Winter is the time for some serious cooking, the time to pull out the cast iron Dutch ovens and other major accoutrements in the kitchen. It got us thinking — what do chefs find indispensable in their kitchens? What can’t they live without or what is something new and different? The answers may surprise you.
Blair Lebsack, Rge Rd
I have two favourite tools. One is my small folding Opinel knife. This thing is sharp. It goes where I go, hunting, fishing, camping or for a casual cheese board that Caitlin and I decide to have.
The other is the classic Kunz spoon, but now I like the slotted version. The handle and the bowl are the perfect size. Getting poached eggs out of water, no problem; plating mushrooms with extra liquid, it does that too without any drips. Two simple tools with so many uses.
Andrew Fung, XIX Nineteen
My favourite tool is a very good quality fish spatula. Every piece of fish we cook deserves a good spatula to lift it off the frying pan.
Kelsey Johnson, Café Linnea
The most indispensable thing in our kitchen is our combi oven. It does a multitude of things. We use it for canning which makes the job relatively mess-free, easy and quick, as we don’t have to boil the jars. The combi also steams to perfection. We do tons of root vegetables in it, instead of having huge pots of boiling water on the stove. We just found out we can blanch tomatoes for a minute and a half in it too. Otherwise we use our Vitamix a lot, it’s cheaper than a Thermomix and great for purees and soups. We have an older 120 volt machine that came from Giselle’s (Giselle Courteau, co-owner of the Duchess Bake Shop) kitchen.
Eric Hanson, Prairie Noodle
Now that I spend more time in office and less in the kitchen, my tools certainly have changed. Otherwise I would have been raving about my tiny tweezers and vintage gold tasting spoons. I’m on a laptop now more than on a cutting board. The step away from the stoves and into the office is important, so I can become informed and aware of all the costs and risks associated with every decision in a restaurant. When I am in the kitchen these days it’s a digital scale that I’m using the most. I’m constantly checking weights and recipes to get the most out of every ingredient. Using a digital scale keeps us accurate instead of eyeballing. Now, I’m the one who ensures not only that all the dishes taste good but that they are priced correctly as well — something most cooks, myself included, don’t focus on as much as flavour and presentation.
Lino Oliviera, Sabor
My favourite kitchen tool right now is a three-tooth, anti-slip handle Deglon oyster knife/shucker from France. I’m not a real fancy guy when it comes to kitchen tools and gadgets, so when we built our new raw bar at Sabor over the summer, I was using an old wooden pointed oyster knife. The raw bar was a hit and shucking almost 500 oysters a week got really hard on my wrist. When chef Ned Bell from Ocean Wise joined us during our annual seafood festival he busted my chops for using an antique. So, I upped my game. My new oyster shucker fits nicely in the hand, it gives me a solid grip and I can shuck a lot faster than ever before. I’m ordering a few more because my staff like it too.
Shane Chartrand, Sage
I enjoy using my juicer. You get the best extension of clean and vibrant flavours from vegetables to make amazing broths, sauces, soups and of course drinks.
Rosario Caputo, Cibo Bistro
My favourite tools are the ones we use to manipulate shapes or to cut pasta. It’s really hard to pick a single one — I love using the ravioli cutters I picked up when I was in Bologna and I have a customized single-hole rigatoni die which was made for our hand-crank bigoli press. It’s a time-consuming procedure because every piece of rigatoni is individually extruded and cut by hand — a lot of love goes into the pasta alone. But, at times the simple butter knife is my fave tool to make orecchiette.
Tracy Zizek, Kitchen by Brad
My favorite tool is a miniature offset spatula. I prefer the small size because they take up less space in a drawer and it sits well in the tool pocket of my chef jacket. Offsets in general are great for transferring food from pan to plate, they offer good control when icing cakes and they work really well to smooth and even thick batters for baking. And, if you bake with kids (my niece and nephew) like I do, the minis work well in their small hands. Most important? Easy to clean.
