Whether you’re a Red Seal Chef or just like to impersonate Gordon Ramsay at home, every cook has a list of do-or-die kitchen gadgets. We interviewed 12 Alberta chefs and culinary experts to find out which of these tools were kitchen crucials, or a waste of good cupboard space. What’s your verdict?
It’s no surprise that this gadget won out with every chef at home. More than 80 per cent of those surveyed say they couldn’t live without this tool, and for good reason. Hotel Arts Group Executive Chef, Jan Hansen, says it’s the perfect tool for emulsifying dressings and making aioli, with the added bonus of being portable and easy to clean.
Whether he’s cooking at home or work, Heritage Park Executive Chef, Leighton Smyth, says an immersion blender is essential for speed and consistency.
“We use it almost everyday,” Chef Smyth says. “We go through around 80 gallons of soup every two days during the summer — this makes it easy to prepare.”
You can shell out $8 or $200 for one of these lean, mean, emulsifying machines — either way, you’ll be happy you did!
If you’re a baker, chances are a stand mixer is your go-to tool. When working with large quantities, a stand mixer whips up perfect portions of dough in record time (and gives those hands a break from kneading!). Chef Medi T from vivo ristorante in Edmonton says he uses his stand mixer for everything from grinding meat to mashing potatoes.
“People often associate it with making baked goods,” Chef Medi T says. “Crashed or mashed potatoes are quick and easy in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, rather than labouring away with a potato masher utensil.”
With additional attachments like pasta rollers and graters, these mixers make quite the versatile kitchen tool.
With more than half the chefs surveyed saying they could live without this tool, it seems the pasta roller has the shortest gadget shelf life so far. While many, like Mary Bailey of Edmonton food and drink magazine, The Tomato, say having a pasta roller is definitely a big help for the home pasta maker, it’s not an essential kitchen tool. But if you’re looking for smooth, uniform pasta, hand rolling just isn’t the same for some chefs.
“I could live without it, but I wouldn’t want to,” says Chef Dustin Schafer of Calgary’s Modern Steak. “We make all of our empanada dough and some pastas with it.”
To be or not to be, there’s no question about having a microplane in the kitchen. Seventy-five per cent of those surveyed say this tool is crucial for grating cheese, citrus, nuts, and every other thing you’d need to whittle down.
“This is one ofour most commonly used tools, and one of the most commonly fought over as it’s so easy to lose,” jokes Chef Doug King at Pigeonhole in Calgary. Slender, versatile and perfect for a quick shave, most chefs agree this tool is a necessity for home cooking.
“You can get creative with them to add more flavours to your dishes with better control,” explains Bridgette Bar Chef JP Pedhirney. “Try using it to grate ginger or garlic into your braising kale, or some fresh cinnamon into Chantilly cream.”
If you’ve ever used a garlic press, you probably know this device is more a clever marketing ploy than a useful kitchen tool. Impossible to clean and easily clogged, it’s no surprise that every chef surveyed shunned this tool.
“It’s just lazy,” says Modern Steak’s Chef Schafer.
But what makes a garlic press lazy? Whether you’re a home cook or chef extraordinaire, the answer is simple: use a knife.
“It’s a waste of money if you have a chef’s knife and have learned how to use it properly,” explains Chris Short, instructor of culinary arts at NAIT in Edmonton. “You can mince a clove of garlic faster and more efficiently with a French knife than the time it takes to clean out the half a clove that’s left in the press.”
Mortar and Pestle
Going old school, this archaic device has made a comeback in kitchens and cocktail bars everywhere. Most chefs agree this gadget was something they could live without, but none deny the finesse and fun it adds to the cooking process.
“It’s entirely satisfying using it to make everything from pesto and curry bases to more basic applications such as pounding garlic and herbs,” says Chef King of Pigeonhole.
Kathryn Joel, founder of Get Cooking culinary school in Edmonton, says she owns more than four sets of these tools. “I use them all the time,” she says. “I use them for everything from grinding spices to creating handmade curry pastes.”
Most chefs agree that a rice cooker is a non-essential tool, but it sure can be a time saver in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to some, this tool can be used for more than just cooking rice, too.
“A rice cooker isn’t only for cooking rice,” explains Kevin Tsang, chef at Bookers BBQ Grill & Crab Shack in Calgary. “It can also be used to slow cook meat and pastes.”
While these gadgets yield perfectly plump rice as well as free up time to focus on other things in the kitchen, most chefs say even the home cook can’t be considered such if they aren’t able to make rice the “hard” way.
Leftover utilizers, busy parents or the impoverished post-secondary student would probably starve to death without one of these. And while it seems laughable to use a microwave in any professional kitchen, microwaves are quite the controversial gadget.
“We’re moving away from kitchen conveniences such as sous vide and focusing on cooking with open fire, smoke and most importantly, intuition,” says Chef King of Pigeonhole. “The microwave is the opposite of all these things: mechanical, impersonal and quite frankly, gross.”
While others, like Chef Ryan Hotchkiss at Bundok in Edmonton, say microwaves can be used for interesting techniques like microwave cake and drying herbs, maybe it’s safer to restrict microwave use to re-heating your morning coffee.
I already have a big pot, what do I need this for? More than 60 per cent of chefs surveyed will tell you exactly why this heavy-lidded pot is a must-have in the kitchen.
“We couldn’t make our bread at the restaurant without our cast-iron Dutch ovens,” says Chef Hotchkiss at Bundok.
A substitute slow-cooker ideal for braised dishes, stews, chilli and curries, Chef Pedhirney at Bridgette Bar says he uses his Dutch oven for making cobblers and baking bread, adding that the durability of this tool means it won’t warp with consistent use.
Most chefs agree a potato ricer is key to any smooth starch. Going from smashing potatoes by hand to using a ricer, culinary chef Kathryn Joel says nothing compares to the light, fluffy by-products of this kitchen tool.
Also an important tool for making homemade dishes like gnocchi, Chef Hansen from Hotel Arts says this gadget is a crucial one.
“I would never dream of making mashed potatoes or gnocchi without it!” he said.
Last but not least, we have on the table the most daunting of all kitchen tools: the mandolin. Not for the faint of heart, more than half of chefs surveyed say this slicing tool is critical in the kitchen.
“To achieve the thin, even slices of vegetables you see in a high-end restaurant, the mandolin is the tool all the pros use,” says Chef Medi T from vivo ristorante.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an executive chef to use a mandolin. But if you want to save your knuckles from being julienned, always remember to use the safety guard with this razor sharp tool!