My Favorite Gear April 2008
Judiaann Woo - April 2008
Chefs across the country declare that size does matter when it comes to many of their favorite kitchen tools and equipment. Bigger isn't always better. Instead, compact, multipurpose, and efficient seem to be the buzz words
"When we opened back in 2000, every single piece of equipment in our kitchen was brand-new except for our Alto-Shaam smoker. Since then, every single piece of equipment has been serviced except for the Alto-Shaam smoker. It's been such a dependable little workhorse. It's stainless steel with some orange decals, but I'm not even sure how old it is because all the serial numbers have been worn off from years of scrubbing. Right now we use it every day to smoke our sugarcane cured duck breast with pecan wood. We also feature a different fresh pasta every single day. Using my Imperia electric pasta machine with motorized rollers just makes the whole process go much smoother. On my own, I can easily crank out 30 feet of pasta in no time at all. For me, making pasta provides a perfect blank canvas to showcase good flavors and ingredients. Today, we're offering a savory cocoa pasta with balsamic beurre blanc, roasted hazelnuts, and seared scallops. I'll make all the traditional shapes, but then I'll also create shapes without names, like my own form of simple origami. I find the whole pasta making process to be very meditative. My staff knows not to bother me when I'm in my pasta zone".
Pera Mediterranean Brasserie
New York City
"Sometimes even the smallest advances in equipment can have a huge impact on the way we work in the kitchen. Robot Coupe developed a unique wiper feature on their Blixer, a combination food processor/blender/mixer, that automatically scrapes down the top and sides of the mixing bowl without having to turn off the machine or open the lid. It might not seem like much of an advancement, but given the amount of chickpeas and eggplant we puree daily, this added feature saves us a tremendous amount of time and hassle. When it comes to ground meat, however, nothing beats hand chopping and hand marbling to create just the right texture and perfect blend of lean meat to fat. We butcher the lamb for our adana (chopped lamb) kebabs on site and chop the meat using a traditional Turkish knife known as a pala, which comes equipped with one or two wooden handles on either end. Its long curved blade is shaped like swords from the Ottoman Empire and is surprisingly efficient at getting the job done."
Union League Club of Chicago
"As you can imagine, we do a lot of banquets and buffets here at the club. Therefore, I'm always looking for better ways to ensure that our hot foods stay hot and that cold foods stay cold. The ThermaFlex Serving System by Rubbermaid Commercial Products works wonderfully at maintaining consistent serving temperatures without the use of ice or sternos. The system consists of various interchangeable tray and bowl units that link together using quick connect cables, which lead to a centralized compressor that can easily be tucked under the table. The system allows me to preset holding temperatures so that oysters on the half shell remain in the ‘safe zone' and ice cream stays frozen. Just eliminating the need for ice has been hugely liberating. We no longer have to worry about potential leaks possibly ruining the expensive dance floor. On the low-tech side, I love my F. Dick serrated chef's knife. It's like a regular knife, only there's an ingenious three to four inch section where the blade is serrated, making it very handy if I need to slice into a really ripe tomato or loaf of crusty bread."
Hank's Oyster Bar
"I love my Rational combi-oven/steamer. I can do just about anything in it--roast, steam, or a combination of both. In fact, I think we do close to 80 percent of our prep work in the combi. We use it to steam shrimp for shrimp cocktails, lobsters for lobster rolls, and vegetables before service. During service we use it to finish meats and fish. You can use the steam to your advantage to keep things moist, or you can bake and roast as with any other oven. I don't have a huge kitchen, so I appreciate its dual function. Another great space saving device is my Tilia FoodSaver. It's a very small tabletop vacuum sealing machine that hardly takes up any space at all. When I worked in France, I did quite a lot of vacuum sealing, but it wasn't until the machines got smaller that I started vacuum sealing more here in the states. Now that I have this compact model, I vacuum seal all the time. When I travel to do events, I vacuum seal all my ingredients, which eliminates the need for bulky containers. It also saves me a ton of space in the walk-in, and it's great for portioning out quantities for service. Vacuum sealing also helps to keep ingredients fresher longer, and it works great for certain cooking techniques like poaching fish in oil. It's also just plain fun to use."
New York Marriott Marquis
New York City
"The journey of the spice road and flavor palettes of the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Mediterranean have influenced the way I cook. I've lived and worked in those regions. For me, each spice tells a different story. We grind the spices in small batches using electric coffee/spice grinders by Braun. I like that the grinders come in two sizes and allow for easy control over the coarseness of the grind. At any given time, there might be 10 to 15 grinders whizzing away around the hotel. Many people still think of garam masala and curry as a single spice when in fact they are a blend of many different spices that are unique to each family and region. In my pursuit of authentic flavors, I also look for the best cooking equipment for the job. The last four establishments that we've opened have all featured freestanding stone- and clay-lined tandoor ovens by Wood Stone. We use the ovens to roast lamb, fish, and chicken that we've marinated and rubbed with our spice blends. The temperature, which easily gets up to 600 degrees, produces an excellent sear and keeps the meat nice and juicy on the inside. We also use the tandoors to bake our signature naan flatbread, which we serve with four different dipping sauces."
"My favorite piece of kitchen equipment is the Vita-Prep 3 variable speed mixer. I know people talk about how much they love their Vita-Preps all the time, but it's for good reason. You could blend something day and night in an inferior blender, and it still wouldn't be as smooth. I also like how it seems to make soups and sauces fluffier and more palate pleasing, rounding out the flavors. I'm able to make emulsified sauces in the Vita-Prep that can be heated, refrigerated, and reheated without losing their emulsion. That's just not possible with any other blender. And to prevent motor burnout, the Vita-Preps shuts off automatically when overheated. I discovered a neat little trick to get the motor running again, and that's to put it in the freezer for three minutes. Like a person, when it cools down, it's ready to work again. As for another essential piece of equipment, that would have to be the F. Dick hand crank sausage stuffer owned by our in-house charcuterie maker, John Baldasarre. I first hired him as a prep cook, only to discover that he'd been perfecting his charcuterie skills for years at home. He makes the best stuff I've ever tasted. He makes about 20 different varieties a week, including wild boar and venison prosciutto, soppresatta, cotechino, coppa, lamb adriatico, etc."
New York City
"So much of Indian pastry cooking requires the reduction of milk as a key ingredient. It's an essential component in many classic treats like halwah and burfi, or for making paneer cheese. In India, the halwai (sweet makers) stand in front of huge woks all day, patiently stirring, until the milk is reduced to just the right stage for each recipe. At Dévi, we don't have the time and staff to devote to babysitting a pot all day. Instead, we reduce our milk using an induction burner. Ours is by Mr. Induction, and it works great because it's able to hold and maintain an even temperature for hours without fail. It's especially great at maintaining very low temperatures, which is exactly what we need for milk reductions. A single batch of kulfi might take five hours to make, but rather than stand there the whole time, we're able to walk away and give it a quick stir every 20 minutes without fear of the milk scorching. Once the kulfi base is made, we spin it using our stainless-steel Italian-made Musso ice cream machine. Its compact tabletop size is perfect for our needs. Unlike some machines that whip in too much air, the Musso produces a creamy dense ice cream that I find more authentic."