Category: Entertaining

One day, back in 1993, I received a phone call from the Food Editor from the Detroit News. They were planning on writing a feature article on the 30th anniversary of the ever-popular Easy-Bake Oven. Their angle was to give 1 oven to each of a few of well-known Chef’s around town and ask them to create something.

I think you know where this is going.

The Easy-Bake Oven and I had met before. Back when I was 10.  I asked for one for Christmas. Not because I was a budding Baker, and not because I had a “domestic” streak in me. It was simply because I was a chubby little kid who had devised a diabolical way of getting around his Mom’s weekly Twinkie cupcake quota.

I’ll just make my own?  It was genius.

Back then, I generally followed directions and used the tiny packages and added water. Blah! And to make matters worse, those little mixes weren’t even available in the grocery store, only in the toy store. And they were expensive.

I quickly learned that Easy-Bake Oven had no patent on cake mixes and I decided to secretly try Duncan Hines cake mix which then seemed like an industrial size container.

Eureka! I was off!

Easy-Bake Ovens

I stopped following directions around 1974. I think that was the first time my parents said I shouldn’t get married. In looking back, it was bad time to stop following directions. Anyway, in the Culinary world, if you’re always follow the directions, you keep making the same things, the same way, over and over again. Now generally speaking, while replication and uniformity are important, (just ask McDonald’s) you’ll never truly create anything exceptional (as an Executive Chef) if you don’t break the rules and stop following the directions once in a while.

So, when presented with the opportunity by The Detroit News to relive my childhood once again, (but this time, break the rules) I jumped at the chance.

Like a race car driver getting a new set of wheels, I was definitely going to put this new 1993 oven through its paces, just to see what it could do. No longer a 10-year-old “pretend baker”, I was a professional Chef. I got skills.

1993 was a good year. Opus One was Restaurant of the Year, we had just been awarded our 2nd consecutive DiRoNa award (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) and I was on a roll. A plastic oven with a 100-watt light bulb was no match for my culinary prowess. I unboxed that oven like a dog with a new bone and plugged it in.

In truth, there weren’t too many crashes and burns during my culinary experimentations, well, except for a few burnt fingers from poking the pan through the tiny slot when things got stuck. (…And yeah, I know they have a little pusher thingie for that).

It’s absolutely amazing how much heat a 100-watt light bulb can generate?

Thankfully, after reading the finished Detroit News article, written by David Jacobson, I wasn’t the only one with unresolved toy issues. Nearly all of us burnt our fingers. One Chef nearly melted the back of the oven off by rigging his oven with a 150-watt bulb, one chef nearly got electrocuted and one Chef’s dish caught on fire in the oven.

And those just the mishaps we “admitted” to.

For me, I eventually settled on a Wild Mushroom and Asparagus Souffle recipe which, when “just enough” batter is poured into that tiny little pan, rises “just enough” to fit through the little exit door.

THAT took a lot of trial and error. (Meanwhile, I’m sure the guests in Opus One’s dining room were all wondering why their dinners were taking so long to come from the kitchen.)

Long story short, there is now a National EasyBake Oven day. It’s Sunday, November 4th this year and it will be the 55th anniversary of the oven. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement for a toy.

A short history of the Easy-Bake Oven begins in 1963 when Kenner launched the bakery toy which was eventually made by Hasbro, as it still is today.

Easy-Bake Overn

The Original Easy-Bake Oven.

Besides the Easy-Bake Oven, a number of other iconic toys came out that decade. In fact, the 60’s are considered by many, to be the toy’s golden age. It was during the 60’s that American toy manufacturers gave us the Duncan Yo-Yo, Slip n’ Slide, G.I. Joe, Etch a Sketch, Rock em’ Sock em’ Robots, the Super Ball and Hot Wheels.

Eventually, the Easy-Bake Oven was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2006 along with Lionel Trains.

Along the way, the oven has gone through a dozen design changes to make it safer (…yeah, NOW you make it safe!) and the light bulb has been replaced by a modern “heating element”.

The Easy-Bake Oven was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2006 along with Lionel Trains. Among other accolades, a 2014Time Magazine piece entitled Top 13 Most Influential Toys of All Time ranked the Easy-Bake Oven # 6  (Lego’s was #1)

Lastly, Blitz Sales Software report of June 2016 Best Selling Toys in History as follows:

#1 Barbie

#2 The Yo-Yo

#3 Easy-Bake Oven

#4 Radio Flyer Wagon

#5 Silly Putty

#6 Transformers

#7 G.I. Joe

#8 Hot Wheels

#9 Etch A Sketch

#10 Lego’s

#11 Mr. Potato Head

#12 Hula Hoop

In 55 years, it is estimated that between Kenner and Hasbro, over 30 million Easy-Bake ovens have been sold, plus over 150 million cake mixes and refills.

That’s a LOT of cupcakes!
In honor of National Easy-Bake Oven Day, I submit to you my original Wild Mushroom & Asparagus Souffle just as it appeared in the Detroit News on October 19th, 1993.

Wild Mushroom & Asparagus Souffle recipe

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