cook - very little gas is needed because the densely packed mineral wool prevents the heat from passing through the oven walls, far better than a thin layer of fiberglass used in other stoves.

Utilizing the Chambers Retained Heat cooking feature ratchets up the thermal efficiency to an even greater degree (No, really, that just slipped out.  No pun was ever intended).  Normal ovens have a "passive" inlet and exhaust system, basically holes in the floor and sides, which creates the air flow necessary for the process of combustion.  This flow of cool air into conventional ovens occurs all the time:  it cannot be stopped.  Even when the gas is turned off, as long as the air in the oven is warmer than the air outside of the oven, the flow continues, rapidly cooling the oven.  A Chambers, however, controls the airflow via an "active" airflow system.  When turned on, the oven's "on/off" lever opens inlet and exhaust flaps.  When turned to "off", the flaps close.  Cool air can't enter, hot cannot escape.  This sealed, highly insulated thermos is what makes retained heat cooking possible.  Chambers marketing materials claims that CWTGTO uses about 1/6th of the gas of a conventional oven.

The third gas saving measure of a Chambers oven might be the least obvious, but it is quite significant.  It's actually shared by most stoves made before the mid 1960's:  the small size of the oven.  A Chambers oven measures 18" deep, 18" wide, and 12" high.  The volume works out to only 2 1/4 cubic feet, compared to modern 30" ranges, with 4.2 to 5.8 cu. ft.  So with less than half the volume of the majority of today's stoves, it's no wonder why this is the foremost "deal killer" objection I hear about keeping or purchasing a Chambers.

But think about it.  Is the "small" oven really a problem?  Or is it a misconception?

Consider all the times your oven has been used in the past year.  Of them, how often has it been heated up to warm, bake or roast a small item?  Think about how much gas and time it takes to pre-heat that large oven, how much gas it takes to keep that huge oven hot in order to cook a small item?  How few times have you actually used it's total capacity?  How much space do two or three cookie sheets take?  How about a pizza?  A large turkey roaster?  The "small" Chambers oven can handle them all.  You see where I'm going:  the "small" Chambers oven requires half the gas, and can easily handle 90% of items put into a "normal" oven in the course of a year.  So if it covers most of our needs, why call it "small"?  If a "normal" sized oven covers so few of our needs, why call it "normal"?

How about we change "small" and "normal" to "optimal capacity" and "extra capacity" to get a better sense of what's going on.

A Chambers' "optimal" oven has enormous energy saving benefits over an "extra" capacity oven due to faster pre-heat and less gas volume required for pre-heat and for cook time.  Add to that the Chambers' mineral wool insulation, active air flow controls, and the thermal mass of its cast-iron oven bottom, and you can see how a Chambers' oven makes total sense, not just for responsible stewardship of our environment, but for practical, convenient, everyday use.

When buying a car, we make very conscious decisions around optimal use, and purchase accordingly.  Regarding size, sure, a full-sized van might handle any and all needs for however many people or things we might need to move from one place to another, but most people don't need that capacity every day, and/or are unwilling to pay for the extra fuel it consumes.  Does it make sense to own and use something every day that uses so much fuel, if we only need it's capacity once in awhile?  Why not look at stoves the same way?

For the times when extra capacity is needed, check out my post of 11/9/15.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR GRIDDLE

Man and woman smiling while making love with grilled cheese sandwiches on griddle of vintage Chambers stove model B


Of all the features Chambers offers, most of the calls I get concern the In-A-Top Broiler/Griddle.  And of those calls, the most common question is "My griddle is disgusting!  How do I keep it clean?"

Well, "Clean" is a relative term, and like Beauty, all in the eye of the beholder.

Let's start with the Model B we've got in our kitchen.  Bacon and pancakes has always been our son's favorite breakfast.  He's 14, so I've been cooking that meal on that griddle about twice a week for over a decade.  Plus, I'm always using the broiler for roasting red peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and occasionally animal flesh.  

How's the griddle look?  Judge for yourself:


The griddle, broiler and burners of a vintage Chambers stove model B, also showing the folding cover.

Not exactly pretty, but since I use it so frequently, and the rest of the cooktop is in original (well-worn) condition, I'm fine with how it looks.



The blackened griddle covering the broiler of a vintage Chambers stove model B


Now check out the griddle of my friends Tom and Nancy:

I think Tom and Nancy don't just cook on their griddle:  they must live on the darn thing.  When I first worked on their stove and offered to clean the griddle, I was blown away when they declined.  They didn't just say "no":  they were adamant that I not touch it.  They love it just as is. 


