Kitchen Gadgets

Mike Cook

Foodies often have the wrong idea about cooking ware. For a tribe dedicated to a demanding craft, foodies still adhere to some strangely inefficient cooking gadgets, and our kitchens often look more like novelty shops than workshops.

There are so many ridiculous kitchen doohickeys out there. Witness the strawberry huller, the apple corer, the banana slicer. If the idea of a single tool to slice a banana doesn't seem fruity to you, how about a tool to take corn off the cob (a corn zipper) or a ceramic grater made specifically for ginger? I guess an electric pepper mill is necessary... if you don't have wrists. The worst items, though, are those that take up the most space, like the panini press, the ice cream maker, and the deep fryer, each of which might get dragged from the cabinet once a year.

Years in the restaurant business have proved to me that restaurant kitchens are Spartan places. The foods that impress restaurant diners are often created using the bare minimum of equipment.

For one thing, there are usually only one or maybe two sizes of pans in a restaurant kitchen, with no lids (another pan can be turned over and put on top of the first as a lid). Chefs are always recommending that home cooks spend money on good pans, but anyone that's stepped into the average restaurant kitchen can see they use pretty cheap stuff. Some of these pans look like they're made of old car fenders.

I asked a chef at the Culinary Institute about this and he said they just demolish pots and pans too quickly. Pans can actually burst apart after going one too many times from blazing stove to cold dish tank. Restaurants would go out of business if they bought the nicest pans available.

You don't need to buy the most expensive pans available either. What you want are certain features, like a thick bottom. Heavy-bottomed pans will be a little more costly because they use more metal, but you can still find good ones for a good price. Try shopping for brands without a celebrity chef name causing unneeded markup.

Another thing professional kitchens have are big pots. You might ask why you need a five gallon stock pot, but the real question is why you'd bother making two gallons of soup when you can make four and freeze the extra. A recent piece in Bon Appetit asked chefs for their must-have kitchen tools. Near the top of the list were: tape, plastic bags, and a sharpie. Chefs are always making large amounts of simple products and storing most of it.

Stores like Williams Sonoma are fun to look around, but if you don't have the basics, they're not worth the money. I recommend you try Goodwill. It might sound ridiculous, but people are always leaving behind good quality pans and knives. Besides, when it comes right down to it, it's not the quality of the pan that makes the meal, it's the quality of the person wielding it.


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