The saga's not over yet

The novelists' favourite cooker has formidable rivals, writes Rosalind Russell
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The expensively dressed woman strode into the farmhouse kitchen, swept her gaze across the Aga and the bunches of dried lavender and rosebuds tucked along the tops of the hand-painted units, and turned to the estate agent.

"I'll take it, at the asking price. Just as it is, with everything in it."

The reason, she admitted, was that she wanted people to think she was the sort of woman who could make her own dried flower swags and cook dinner for 20 without breaking sweat. The image is one that has served Aga well. But it's a fair bet that some owners usually cook on a secondary, conventional oven tucked into a less obvious part of the kitchen, and just use the Aga for posing and drying the tea towels. The makers must suspect this, too; they recently launched the Aga Companion (at a fiver under pounds 2,000), a conventional oven in the style of a traditional range.

But the novelists' favourite cast-iron cooker may be in danger of becoming a cliche in the kitchen. (And who'd want to make a style mistake, when you're paying around pounds 4,000 plus delivery and assembly?) The cookery writer and broadcaster Sophie Grigson, who features prominently on the cover of the spring issue of Aga Magazine (free to owners with a service contract: circulation an estimated 100,000, including a copy to Princess Anne), inherited an Aga with the Northamptonshire house she bought two years ago with her husband, William Black. But Grigson has changed allegiance. She's having a new cooker installed: the Lacanche, by Fourneaux De France.

Loyd Grossman already has a Lacanche - in stainless steel. Grossman - "an oven should have two temperatures: hot and hotter" - will have paid between pounds 2,808 and pounds 3,170 for his new kitchen accessory, depending on gas/electric combination.

The food writer Josceline Dimbleby decided against an Aga and bought a Lacanche "Cluny" after moving into her West London house.

"I'd had the same kitchen for 24 years in Putney, and although it was lovely, I wanted one with the stove in the middle of the room. It meant I could look out over the table and talk to anyone who was sitting there, or see through the French doors to the garden. I planned it with a friend, who was an architect and is now a cook. Kitchens are the most difficult things to do in any house, and can go horribly wrong."

Dimbleby, whose Complete Cookbook will be published by HarperCollins in the autumn, chose a stainless-steel Lacanche with one gas oven and one electric.

"It's important to be able to test recipes in both ovens. I didn't want an Aga. I love them, but the Lacanche is ideal. My children love it, especially my son Henry. They've all grown up, but live nearby, and it's good to know I can tempt them to come home because of the oven."

But the Aga saga may not be over yet. The Shropshire-based firm (which also makes the cheaper Rayburn cooker) is fighting back. They've introduced two new colours: pewter and British racing green - though cognoscenti know that the only colour to have is cream. Bad luck Paul Daniels (yellow) and Andie MacDowell (blue).

Developers have caught on quickly, says Atty Beor-Roberts, of Knight Frank in Cirencester, the heart of Aga-land, and are installing only cream in their show homes. "Kitchens are one of the things people change first when they move into a new house," she says. "People love Agas. They'll go and view a property with one even though they don't really like the house. It causes chaos if an owner decides he's going to take the Aga with him - which he may well do, if he paid pounds 5,000 for it. But it's like raping the house. You might as well take all the shrubs. I'd advise all fitted kitchen items be included in the sale, otherwise a buyer will say, why pay the full price if the house is not complete?"

l Other Aga owners include Tony Blair, Richard Branson, Eric Clapton, Dustin Hoffman, Rolf Harris, Nigel Mansell and Caroline Quentin.