A polished griddle on a restored vintage Chambers stove model 90c
Then there's my buddy Jim.  Believe it or not, THIS griddle isn't new:  Jim and his wife have been cooking on it for themselves and their kids, keeping it this good looking for almost a decade.  How do they do it?  More on that soon.  

My point is, every Chambers owner perceives and likes things different.  Depending on one's tastes, the condition of the cooktop, how one cooks on the stove, etc., it's hard to give out a single line of cleaning advice that applies to everyone.  So, I'll offer maintenance suggestions for just a few situations and hope that satisfies most of anyone looking here for help.


CHAMBERS' ORIGINAL SOLUTIONS:
Front view of Model B Chambers vintage stove with black cooktop showing broiler under griddle and pots in Thermo-Well
If you REALLY hate to clean, you could simply own what we in the biz call a Stealth:  a Model A, B, or BZ with a black porcelain cooktop instead of chrome.   All six versions of each model sport a nifty folding cover:  when done cooking, it folds down to conceal not only the griddle, but the entire cooktop, hiding lax maintenance from view.  The three Stealth versions go one further:   the black cooktops do a great job of making  blackened, baked-on surface grime practically invisible.  How awesome is that?  With filth thus concealed, hubby would be none the wiser that his lovely house spouse, in crisp pressed apron serving canap├ęs to his dear old mother, was literally a slovenly Mrs. Hyde.


All that changed with introduction of the model C in 1949, when Chambers deprived deceptive cooks of their easy outs:  the folding cover AND black enamel cooktop option were gone.  The "Aristo-Mat", a skimpy little sheet of stainless steel to cover just the griddle, was all they were left with.  




Sure, it did its job, but the rest of the shiny chrome cooktop  was now 24/7 open to scrutiny.  No wonder female angst was about to explode in the Women's Liberation movement the next decade.  Yes, Aristo-Mat covers can still be found, but they are almost always pretty beat up.  Better than nothing, I suppose, in the same way as a bad toupee.

So what's a Chambers house spouse to do, now that it's 2015?  The icecaps are melting, people actually think a rich reality TV personality should lead the hope of the free world, and we are still worried about what our Chambers griddles look like.  Are we geeks or what?

The most effective place to start is also the easiest:  make sure, after every use of any cooktop burner, that you wipe off the griddle with dish soap and clear water.  Same thing right before use of the griddle/broiler.  Browned or blackened schmutz stains on your griddle will be avoided if the schmutz isn't there in the first place when that monster is fired up.  As for other griddle maintenance strategies, I offer the following:

ONE POLISHED
Just gotta go glitzy?  Fine, but you must first get your griddle polished, by a professional.  Don't do it yourself:  you are not good at it, and it involves dangerous machinery.  Send it to me:  I'll take out all the dents and warpage and return it looking brand new.

As for maintaining the shine, I have absolutely no clue, because I've never practiced that religion.   I'm am sure one should not touch it with metal utensils, abrasive pads or scouring powder.  Actually cooking on it?  Probably a bad idea.  

Restored Vintage Chambers stove model 90C highback set in vintage kitchen with subway tiles and cork floor.


Yes, my friend Jim says that he uses his griddle all the time and it somehow emerges from the sink as shiny as the day it was polished, but c'mon, look at his kitchen:  I'd bet that every speck of cooked food in that house has been delivered.  I like Jim and trust him on everything else he tells me, but we all have one dark secret so I let him slide on this.





ONE POLISHED, ONE "WORK-A-DAY".
For those with newly re-chromed cooktops and messy and/or lazy kitchen habits, you may want to go the way many of my clients have gone.  Opt for two griddles:  a working griddle for actually cooking on, and a polished "show" griddle, never to be cooked on, kept for when judgmental company or in-laws come over.  This might seem excessive to some, but if I had a re-chromed cooktop, I'm not sure I could stand having a work-a-day griddle sullying up so much prime real estate while the stove was idle.

ONE "WORK-A-DAY" 
For the majority of Chambers owners with original condition cooktops, a spangly griddle might have the lipstick-on-a pig-effect, making the rest of any work-a-day Chambers look worse.  So be content with your one working griddle.  It's really fairly easy to keep it clean by doing what the Chambers owner's manual suggests, with a slight revision.  

