Shan­non Ben­nett has the in­side track on Ber­lin’s great­est hits.

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THIS IS A STORY that starts like a spy novel. A tale span­ning six years, be­gin­ning with or­gan do­na­tion in Is­rael, travers­ing Eastern Europe to a soft­ware com­pany in Ro­ma­nia, on to test house­holds in Düs­sel­dorf, through to the power-broking res­tau­rants of the world and a celebrity chef in Mel­bourne, cli­max­ing in dra­matic scenes in a for­mer theatre in Ber­lin.

In­trigued? Like all best­selling thrillers, not all is as it seems. In fact, this is the story of how Ger­many’s pre-emi­nent ap­pli­cance man­u­fac­turer, Miele, laid plans to rev­o­lu­tionise kitchens and home cook­ing for­ever, kept it top se­cret, and launched it to the world against the back­drop of Ger­many’s enig­matic cap­i­tal, also the home of Miele.

“From the out­side, white­goods are not nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­est­ing,” says Dr Markus Miele, fourth-gen­er­a­tion Miele co-owner and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor. “But when you look at the lit­tle de­tails, they are.”

We are in Ber­lin for the launch of the com­pany’s land­mark new Di­a­log oven, along with a brigade of the world’s best chefs, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia’s Shan­non Ben­nett. The global launch is high bud­get, high pro­file and dra­matic. Why the se­crecy and fuss? Be­cause Miele’s new oven has an ir­re­sistible pitch: it cooks food up to 70 per cent faster than con­ven­tional ovens (it’ll roast a chicken in 15 min­utes). It’s in­tu­itive, so you can con­trol cook­ing from your smart­phone, or im­port recipe set­tings. And it’s so­phis­ti­cated, so you can cook dishes si­mul­ta­ne­ously – whether they be truss toma­toes and a lamb roast – with each cooked to per­fec­tion. It even guar­an­tees a per­fect souf­fle. Ba­si­cally, once the tin­ker­ing is done, this ap­pli­ance is slated to change cook­ing for­ever.

While it sounds too good to be true, I wit­nessed mind-bog­gling tricks at the launch: a block of ice with a piece of fish in­side went into the Di­a­log oven. When it re-emerged, the ice was still frozen, yet the fish in­side was per­fectly cooked.

Frozen cakes were de­frosted in record time, as well as other feats of cook­ing that could not oth­er­wise be ex­plained.

Miele is no stranger to in­no­va­tion. Its first break­through in 1901 was a so­lu­tion to churn but­ter bet­ter. Co-owned for four gen­er­a­tions by the Miele and Zinkann fam­i­lies, its sol­i­dar­ity and con­sis­tency is a rar­ity. Dr Miele says fam­ily con­flict is gen­er­ally easy to keep sep­a­rate from work. De­bate oc­curs over things like de­sign or colour, but “most of the time if some­one doesn’t have a big prob­lem with it, we can try it out and stop if it doesn’t work”.

Dr Miele is ge­nial, frank, in­ter­est­ing and in­formed. He likes to cook when he has time, and he’s fa­mous for host­ing Miele em­ploy­ees at his home for din­ner. His spe­cial­ity is his pizza dough recipe. “I use brown sugar in­stead of white, as well as good olive oil from Greece,” he ex­plains.

He hon­ey­mooned in Aus­tralia, and has seen our coun­try be­come a big­ger mar­ket for the brand than the US. “Aus­tralia is closer to Europe than they think,” he ex­plains. “When you look at the food, and how peo­ple be­have, you’re still very close to Europe, with in­flu­ences from Italy, Spain and Ger­many.”

Miele calls the new Di­a­log oven rev­o­lu­tion­ary. “It’s ba­si­cally a new tech­nol­ogy that will heat food from the in­side,” says Dr Miele. “You can do things which can’t be done with a con­ven­tional sys­tem. It comes with a high price tag, so it won’t be main­stream in the next two to four years, and it still has some way to go.”

