Slice of life

THE MATERIAL WORLD A Dualit may have been conceived to cope with the frenetic rhythms of a commercial kitchen, but you need a staff mechanic to do any maintenance
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The Independent Culture
If the time to start making statements about yourself is at breakfast, the Dualit is the toaster for you. It is rugged testimony to the owner's seriousness about cooking and about life. Big and handsome, it is manufactured by a catering equipment company in Brixton for hardpressed commercial kitchens where a hundred slices an hour is not out of the way. Putting the Dualit into action is like unleashing some primal industrial process: the thwunk of the lever as the raw bread descends, the clickety- click of the spring-loaded timer, the ticking noise as the toasting takes place. It can accommodate bread as big as any Brit can confront (up four- and-three-quarter by five-and-a-half inches) and as thick as humans could desire.

Those with the six-slot model can look forward to eating their breakfast fill in the knowledge that if need be, it could produce two hundred slices an hour. A six-slot chrome Dualit is one serious toaster.

Who Dualites?

The knowledge that the Conran Shop in South Kensington charges pounds 113.50 for the two-slot, pounds 154 for the four-slot, may give you some idea. Or the fact that it is the most popular item on Heals wedding lists. It's for people who know a toaster is not just an appliance.

Contrast it with other kitchen design statements - the Alessi kettle at pounds 86.50 for instance. Designed by Michael Graves, a professor of architecture at Princeton, cone-shaped and burnished with a bird in the end of its nozzle (singing kettle, what?). An Alessi kettle says "I have money to boil"; a Dualit toaster says "I own an asparagus kettle and know how to use a mandolin." The Alessi customer wears Comme des Garcons; the Dualit buyer wears French gardening trousers.

Toasters - a ten-second history

The first generation of toasters to be self-consciously styled adopted the aesthetic of the American streamlined kitchen: big, plenty of chrome exuding a feeling of optimism, a bit like an Airstream trailer.

This first generation of toasters did not comprise specially intelligent machines: the only feedback the user could expect was the bitter stench of burning. But, naturally, evolution, occurred. By the Sixties, the German electrical firm of Braun, the manufacturer with the best claim to have inherited the ethic and aesthetic of the Bauhaus, was producing superb, chaste toasters in cool stainless steel. One of these was given reverential treatment in a picture by Pop artist Richard Hamilton. This Braun machine may have been expensive as a toaster, but it was cheap as sculpture and, in terms of art, marked the high point of toaster design. A low point soon followed: toasters decorated with applique ears of corn or sullen drayhorses pulling wheaten loads.

A toast to the eternal? Perhaps

The Dualit comes with white sides or with chrome - stylists go for chrome - and it is hefty, an object indestructable and eternal. But not all would swear to the immortality of its heating elements.

And therein lies redemption or serious challenge. A Dualit is not to throw away. It is to box up and send back to Brixton for repair or to tussle with. Dismantling one is a knuckle-barking business for the common man. Beneath the confident robust exterior is a scratchy skeleton of bent metal and sharp edges. A Dualit may have been conceived to cope with the frenetic rhythms of a commercial kitchen, but you need a staff mechanic to do any maintenance more advanced than pulling out the crumb tray. Logic was not in the brief. A toaster designed in Japan would have the modular efficiency and functional clarity of a circuit board. Take off the casing and somehow you can tell that the Dualit is made in London SE15