The manual's basic philosophy is to clean the griddle after every use, while it is still hot.  Not blazing hot, right off of the fire, but hot enough that you definitely need hot pads to take the thing off and set it in your sink filled with dishwater.  
No, this is not an ad.  If someone knows how I could
make money making this an ad,  please let me know.

The manual suggests using Brillo pads, but I've found 3M Scotch-Brite scrub sponges to have the best balance of scouring/polishing qualities:     The yellow sponge portion of the pad holds plenty of dish soap, while the green scouring portion of the pad is aggressive enough to abrade off most hardened or semi-hardened grease from the griddle.  Yet it leaves the aluminum smooth enough so that the "seasoned" quality of the surface remains, ensuring that eggs, pancakes and the like won't stick.  (Of course you still need some sort of fat, in or under whatever you are cooking, to keep it from sticking).

This method, or at least the half-hashed way I go about it, never gets every spot off the griddle, and eventually, just like the cooktop surface itself, the grunge spreads and builds up.  Once or twice a year, fed up with how disgusting it all looks, I turn toward modern chemistry to make my life as a Chambers house spouse more meaningful and rewarding.  

Easy-Off oven cleaner is the way to go.   Not the nasty stuff in the yellow can:  that Alien blood works fast but is so noxious and scary you don't want to mess with it.  Protective clothing?  I'm thinking Haz-Mat gear. 

Easy Off in blue can for cleaning vintage Chambers stove
The Easy-Off you want is the one in the blue can.  It works a lot slower, but it is very low fume, so one may actually inhabit the house while it's working.  And yes, wear rubber gloves, safety goggles, long sleeves etc.
  
Stick your griddle in a plastic garbage bag, spray it down with the product, then close the bag to let the griddle soak (the stuff only works when it's wet), from two hours to overnight, depending on how crusted your griddle starts out.  Add the action of the Scotch-Brite scrubber, and you've got your nice clean griddle back!  You will have to re-"season" the griddle at this point because that layer of fat has been chemically and physically removed from the griddle's surface, but that just requires you to cook a mess of bacon (or moderately heat the griddle after rubbing in some Crisco or bacon grease).  When using Easy Off in the blue can, remember that the less time the better, because the cleaner tends to turn exposed aluminum grey.  Do not let the stuff dry on bare aluminum:  that's really hard to clean.
     
ONE GRUNGY
Now, for those of you who never clean your cast iron pans, don't want to use any chemicals, or have opinions around aluminum contacting your food, you can do what my buddy Tom does:  never clean your griddle.  Well, never thoroughly clean your griddle.  I can't imagine such an approach to cooking, but I've seen enough blackened griddles to know that plenty others can.  Layer by layer, meal by meal, the grunge gradually coats the aluminum to the point where it looks like cast iron, and probably weighs just as much.  Who cares what your judgmental friends and relatives think?  It's been ages since they swore off coming to your house for dinner anyway.  



  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

D Ugliest Chambers Ever Made

Since first laying eyes on Chambers' visual tragedy many years ago, I've been loath to grant the Model D any respect.  Aesthetically, if such a word even applies, I consider it the Edsel of the Chambers brand.  After decades of minimal changes to a warm, timeless design, the folks at Chambers seem to have taken a flying leap into steely cold Bauhaus pop.  Well actually, likely NOT the folks at Chambers:  my friend Todd White, keeper of the Chambers Stove Lovers website, writes that Rangaire had taken over by 1964.  So the new owners probably felt the need to make their mark.  Just like dogs make their marks on trees, if you ask me.

Photo of vintage Model D Chambers stove with green-white coloring in kitchen, also known as MR-9H
The Model D, also more
appropriately known as the MR-9-H
There might be uglier stoves out there, but considering how nice looking and un-gimicky Chambers stoves had been for so many years, even the plainest model D gives me a headache.  Then there's the top of the line Stainless Steel and Ivory Imperial shown here, trimmed with airbrushed Avocado.  It simply shocks the senses.  The squared structure, multiple facets of varying colors and surfaces, yards of channel trim, and wacko, uncomfortable handles on the broiler, oven door and service cabinet.  Hard to keep clean, unpleasant to touch...  And the looks - like fingernails scraping on chalkboard, while chugging a castor oil martini!

