The $300 see-through toaster: A perfect gift for a breakfast voyeur

From the Department of Things You Did Not Know You Needed comes... the see-through toaster.

Look for the Magimix Vision toaster, which has glass sides so you can watch your bread brown, at Williams-Sonoma stores nationwide this spring.

And at $299.95 a pop, this device requires some serious bread. But store officials believe there is a clear market for a transparent toaster.

"The wow-effect is pretty cool on this," says Bradley Kleparek, electrics buyer for San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma. He sees the toaster, already popular in Europe, finding a home with people who "like those kind of cool gadgets and like to make a statement in their kitchen."

And like toast. A lot.

What makes toast tasty is known as the Maillard reaction, named for French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard. Exposed to radiant heat, sugars and proteins in the bread combine, turning brown and taking on a nuttier flavor.

Great moments in toast history include the invention of Nichrome in 1905, an alloy used in high-resistance wire that could be heated quickly. In the '20s, pop-up toasters appeared, but the device didn't really take off until the '30s and the invention of sliced bread, according to the Colorado-based Grain Foods Foundation.

More refinements followed - a recent model can simultaneously toast bread and poach an egg.

A few companies have tried transparency, including the fabulously named Toast-O-Lator from the '40s, which worked on an assembly line concept - the toast went in one end and was slowly propelled to the other with a porthole on the side offering a peek at the process.

Sleek chrome beauties from the early 20th century are desirable collectibles today, testament to the staying power of toast and toasters.

Eric Norcross, founder of The Toaster Foundation Museum, was bitten by the toaster bug some years ago as owner of an art gallery and café in Seattle. He wanted to serve something warming, decided on toast, then realized the best way to do that was with tabletop toasters so customers could get their bread at the peak of crispy perfection. One toaster led to another and before long he had a collection.

Sleek and modern with infrared technology, patented heat reflectors and four quartz heating tubes, the Magimix Vision toaster stars in its own video, posted on YouTube and set to rather mystical music. Magimix is from the French company Robot Coupe, known for their professional food processors. The design is French, but the toasters being sold by Williams-Sonoma are made in China.

The Magimix "looked pretty good, it seems interesting," says Norcross, who has seen the video. The price wasn't a dealbreaker for him since "you have to pay for quality."

But Val Roy Berryman, curator at the Michigan State University Museum, which recently put on an exhibit kitchen utensils wasn't so sure: "$299 - is that really the price? I don't know that I'll run out and buy one," he said.

But what if it makes really good toast?

"It better," he said.


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