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Down periscope! Up periscope!

Gaggenau's VL 051 Telescopic Swivel Ventilation System can, with the turn of a knob, move up and down to vent smoke and fumes directly at the source.

"It's a periscope," Poggenpohl's showroom manager Oliver tells me as I stare at the futuristic-looking device installed on one of Poggenpohl's sleek steel countertops.

At first I believe Oliver, who provided my tour of the luxury kitchen-maker's San Francisco design studios yesterday, because he is rather poker-faced.

Then again, I can be gullible.

Gaggenau's Telescopic Ventilation System vents this steamer. Kim Girard

I look again and realize that the submarine-style thing might have something to do with the in-counter steamer next to it. The steamer, made by Gaggenau, one of two appliance makers Poggenpohl usually works with, (the other is Miele), looks normal enough.

The periscope, however, does not. "What does that thing do?" I ask.

"It's a ventilation system," Oliver responds.

Oh, cool. This tour has definitely been a day when the word "cool" comes out of my mouth more often than I'd like, as espresso spurts from steel nozzles in the wall and cabinets pull down, seemingly out of the sky.

Aside from its role here with the steamer, Gaggenau's VL 051 Telescopic Swivel Ventilation System can, with the touch of a button, be raised up and down to vent smoke and fumes directly from a pan or grill.

The downdraft ventilator (about $1,739) is made of aluminum and has two control knobs, one to turn it on and another to control the height.

Gaggenau's Telescopic Ventilation System at rest. Kim Girard

The arm on the device creeps up and down to provide ventilation at different levels. When grilling, you can set the arm close--at 2.4 inches--to catch the most smoke and odors directly off, say, a burger or steak. When cooking or frying, you can crank the thing up almost 16 inches for a less direct approach.

The arm rotates 90 degrees so you can move it closer as the food is cooking. A flashing light on the control panel tells you when the grease filter needs a cleaning.

According to the company, a sensor prevents the device from "trapping" anything as it retreats under the countertop. (I thought it looked sort of predatory.)

Oliver turns the knob and the thing disappears. The counter is once again flat.

"Cool," I say.