Larry Stewart, Hardware Grill
Our favourite tool at home is a panini grill. Ours has panini plates and flat plates and can fold flat for griddling. We use it for quesadillas, grilled sandwiches (everything from grilled cheese to Ruebens) and garlic bread.
Roger Létourneau, Bar Clementine
A Japanese mandolin is probably my most indispensable tool, but I definitely use the Bamix a lot. With the flat blade attachment you can make a French meringue on the fly.
Kaelin Whittaker, The Ruby Apron
This has been topic in Ruby Apron cooking classes recently — what I could (Vitamix) and what I couldn’t live without in the kitchen. Can’t live without: bench scraper to cut my dough, shape my loaves and clean the work surface after shaping. A dough scraper to get every last little bit of dough out of my mixing bowl and to keep bowls tidy if I’m hand mixing. A kitchen scale, I use it everyday. A good sharp microplane. And, especially, my Ankarsarum mixer. It’s the closest thing (in my opinion) to a professional mixer that fits in a domestic kitchen. It is quiet, it is strong, has a timer and a lid, the bowl is brilliant. It kneads dough as well as kneading by hand.
Lindsay Porter, London Local
Right now we are house-grinding everything. We make our own sausages, burgers and black pudding. We use a heavy-duty grinder called Tre Spade. This one came with the restaurant, but you can get a good grinder at kitchen supply stores like Russell Hendrix.
Scott Downey, The Butternut Tree
We purchased a Hawos Grain Mill to be able to make our own flour. We found that we could get the grains we really wanted to use but couldn’t find a commercial mill to make the flours. I researched to get the right machine in house. The Hawos has been such an amazing contribution to the work we do. We are learning just how much we can do with it, which is expanding our use of grains here in the restaurant.
Shelley Robinson, Zenari’s
I don’t leave home without a couple of amazing silver spoons. I have picked them up over the years when traveling. No other spoons will do the trick. They are just the right size for tasting, serving, mixing, basting. They are very old and look beautiful.
I bought a commercial grade vacuum packer a couple of years ago. I use it for everything, to break down meat, package soup, make dog food. It’s indispensable and really practical and not just for modernist cuisine. My other favourite is my growing collection of all carbon steel knives from Knifewear. I started down that slippery slope a few years ago. I have boxes of old German and Swiss, but once you start with the Japanese knives there is no going back. They really hold an edge.
My custom hardwood cutting board isn’t a tool so much, but I love using it. It’s the perfect height and perfect size with little non-slip legs so you don’t have to put a towel underneath. It was a gift from someone I used to date, a furniture maker who got tired of hearing me complain about cutting boards warping and slipping.
Daniel Costa, corso 32
I bring these puntarelle cutters back from a market in Rome. Puntarelle is a type of chicory that makes a delicious winter salad — you peel away all the leaves then put the base through this special cutter. I haven’t been able to find that particular type of chicory here, but we use the cutter (mostly at Uccellino) to slice zucchini and asparagus. It cuts differently than a mandoline or a knife. I like it too because the tool looks like it was handmade in someone’s yard.
Christine Sandford, Biera
Other than, of course, a sharp knife, I’d have to go with a microplane zester. I seem to always be using the microplane to garnish and add another element to a dish. A second favourite would definitely be a digital scale.
Rafael D’Alcazar, The Holy Roller
My favourite tool in the kitchen right now is the Mexican mortar called a molcajete. This traditional tool is great for spices, grinding cocoa, roasted coffee beans or sauces — it keeps the textures we sometimes lose with the high-speed machines these days.
Tony Krause, Revel
A favourite tool of mine is been a really good sauce pot. I picked up a really nice one quart Mauviel copper sauce pot a couple months ago, with a cast iron handle. The thickness of the pot is really awesome for slowly sweating vegetables, but also is amazing for keeping my food or sauce from scorching if I want to blast it on a very intense heat source. I have found that a one- or two-quart pot works best for me, although a three-quart is nice to have on hand for things like pasta. I also have a really great All-Clad pot that has been quite enjoyable to cook in.