Christmas Comes Early for America's Cooks
The world of electronics aficionados has been waiting for it with bated breath, and finally, it's here, a major release that has been years in the making. It's not the first company to do it, but it may be the best, thanks to its obsessive-compulsive focus on the tiniest details of the user experience. People who have been waiting for this show all year are finally getting the opportunity to fondle the product they've been asking for.
Bloomberg generously agreed to send me to the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago over the weekend, where I spent two days traipsing through the booths. It's like Disneyland for cooks -- if your feet can stand it. The standard outfit for attending the expo is a business suit, and heels for the ladies ... and by 6 p.m. Sunday, as the hordes abandoned the Grand Concourse for the hotel shuttle buses, the standard gait was a pained hobble. I was wearing rubber-soled boots with gel insoles; nonetheless, I was hobbling, too. My 70-year-old mother, who spends hours a day walking her bull mastiff and had sensibly worn sneakers, looked more spritely than I did after a full day perusing the offerings.
It's almost impossible to convey how vast the show is, the sheer volume of stuff that is packed into every aisle. It fills most of McCormick Place, Chicago's obese whale of a convention center, which means that anyone who wants to see a significant fraction of the offerings had better be prepared to walk miles while carrying bags stuffed with catalogs, notes and free cookies. Despite two full days and what I thought was a well-organized plan, I didn't get to see everything I wanted to look at. There was just too much of it. I toyed with the idea of going back this morning before I caught my flight, but my neck, back and feet had a referendum, and they all voted "no." Someone who works for a major cooking show told me this was her fourth year at the expo, and the first three years had taught her to come prepared: two pairs of shoes, Band-Aids, ibuprofen ... but if I come back again, I may need something stronger, like an IV morphine drip.
Nonetheless, I want to come back again. How could I not? This place has even more kitchen stuff than I do. Which is saying something, because someone, maybe my husband, once dubbed our kitchen "the Appliance Museum."
The reason this expo is so foot-achingly big is that I am not alone. Americans have huge kitchens, by international standards, and they want huge amounts of stuff to put there. This ranges from the ultra-chic designs of Bodum to booths stuffed with "novelty" unitaskers like cake-pop machines and Peanuts-themed hot-dog toasters. Even I find it hard to fathom why people would buy a cake-pop maker or a mini-pie machine when you could, you know, just get an appropriately shaped pan to stick in the oven you already have. Wandering through this section, I thought of P.J. O'Rourke's description of the duty-free shop in the Kuwait airport: "I never knew there was so much stuff I didn't want. I assumed I wanted most stuff. But that was before I saw a $110,000 crepe de chine Givenchy chador and a solid-gold camel saddle with twelve Rolex watches embedded in the seat."
And yet, people do want them. Collectively, we want thousands and millions of them. A machine I had previously derided as obviously silly and overcomplicated -- Hamilton Beach's breakfast sandwich maker -- is apparently doing so well that it has come out with a two-sandwich model. We contain multitudes, we Americans. There are few kitchen products so crazy that at least a few of us won't think "Gotta have that!" Though if there are, those products are probably at the expo, too.
Over the next week, your regular business and politics commentary will be liberally sprinkled with my thoughts on the show and what the products there say about the state of the American kitchen and the American consumer. My diet, meanwhile, will be liberally sprinkled with the aforementioned ibuprofen.
And what about the Oxo kitchen electrics, you ask? They're pretty great. I'm on the record as saying that it doesn't much matter which stick blender you buy, as long as your hands are big enough to hold it; no one has ever convinced me that one model does a much better job than any other. But Oxo's new model, with its comfort handle, its easy-to-remove blender head, nylon and silicone fittings to protect your nonstick pots, and a nifty light that helps you see into your pot may actually have changed my mind. And you don't even have to buy an iPhone to sync it with.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.
To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at email@example.com