Enter the Cuisinart (1977)

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Appliances: Gourmet breakthrough

Once it was the perquisite of only the grandest gourmets — perfect for pureeing some chestnuts, perhaps, or creating an insouciant little pate. But these days, the Cuisinart food processor and its imitators are grinding, chopping and mincing away in all kinds of kitchens.

Cooks of all ranks swear that the blender-size machines are the greatest thing since sliced truffles; no less an authority than Julia Child proclaims that the processors are “the most important invention since the first electric mixer.” They are also just about the most expensive kitchenware around, costing $99 to $225 — but even at those prices, they are selling faster than manufacturers can make them. “Food processors have taken over like a storm,” says Joseph Vitaglione, a housewares buyer for New York’s Hammacher Schlemmer.

The grandpere of the processors is — but of course — a French creation. The Cuisinart is distributed by a Stamford, Conn., firm for Robot Coupe, a French manufacturer of restaurant equipment — and it has been a smash hit with professional chefs ever since its US introduction in 1973. The machine, a clear plastic canister on a base containing a 575-watt motor, has four detachable blades. The blades can swiftly gring meat or fish into gossamer quenelles or velvety pates, chop parsley or nuts, grate fresh horseradish or ginger. “It makes cooking the old cuisine, which takes hours and hours, a matter of seconds,” says Julia Child. Adds James Beard, author of a Cuisinart cookbook: “For anyone who does a great deal of cooking, it’s as necessary as a good stove.”

Tests: But for less ambitious amateurs, the $225 Cuisinart is simply too costly — and many such cooks are turning instead to two cheaper models that arrived just in time for last Christmas: the Japanese-made Farberware for $120 and the California-made Epicurean at $99.99. At those prices, consumers get machines that look a lot like the Cuisinart and claim to perform as well — but tests by several newspaper food editors suggest they don’t. In some cases, the other machines, which are lighter than Cuisinart, reportedly stalled or “walked” across counters during use.

“Cuisinart is absolutely the superior model,” says Barbara Turf, managing director of the Crate and Barrel shops in Chicago — which sold more than 600 Cuisinarts at Christmas. And chef Pierre Franey, who tested the competitors for The New York Times, haughtily put down the imitators: “Comparing these machines with the Cuisinart is like comparing caviar from Russia with caviar from Long Island.”

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Whatever the experts think, the public is snapping up the cheaper models. Farberware, in fact, can scarcely keep up with demand; a spokesman says the firm has been selling 10,000 machines a month, and was unable to fill 25,000 Christmas orders even with factories going full blast.

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