He be­lieves the rise of the home ap­pli­ance as sta­tus sym­bol is not sur­pris­ing. “Ger­man news­pa­pers are re­ally fond of cars. But they say that the new sta­tus sym­bol is no longer a Mercedes or a BMW, but the kitchen. Peo­ple are in­vest­ing money into their home and co­coon­ing; ev­ery­thing out­side is un­cer­tain, so peo­ple want to in­vest in their own home.”

Dr Miele says the leaps and bounds in tech­nol­ogy have trans­formed the per­cep­tion of the kitchen. “Twenty to thirty years ago, there was just the cook­top, the ba­sic things. Now you have so many dif­fer­ent op­tions. Steam oven, warm­ing draw­ers, speed ovens… the abil­ity of con­fig­u­ra­tion is so big and there are so many new trends. In­duc­tion has be­come ex­tremely strong.”

The Di­a­log was six years in the mak­ing and came about via con­tact with an Is­raeli or­gan trans­plan­ta­tion com­pany. “When you trans­plant or­gans, you have to take that or­gan and cool it for trans­porta­tion, and then you have to re­heat it,” says Dr Miele.

The even dis­tri­bu­tion of heat in­flu­ences the prob­a­bil­ity of the or­gan be­ing re­jected, he ex­plains, and the com­pany de­vel­oped a tech­nol­ogy to evenly re­heat or­gans. “We said, well if we can do that to hu­man tis­sue, what about food? We did a lot of test­ing to see where the limit is.”

En­ter Shan­non Ben­nett, a Miele am­bas­sador for more than a decade and a fre­quent vis­i­tor to Ber­lin. He be­gan a test­ing process on Di­a­log more than two years ago. “The fact that they are us­ing or­gan tech­nol­ogy is fas­ci­nat­ing,” says the chef, restau­ra­teur and de­li­cious. con­trib­u­tor. He threw him­self into test­ing pro­to­types, pro­vid­ing thor­ough notes on how the food could be bet­ter cooked. I watch him in Ber­lin’s Miele Gallery work­ing closely with other chefs, in­clud­ing New Zealand’s Michael Mered­ith. He stands firm on things he be­lieves won’t work, and even has a heated ex­change with a home econ­o­mist.

Ben­nett fits many bills for Miele: his strong com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, ex­per­tise, cred­i­bil­ity with in­dus­try and con­sumers, and his ethics play well with the com­pany ethos. Both be­lieve en­ergy con­ser­va­tion is a must. Both have the de­sire to do some­thing bet­ter. Miele’s re­la­tion­ships with top chefs goes back to its be­gin­nings and helps ex­plain the higher price point. “Our qual­ity dif­fer­ence and in­no­va­tion is hard to con­vey to the con­sumer, so we do it via chan­nels that the cus­tomers be­lieve and will lis­ten to,” says Dr Miele. “Chefs help us de­velop prod­ucts, and it is also how we learn.”

Dr Miele tells me that some of the vis­it­ing chefs want to have the Di­a­log oven at their chef’s ta­bles. “They want to cre­ate sig­na­ture dishes to do some­thing you can’t do any­where else.” Ben­nett, too, is in­ter­ested to trial the tech­nol­ogy at Vue de Monde when the prod­uct is ready.

But for now, we have Ber­lin to ex­plore. We leave the Miele Gallery for a whirl­wind tour of the city, guided by Ben­nett. First stop: the city’s old­est beer gar­den, Prater Garten. Ber­lin and Di­a­log have more in com­mon than I first re­alised – the com­bi­na­tion of old and new; or tra­di­tion and in­no­va­tion. In Ber­lin, no mat­ter what path you take, you can al­ways ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

TOP: chefs cooked for the au­di­ence at the launch of Miele’s Di­a­log oven (pic­tured left) and (in­set cen­tre) demon­strated feats of ice and heat us­ing the new oven’s tech­nol­ogy.

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