Czech Made: The Remoska mini-oven
The Remoska oven has been a household name in this country for over sixty years now, braving competition from ever more sophisticated kitchen appliances. The Czech-invented multipurpose oven is popular with older generations and young families alike and its revamped version even expanded overseas as far as the United States and Australia.
From prototype to production
Inspired by an electric pot he saw on a business trip to Sweden, the Czech electrical engineer Oldřich Homuta developed this portable electric oven in the 1950s. Before World War II, he owned a company producing electric motors. After nationalisation, it was merged with the Remos company, hence the later name of his invention. The first prototype of the aluminium pan with a lid fitted with an electric heater was called the HUT – an acronym of the first letters of Mr. Homuta’s name and the names of his two colleagues. Over the years the cooker was manufactured in different places, one of them being the town of Kostelec nad Černými lesy just outside Prague, as Jiří Filípek from the local museum explains.
“The manufacture was located in this villa from 1930. It housed the production as well as the offices of the Remos company. Gradually other buildings were added in 1958. At that time, Remos employed nine people who started the production and completion of the HUT heating lids.”
The Remoska cookers were produced until the year 1990. During the first wave of privatisation in Czechoslovakia, the company was put up for sale. In 1994, the new owners of the Remoska trademark moved its production east to the town of Frenštát pod Radhoštěm and called the new company after the cooker – Remoska. Its marketing director Ivo Svoboda describes the evolution of the product.
“The first model came in the late 1950s. The lid had a removable cord that could be used for irons and other appliances as well, but the handle was somewhat clumsy. The bowl was made of aluminium because it is a very good heat conductor. Today’s model has a non-stick surface. The first models had no window in the lid, it came only later, but the truth is that the baking is not ideal in that place.”
The see-through lid proved a popular feature all the same and the Remoska oven tried to accommodate everyone’s needs in terms of capacity.
“There were three sizes, just like today. The Original model cooked 2–3 servings, the Grand model served a family of four and then there was the camping Mini model for one person. Its content is one litre, it can be disassembled and looks a bit like an electric mess tin.”
The production technology has evolved since the first days of the Remoska. Its metal parts are pressed in a mechanical workshop. Then they need to be cleaned, both chemically and mechanically, in order for the non-stick lining to be applied. The base coat is burned in an oven and then the second Teflon coating is applied. In another workshop, the lids are completed with the heat element, and fitted with glass windows and cords.
The Remoska cooker was extremely popular in its country of origin from the start but it was also a valued export article during the socialist era, Ivo Svoboda says.
“It was popular in the countries of the former Soviet bloc. The exports were big. For example, when I come to Hungary, they still remember their grandma cooking chicken in the ‘Remoshka’ as they pronounce it. They say they can never forget the taste. The Poles knew it and the Russians used to call it the ‘miracle oven’.”
The humble Remoska survived the political and economic changes of the 1990s and managed to penetrate Western markets – of course, equipped with the respective country-specific power plugs.
“We have had great success in Great Britain where we export fifty percent of our output. The way we got there was a bit of a miracle. One day the phone rang and at the other end of the line there was someone who introduced herself as Lady Milena. She said I could speak Czech with her and asked why we did not export to Britain. I said because we did not have a partner. And she said, I will find you someone.”
Lady Milena is none other than Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, née Fleischmannová, a Czech who arrived in England as a child in 1939 on one of the Winton trains. She became interested in the Remoska and facilitated its imports to Britain. In 2002, the Remoska oven started to sell well in Canada and the United States, and the following year in Australia. When she spoke to Czech Radio a few years ago, Lady Milena recalled how it all started.
“I was in Prague and I wanted to buy a Christmas present for my cousin. She said she still had an old Remoska from her mother. So we went to buy a new one. And I thought why isn’t this on the market in England? So I dialled the company and they put me through to Mr. Svoboda. I asked him why they weren’t selling the Remoska in England. And he said they didn’t have a representative. He called me an angel from heaven when I said I would find them one. A friend of mine worked for a catalogue merchant. She took one Remoska home and said she would play with it for a few days. Then she said she would give it a try. They ordered a thousand and thought they would last three months. They sold the batch in three weeks.”
Simple and versatile
The unique selling point – as marketing specialists call it – of the multipurpose Remoska is that it is easy to operate – you just switch it on and off. Ivo Svoboda explains:
“The mechanism is very simple. There is a heating element in the lid. The heat comes from the top and the temperature gradually spreads to the bottom part of the bowl. Food burns at 315 degrees and the hottest bit of the Remoska reaches only 250 degrees Celsius so the food can never catch a flame inside.”
The Remoska mini oven can be used to cook a wide variety of dishes, from roast chicken to bread, to pies and gratins, even soup and sautés. The food inside doesn’t lose moisture, so your roasts come out nicely tender and juicy. And it saves a lot of energy to boot. Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines even calls it “the green pan”.
“First of all, it’s so easy to use compared to other sophisticated appliances. But the greatest thing is that it is so energy-saving. When you use a regular oven, it is like switching on twenty-five lightbulbs whereas with the Remoska it is only five lightbulbs. And you get even better results. A roast chicken in the Remoska is simply something else. You can make the Czech ‘buchty’ pastries in it. I make potato soup in it. It is such a simple pot that people cannot believe it. We keep trying new recipes. We had the first cookery book translated. I approached a lady chef, who at first didn’t trust it, and she wrote us another two recipe books.”
Some of the Remoska cookery books have sold out in the meantime, but the Remoska has many fans in the English-speaking world and therefore there are plenty of recipes in English to be found online.