The many years and service calls that have passed since that first encounter have somewhat tempered my revulsion.  They are still ugly - no yielding on that - but I realize that the basic concept and layout remains true to that of the A, B/Z, and C.  While Rangaire had obviously decided that a visual update was needed, it seems they were confident enough in the unique character and value of their acquisition to leave the basics alone.  Let's see:  I believe that the model A originates in the early 1920's, when American farms still had way more horses pulling plows than tractors.  40 years later with the model D, we are blasting off to the moon, yet the Chambers stove had not been significantly altered, avoiding the yearly "ALL NEW!" marketing path followed by every other appliance (and car) manufacturer for decades.  Not abandoning Cooking With the Gas Turned Off (CWTGTO)?:  gotta give Rangair some credit on that account.


Photo of a copper colored vintage Chambers stove model D.
The Electric version.  Still ugly, more stupid.


This vintage ad showing the front view of a Ford Edsel with it's happy male owner seems to be written by Yoda
Designed (and written) by Yoda.  Of course!
Also, I must say that the D's oven safety system is quite impressive, in terms of functionality and well-built components.  

The most significant technical change of the D from the C is also it's most dubious characteristic: incorporation of the Auto Timer, designed to automatically turn the oven on and off at pre-selected times.  Why dubious?  First, the Auto Timer only applies to conventional oven use:  it cannot be used for CWTGTO, the primary feature setting Chambers apart from all others.  That's like putting an electric motor on a Harley.  Secondly, my investigations of the D's Auto Timer reveal that Chambers now shared a safety flaw that had previously been the sole provence of all lesser makes with similar systems.  From this comes my obligatory warning to Chambers D clients:

DANGER:  If an electrical power outage occurs with the ThermoStat dial turned on and an "Auto Start" time selected, the loss of power to the Heater Valve Solenoid will open the Heater Valve, prematurely turning the oven on.  Similarly, since electricity is required to close the Heater Valve (which turns off the oven when the ThermoStat dial is turned on),  a power outage while "Auto Stop" is engaged prevents  the oven from being turned off at a selected "Stop" time. 

Yeah, sounds scary.  But for current and wannabe D owners, it's hardly a deal killer.  First of all, the chances of a power outage while using the Auto Timer are slim, though not impossible.  Secondly, by not using the stupidly irrelevant Auto Timer system, the scary irrelevant problem is avoided altogether.   An ancient technology - used on other makes since the early 40's - practically useless to anyone sold on the CWTGTO pillar of Chambers marketing.  Why it suddenly appeared on a Chambers in the 60's is anybody's guess. Rangaire probably wanted to attract potential purchasers who were used to this feature on other brands they had owned.  Why hadn't Chambers incorporated Auto Timers earlier?  Here's a quote from a 1940's Chambers brochure that reveals their confident and reasoned wisdom:
(Cooking With The Gas Turned Off) is a feature of Chambers Ranges that is not to be confused with automatic timing devices becoming more widely advertised. There is not much logic in buying a fine refrigerator to preserve food and then leaving perishables in a room tempera­ture oven where the heat is not set to come on until 3:00 or 4:00 o'clock in the after­noon. With the remarkable Chambers method, no bacteria can develop because food starts to cook before you leave home; the cooking Finishes on retained heat and the Chambers oven and Thermowell act as sealed warming closets until it suits your con­venience to serve the meal. Cook the food first - the Chambers way - and play safe!
Ha!  Rangair thought it knew better.  Looking back, their confusion - or cluelessness - made evident by the Model D, was the first, clear indication of the decline of the Chambers brand. 

Despite it's bizarre looks, increased complexity and ridiculous Auto Timer, the D for the most part inherited the same well thought-out functionality and build quality as previous iterations. Chambers purists may scoff at the fact that D's have electric controls (for the oven, if the Auto Timer is utilized), but beneath this and the D's visual changes, the heart of the same old Chambers is still beating.  Sure, the oven's Auto Timer operation does require electricity, but its CWTGTO and conventional operations function safely and normally, by choice when not using the Auto Timer, or by default in an electrical outage.

Would I have a D in my kitchen?  Not a snowball's chance in a pre-heated ThermoWell,  but if I run across one whose owner has requested some TLC, I promise to be polite and stifle any opinions I may have about their baby's looks.

TECH HINT:  Has your Model D oven stopped working?  IE, does it refuse to light when you turn the dial on?  If so, first be sure your oven's pilot is lit.  If it is, there's a good chance your Auto Timer is malfunctioning.   Try unplugging the stove's cord from the electrical outlet.  You should hear an immediate "click" from inside the service cabinet.  Unplugging the cord de-powers the Auto Timer and puts it into default "Manual" mode, which opens a valve between the oven thermostat and oven burner.  A handy remedy when the Auto Timer switches start malfunctioning.