Cook’s Tools

What tool or gadget do working cooks use every day? What’s the most practical and useful tool in their kit?

We asked several chefs to talk about their favourite tool and why they are never without it. Granted, their kitchens work a bit differently than a home kitchen, but trust a hard-working chef to find the one piece of equipment to make their time on the job easier, quicker and more effective.

Who wouldn’t enjoy spooning with Three Boars’ Filliep Lament and Brayden Kozak

Brayden Kozak of Three Boars loves a spoon.

“They are practical, simple. Maybe something you don’t really expect, but I use them for plating, tasting, everything, rather than tongs. Yeah, tongs are good but they beat the crap out of your food.

“I have a heavy stainless steel spoon with a nice big bowl. There’s something about it — if I can’t find it, I start to freak out.

“Filliep is a spoon nerd too. He has a gorgeous silver spoon with intricate handles he got from somewhere — we both have a collection. A spoon is a pretty fantastic tool.”

Lindsay Porter, Mercer’s Catering, and Brad Smoliak, Kitchen by Brad Smoliak, can’t live without their microplane graters.

“I find it’s a tool I can use quickly to add a lot of flavour,” says Lindsay, who was previously the exec chef at 4th and Vine Wine Bar. “Besides my wine glass, it’s really important,” says Brad. I use it for desserts, for grating chocolate or zest, and for savoury things as well — it’s multiple use and easy to clean, not to mention very durable.”

“My favourite tool in the kitchen? It’s always a toss up between my knife or tongs. Let’s go with tongs,” says Larry Stewart, Hardware Grill. They’re an extension of my hand, when you’re plating, or taking stuff out of the oven.

Which kind of tong?

“I use the short 9-inch type.”

Which knife?

“I use a German knife, a Wusthoff Trident I’ve had for years. Our sous, Jesse Chalmers, the same. I guess we’re pretty elementary.”

Frank Olson his new Canteen tabletop/cutting board.

Frank Olson of the Red Ox Inn and Canteen is also a fan of a pair of tongs.

“I like the long Oxo tongs as I’ve burned the hair off my fingers enough times. I am also a big fan of my new cutting board by Boos — it’s huge and heavy, I don’t even have to use a cloth under it to keep it from moving around. They are a similar look to our new tabletops for Canteen from Nova Scotia. They are made from end-cut larch wood, with a beautiful pattern.”

Ryan O’Flynn, Bistro La Persaud: “My favourite tool is a water bath used in sous vide cooking. If you put a beef tenderloin in a water bath at 54 C you can cook it to medium rare and it’s medium rare all the way thorough, with no rings of medium or well done. You can use a blowtorch to caramelize the outside for flavour and texture. An immersion circulator takes any vessel and turns it into a water bath. If we’re busy, I can put an immersion circulator in a back sink where we can confit pork belly for 48 hours. You could put an immersion circulator in a cup if you had to. We use both all the time.”

Matthew Lakis, the owner of Ousia, says he can’t work without a mortar and pestle.

“A mortar and pestle suits the style of cuisine I’m into — we make spice blends and pastes and grind nuts often. I use mine daily to grind cumin and coriander seeds and cinnamon stick, for things like ras al hanout.

“I do like the marble style as I find there’s more force than a wooden one. Things grind more easily and quickly, but, my family did bring back a nice olive wood one from Cyprus.“

Sometimes a chef’s tool isn’t something you can put in the dishwasher or carry in a knife roll. Chefs, like dancers and athletes, rely on their body’s ability to stay healthy to keep working. “My favourite tool? These days it’s the meds for my back,” says Lynn Heard of Unheardof Restaurant. “That’s what keeps me cooking.”

Andrew Fung’s can’t-live-without tool? “My knife, my Misono Japanese-made, 10 inch, Swedish steel knife. It’s very light, I’m a small guy and it fits perfectly. It’s always sharp, never dull, really good quality.” Andrew, Edmonton’s top chef at Gold Medal Plates 2010, Hardware Grill alumnus, and former chef at Black Hawk Golf Club, is the exec chef at the new Nineteen.

Shaun Hicks of Glasshouse Bistro looking sharp with his Masakage Shimo.

Shaun Hicks, Glasshouse Bistro at the Enjoy Centre, the new name for the Prairie Bistro, loves his knife.

“My knife is 5½ inch chef knife. It’s a hand-forged Japanese knife called Masakage Shimo from Knifewear with a super-light, super-thin blade made from Shurigami carbon steel. I can do anything with it — I can cut beef, vegetables. It’s razor sharp and makes a super clean cut.

”That and a boning knife, I’m set.”

Darcy Radies from the Blue Pear says: “The Thermo mix is really our go-to thing. We make pasta, you can sauté things, we start our risotto in it; you can put a steamer unit on top and steam your fish. I just made two litres of Romesco sauce.

“When I got it, I really didn’t know how to use it. But once Tom Moody closed and the food processor broke, we started to learn to utilize it. It cleans up a lot of counter space. It makes a lot of noise. So does the Vitamix, which really only makes soup.”

Zinc’s Doreen Prei flips for her offset spatula.

Doreen Prei the chef de cuisine at Zinc is never without some variety of offset spatula.

“In Germany I worked with an award-winning pastry chef. He always had one. I was with him for six months — you had to have one, otherwise you wouldn’t survive in the kitchen.

“If something is burning, I just walk by, take out my offset spatula, and take it right off the stove. It’s good for cooking scallops. I don’t like a scallop to be touched by tongs — you have to be gentle. I carry it in my pocket, when I go into the dining room people ask; ‘what is that in your pocket?’

“This one, I got this one in Paris, in a beautiful shop. It is very thin and elastic. I have one that is a little stiffer, good for ganache or terrine and pates.”

The Tomato’s favourite kitchen tool is the dishwasher.