Once it was a power drill that stirred the spirit: now it could well be an asparagus peeler. The growing laddish enthusiasm for complete sets of hi-tech and often rarefied kitchen tools is sparking a whole new industry, as evidenced by the BBC Good Food Cooking and Kitchen Show, which opened at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham last Wednesday and closes today.
Long gone are the days when the most recherche implement in a well-equipped kitchen was a garlic press. You want a pineapple corer? A saute-potato turner? A perforated risotto spoon? A muesli grater? A Parisienne baller?* Hurry down to the NEC, lads, they're all on display. So are the racks to hold them on if - as is increasingly likely - you want a whole set.
"Everything started to change about four or five years ago," said Richard Gilbert, who heads a family firm which has been importing professional catering equipment for more than 30 years. "People have become more sophisticated, and men in particular are already sold on the idea of good-quality tools. They like to feel the weight of the steel in their hand. Men seem to be making their presence felt in the kitchen."
Mr Gilbert's firm is the sole importer of German stainless-steel utensils made by the Rosle company whose range is more than 200 items long. (Examples: a sausage knife, a pizza server and a trout slice.) British devotees of the company's products are so enthusiastic that he has launched a new collectors' club.
"We have found that customers, especially men, appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of these products and like to collect and display them," he said. "The manufacturers make a special display-rack system because they look so good and clearly have an appeal and value which is intrinsic. We intend to notify our regular customers of new products so that they can add them to their range."
German bits of kit are clearly the discerning Larder Lad's favourite, and another company is offering, for example, a Pflaumenentsteiner (a traditional German plum stoner, pounds 21.50), or a new Pilzenschneider (a mushroom slicer, pounds 16.75).
"In our experience Germany has tended to set the standard," said Mr Gilbert, "and now we are catching up. A few years ago we could only sell the majority of our equipment to the professional trade and one or two exclusive outlets such as Harrods. Now I would estimate that there are 50 high-quality shops in Britain specialising in retailing professional standard goods to domestic buyers."
Another piece of kitchen technology drawing fascinated male onlookers at the NEC last week was the Pasta Master, a kitchen table-top pasta factory. "We are selling to ABC1 social class foodies from all across Britain," said sales director Keith Morley. "The women are more interested in the fact that the pasta is ready for the pan within minutes, while men ask more about the actual machine. They seem keen on the hands-clean approach, and the simplicity of the technology."
The Queen is one satisfied customer who could vouch for the efficiency of the new pasta maker. The royal pastry chef saw a review of the pounds 129 gadget and asked to try one out at Buckingham Palace before deciding whether or not to buy. It clearly met the royal standard, as a cheque for the purchase was duly despatched and a photocopy of the document is included in a list of testimonials that Mr Morley proudly displays.
Larder Lads can have their sense of identity reinforced by the constant attendance at the NEC of leading new-wave television chefs (including Gary Rhodes, Anthony Worrall-Thompson and Ainsley Harriott), providers of "kitchen- cred" role models. But many think that the drift of men to the kitchen is happening anyway.
"Far more men are busy in the kitchen than ever before," said Mary Berry, the BBC 2 television chef who has written 28 books.
"Of course there is a difference of approach between the sexes. I often have to remind women to taste the dish as they go along; men seem to do that naturally, probably because they mainly cook to eat. Women forget to taste, usually because they are doing eight other things at the same time.
"Also I would describe women in general as being more inspirational in their cooking technique, where men tend to stick more rigidly to strict measures and the letter of a recipe."
The show, now in its sixth year, is the biggest so far, and by the time the turnstiles close at 6pm this evening the organisers are hoping to have attracted a record 100,000 visitors.
*Parisienne baller: an instrument for making potatoes, Parisienne-style.Reuse content