A mere month ago, I would not have imagined myself capable of initiating impassioned conversations about household appliances.
A month ago, I was young, wild and fancy-free, crossing the road while the green man was flashing, eating microwaved croissants and staying up past my bedtime (11pm).
But this month, I am obsessed with my toaster oven.
Not just any toaster oven, but the viral Balmuda toaster oven that’s been everywhere on social media for the last year or two. Yes, it’s a S$539 toaster oven. But, it’s so pretty.
I’ve made very satisfying cheese toast with frozen supermarket shokupan and mozzarella that bubbles and oozes (in “cheese toast” mode, which can be used for any bread with toppings, the food is heated more strongly from the top than from the bottom so that the bread doesn’t burn).
And, perhaps most thrillingly of all for my aunty soul, this thing is a game changer when it comes to leftovers. I’ve been able to revive and fluff overnight thosai, prata and tau sar piah – things that would have gotten soggy in a microwave or burnt and brittle in a regular toaster oven – using the “croissant” mode, which is for anything that contains a high amount of butter or fat.
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I was pleased to learn that Balmuda’s founder and CEO Gen Terao, 50, isn’t just a good businessman; he’s a true foodie who loves all carbohydrates – not just bread, but also rice and pasta – and his favourite thing to make in the Balmuda oven is cheese toast.
While in Singapore recently in conjunction with the launch of Balmuda’s store at the Takashimaya department store, he shared that there was one formative moment in his youth that cemented the idea that toast could be more than just toast.
“When I was 17, I dropped out of high school and went on a solo trip to Mediterranean countries including Morocco, Italy and Spain,” he said, adding that he’d chosen the region because he was a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s novels.
“Whenever I used a conventional toaster, every morning, I always thought to myself, ‘Is this the best version of toast that you can have?’” he said. Gotta love a man who chooses to start his day like this.
The story of how he had the idea of adding a steam function is almost as romantic as the Spanish bakery one. “After we decided to create the toaster, we had a company barbecue, and on that day it was pouring with rain,” Terao recalled.
Someone had brought bread to grill over charcoal, “and it was really, really good – it was crispy on the outside and fluffy inside, and the aroma and flavour were excellent. From the next day onwards, our engineers experimented with everything from the quantity of the charcoal to the height of the grill, but they couldn’t recreate it. And then, someone said, ‘Wasn’t it pouring with rain that day? Maybe it was the moisture.’” That, in addition to surveys at local bakeries, led them to incorporate steam into the toaster oven.
And what about the design element of the appliance – you know, like when Steve Jobs decided that computers could be aesthetic, too?
There were about 2,000 design plans for the toaster before one was finally selected, Terao revealed. It comes in sleek matte white or black, and even its beeping sounds quite melodious.
In Singapore, Balmuda products, which currently include the oven and a kettle, retail at Takashimaya, Tangs, Harvey Norman, Best Denki, Courts and HipVan. In other countries, things like a speaker, a coffee machine and a rice cooker are also available. The toaster, though, remains the hero product.
Terao is working on some new top-secret projects, including an energy product using wind turbine technology from Balmuda’s electric fan. “It’s very important to think about ways to produce electricity without burning fuel. I am a father, so I think about the next generation. And because we’re creating appliances that use electricity, it’s our mission to think about how to produce energy,” he said.
So, it’s never just about toast – like how a madeleine is never just a madeleine in the hands of a French philosopher, and my kaya “loti” isn’t just sustenance in the morning any more, it’s now a fresh and steamy emblem of all that even the humblest supermarket bread can achieve, made in a toaster that photographs more prettily than I do.
Cue more violins as my aunty soul ascends to its final form.