© Photo | ebm-papst, Ralf Kreuels

A tasty bit of fan!

Diet­rich Lampe had a flash of inspi­ra­tion: A portable plate warmer. He set about devel­oping it himself – and soon landed in hot water. The recipe proved to be a success: Even gourmet chefs are now regular customers

It all began with a minor tragedy. Some five years ago Diet­rich Lampe, chef and restau­rant owner from Osnabrück, Germany, was invited to the birthday party of a close friend and was looking forward to enjoying some good food. The caterer had gone to a lot of trouble, but the disap­point­ment arrived with the starters: Although the vari­a­tions of fish looked deli­cious, the wafer-thin slices imme­di­ately went cold on the unheated plates. And that did not do the flavour any favours or, as Lampe over­heard an elderly lady comment: “This fish died in vain!”

A remark which stuck in Lampe’s mind. Being in the trade himself, he knew only too well why the plates were cold: The caterer could only have heated them with the help of heavy, cumber­some warmer trol­leys. “But these stain­less steel construc­tions are unat­trac­tive in appear­ance and not worth using at small gath­er­ings,” says Lampe. The fact that there were no alter­na­tives on the market aroused Lampe’s inven­tive spirit. He took a commer­cially avail­able thermal bag for drinks, cut a hole in it and stuck his wife’s favourite hair dryer through it. The outcome of an exper­i­ment with a pile of plates was: Warm plates, broken hair dryer. Although this got him into trouble with his wife, the basi­cally posi­tive result – at least from a theo­ret­ical point of view – fired his deter­mi­na­tion.

The gourmet inventor

Real­ising at this point that he could not get any further on his own, Lampe approached a team of tech­nical experts. “When all said and done, I am a chef and not an engi­neer,” he points out. Even so, finding a feasible solu­tion was a tedious busi­ness. One idea after the next landed in the paper bin. “My garage is full of failed proto­types,” says Lampe with a wry smile. After months of frus­tra­tion, a promising design existed at least on paper and was not so far removed from Lampe’s idea with the hair dryer: An appro­pri­ately shaped hot-air blower for warming plates under an insu­lated cover. This was the birth of “Master Lampe’s Hot Plate”. There were however plenty of teething trou­bles to be cured.


Wolf-Jürgen Weber and Diet­rich Lampe talk about the plate warmer …

The first fan fitted to distribute the heat simply would not do what it was supposed to. Lampe’s devel­op­ment team approached Wolf-Jürgen Weber, ebm-papst’s repre­sen­ta­tive in the region. “With the benefit of our expe­ri­ence we were able to offer Mr. Lampe our imme­diate support,” he says. The right fan and the optimum solu­tion for the air conduc­tion under the cover were soon found. Weber still clearly remem­bers the prag­matic tests performed to work out the optimum number of venti­lation holes in the warming cover: “We simply punched a lot of holes, covered up one at a time and tested the temper­a­ture of the plates by hand.” Despite such prim­i­tive test methods the end product turned out to be a real high-tech device: The blower housing is made of a special fibre glass-rein­forced plastic and a sensor chip constantly measures the temper­a­ture to switch off the heating at the appro­priate moment. The outcome was a prac­tical combi­na­tion of a shallow device with a flex­ible cover which is easy to carry – in a shoulder bag.

The long road to series produc­tion

When it was offi­cially presented at a renowned gastronomy fair, the “Hot Plate” met with nothing but praise, nonethe­less there was still a long way to go before produc­tion and marketing could become a reality. After an unsuc­cessful search for a suit­able partner, Lampe and his hand-picked crew decided to take series produc­tion into their own hands. One aspect which repre­sented an enor­mous hurdle and involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing was the offi­cial certi­fi­ca­tion process. Lampe hit upon rather an unusual way of going about series produc­tion: Instead of just paying a normal manu­fac­turer, he has all the compo­nents – including the fan – sent to the Alex­i­aner­bund in Cologne, where the plate warmers are assem­bled in a work­shop for the disabled.

Several thou­sand plate warmers have since left the premises. Winning over so many customers involved a lot of hard toil – and truly “cold” acqui­si­tion. The reward: The plate warmer is now not only in use in large hotels and on cruise liners, gourmet chefs and TV crews would not want to be without their “Master Lampe’s Hot Plate” either. An added attrac­tion: Caterers can apply their logos to the warming cover and so leave a lasting impres­sion on the guests thanks to Diet­rich Lampe’s inven­tion. Diet­rich Lampe’s satis­fac­tion with this success is clear for all to see and even his wife has since forgiven him for ruining the hair dryer – she recently got a new one as a silver wedding anniver­sary present by the way.

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