Some interesting discussion in the comment fields on the subject of “home” mixers versus “pro” mixers. My previous mixer was a Viking and it’s true that people tend to associate that name with professional equipment manufacturing. The company definitely started out doing exclusively that. However a general rule of thumb when it comes to determining whether this-or-that piece of equipment is “home” gear or “pro” gear is this: if you can buy it in a shop it’s home kitchen gear, if you buy it through a commercial dealer or restaurant supply house, it’s professional.
That may sound flippant but really it’s true. Some high-end home equipment manufacturers label their products “professional”, but that’s mostly just a marketing tactic. Certainly some made-for-the-home stand mixers end up in professional kitchens, but that’s because they’re cheaper than the small-volume mixers that can be had through dealers. A 5-quart professional Hobart mixer can be purchased through a dealer at a cost of about $2,200. Is it that much better than a $300 5-quart KitchenAid? Not really depending on how you use it, but the advantage is that if the Hobart breaks down the dealer will come out to the restaurant and service it. Still, many restauranteurs or bakery owners, being cheap by nature, would rather pay $300 for a KitchenAid, work it do death, throw it away and get another than pay $2,200 for mostly the same thing.
So why all the “professional” labels on home mixers then? Well, ever since the rise of the foodie movement a lot of home cooks have wanted to make their home kitchens look and feel more professional. Appliance makers have of course complied with their wishes, producing all sorts of appliances that mimic what you see in restaurants. A lot of this gear has a professional look but actually isn’t professional gear — and that’s a good thing.
Why? Because professional pieces of equipment are pretty blunt instruments, usually with nowhere near the versatility of home gear. I once made the mistake of bringing a (truly) professional mixer home. It was extremely powerful but it didn’t do small quantities of anything. Why? Because it never occurred to the engineers who designed it that anyone would ever try to beat just three egg whites in it. It also sounded like a Harrier jet in hover mode. Professional ranges have the same problem. They’re great when it comes to putting out giant amounts of heat — great for a sauté cook on the line. But what if you’re a home cook trying to make a delicate stirred custard? Then they’re not so good.
A close friend of mine learned about pro gear the hard way when he bought a commercial refrigerator to finish out his very, VERY expensive kitchen. Being a great cook he wanted a pro look and was ecstatic to discover that he could get twenty cubic feet of refrigerator space — all stainless — for less than a nice home refrigerator. Of course not a week later he was returning it because a.) it vibrated so much that it traveled across his hardwood floor even when the wheels were locked and b.) the compressor was so loud that it woke up everyone in the house when it kicked on at night. Plus it was unevenly cold if it wasn’t fully loaded up with food. His eggs froze if he didn’t keep several cases of bottled water in it.
All of which is to say that professional equipment is designed for its environment. It’s very tough, it has to be. However because people working in commercial kitchens don’t really care how loud their gear is, how much it vibrates, what it looks like, how well insulated it is or how much exhaust heat it throws off it’s not something you want in your house as a rule. Home machines are often maligned as “wimpy” when most of the time they’re far better engineered and as a result can do a lot more.
Personally I’m rather ambivalent about Viking. Their background as I mentioned is in professional kitchen gear and they have since branched off into home kitchen appliances, bringing a lot of those professional rough-and-ready attributes to their products. My personal feeling is that while I love all the power under the hood of their mixers the company has yet to learn how to make a really good one for a home environment. As such I think I’m going to go back to KitchenAid which understands the needs of home bakers better.
UPDATE: I went to the Viking website to hunt around a bit and discovered the company has very recently discontinued its stand mixer line, along with all its other countertop appliances (food processors, toasters, blenders). That’s probably for the best.