Kevin Miyazaki
Michael Engel with his Alto-Shaam mini combi oven.
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My Favorite Gear October 2012

Merrill Shindler / October 2012

Chefs praise the workhorses—big and small—that help them get the job done without fail.

Chefs like efficiency. They like equipment they can count on. They like gear that does a specific job as well as that job can be done. But like the rest of us, they also like their toys. Most of us wouldn’t think of a state-of-the-art zester as a defining piece of equipment. But if you’re one of America’s most famous pastry chefs—well, that zester rocks your world. Another chef finds a surprising use for chopsticks. Every chef praises his favorite knife. Charlie Palmer even keeps knives waiting for him at his various restaurants, since he doesn’t check his luggage. And when it comes to the heavy lifting, they all have their most trusted sidekicks.

Charlie Palmer
Charlie Palmer Group, Aureole, New York City and numerous other restaurants coast to coast
“I love my Viking range. It’s just amazing. You can’t cook well without a lot of power. At home I’ve got a great outdoor Viking grill, where we cook everything. All that smoking, all that barbecuing, I can do on my Viking. We did the first commercial Viking kitchen in New York City. And there’s no doubt that circulators have changed the way we cook. I can cook items sous-vide without losing any of the tender fat and moisture. It’s how I cook anything braised or that requires moist heat now, especially short ribs and pork shoulder.

“And we don’t have a kitchen without a plancha. Years ago, no one had a plancha. Now we use it all the time for a quick sear on dishes like sea scallops and fish fillets. And I’m really big on my Sodir salamander for gratins, browning, and caramelizing. I can’t cook without it.”

Sonny Sweetman, executive chef
Wolfgang Puck at the Hotel Bel-Air
Los Angeles
“I have a sizable collection of antique spoons—a wide variety of different ones, with different sizes, for different jobs. Modern silverware just isn’t the same. I found an antique dealer in San Francisco who specializes in spoons. She lets me know when a new shipment comes in. I especially like the old ones from France—the flat spoons are usable for so much. And people are still designing new spoons—they created a spoon at elBulli that looked like a fountain pen. Gray Kunz has a whole line of spoons you can buy online. They’re very good—when a chef designs a spoon, it’s a spoon that works for the chef.

“All the Wolfgang Puck restaurants have wood-burning grills custom-built by J&R Manufacturing. They’re essential to our cuisine—in a way, we build the kitchen around our grill. We use it for dishes like natural raised veal loin chop with a crispy Yukon potato terrine; a ragoût of porcini mushrooms and young garlic; and slow roasted Sonoma lamb saddle with sweet pepper persillade, smoked eggplant puree, and harissa labneh.

“It’s also an amazing visual element. You look into the kitchen, and there’s a blazing fire in the grill. We use one with a Ferris wheel–style handle. The right spoon, a wood-burning grill, and some Springsteen—essential for the kitchen.”

Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, The Bread Bible, and numerous other books on baking
“I love the Spin Zester. It’s a sturdy and simple device designed by the Willis brothers from Bellevue, Washington…a highly effective piece of culinary sculpture. Depending on the blade chosen, it will remove the zest in fine strips, either 1/64th to 1/16th of an inch wide, in under 12 seconds. The blades penetrate just deeply enough to remove the zest without any of the bitter pith. And a suction clamp secures the Spin Zester firmly to the countertop.

“And the BeaterBlade changed my life—the paddle attachment for the Hobart 20-quart mixer, created by NewMetro Design, inventors of the BeaterBlade Pro. The BeaterBlade H-20 virtually eliminates the need to stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl! It also makes mixing more efficient, cutting down mixing time by as much as 50 percent. The removable durable plastic blades are specifically designed to prevent batter build-up…and are commercial dishwasher safe. Even better, NewMetro Design is currently working on a model for the Legacy 20-quart and for the 30-quart Hobart.”

Michael Engel, chef/owner
Pastiche Bistro & Wine Bar
“I love the Bron mandoline, an amazing piece of equipment. It’s sturdy, it’s got adjustable blades, and it’s very precise. We use it for potatoes gaufrettes and potatoes dauphinoise, and for the beets in our beet salad. It’s an amazing tool for about $150. I’ve tried less expensive models—they fell apart after just a couple of weeks.

“I really couldn’t get through a night without the Alto-Shaam mini combi. I’ve been field-testing a prototype unit of the next generation. Alto-Shaam has a long history of creating exquisite equipment designed for restaurants with small kitchens like mine. What would take hours in a lesser unit takes minutes in this oven. But I can also set the temperature to low, and it maintains the temperature without any change. I keep coming up with new dishes to prepare in the mini combi. We use it for everything. It’s great for baking desserts—it maintains the right humidity for puff pastry, for our apple tarts. It works well for anything that needs extra humidity. We also cook our paella in it. And I do a roasted chicken with a mirepoix stuffing. I do a long slow steaming at 165 degrees. Then, I take the chicken out of the combi, cool it, debone it—and then I sizzle it at a high temp using the combi settings. It keeps the bird very moist, while making the skin brown and crisp. Just right.”

Sunny Oh, executive chef
“There’s no other tool that can replicate what Moribashi (Japanese metal chopsticks) do. Like tweezers, they’re a precision tool and are excellent to delicately handle ingredients of small sizes when plating.

“I rely on my Rational combi oven. It’s a European model—a steamer and convection oven in one, plus a combination option—so it gets two very different cooking processes done efficiently, or we can combine them with excellent results. I like to use it for pork confit. It works great for Korean short ribs and roasted chicken vadouvan, too.”