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.
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.