Cary Norton
James Boyce and his kids, Colton (6) and Alana (8), make their favorite peanut butter ice cream.
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Favorite Gear: October 2013

Merrill Shindler - October 2013

Six chefs praise the gizmos, gadgets, and appliances—large and small—that keep their kitchens humming.

We live in The Age of the Gadget. And when I say “gadget,” I don’t just mean high-tech gewgaws like the iPad and the iPhone. A recent issue of the New York Times magazine was dedicated to “Innovations”—code for…gad­gets. And we discovered the roots of such wonderful creations as the Cuisinart and the salad spinner. Chefs, who spend their lives in kitchens, exist in a world of gadgets. And not all those gadgets are high-tech; for some chefs, the simpler the tool, the more perfect the result. Here are some favorites:

Simplicity is the very essence of the gadgets closest to the heart of James Boyce (chef/owner, Cotton Row, Commerce Kitchen, Pane e Vino, James Steakhouse, and Cafe Alana Shay, all in Huntsville, AL). On the simplest side of things, he loves “a hand-carved wooden sauce spoon used for tasting. It’s made by hand by a local woodcarver and would never be mistaken for another cook’s tasting spoon. Truly one-of-a-kind.” Moving up the gadget ladder, he prefers to use “an old-fashioned hand crank ice cream maker. This machine requires salt to freeze. We use it for ice cream as well as chilled sauces, soups, and other desserts. It brings us back to the basics of good dessert preparation.” And when it comes to tools that take up space, he says, “My big choice is a Yoder ‘Frontiersman’ Smoker as well as one of their custom suites. This is the ultimate in a competition barbecue, a true work of art—consistent heat, perfect size, and multiple applications. A must-have for our restaurant and home.”

For Jesse Schenker (chef/owner, Recette, New York City), nothing is better than the iSi GourmetWhip Plus: “iSi chargers provide a creamy texture to soups and light gravies and sauces—without adding cream. It’s a great way to add the luxurious texture without all of the unhealthy fats and additives.” He’s also mad for blenders. And like a parent asked to name his favorite child, he has many favorites—the Breville Hemisphere Control Blender, the Cuisinart Blend and Cook, the Vitamix Pro Series 500, and the Omega BL480. He points to his onion soup made from a consommé with onion espuma, oxtail, and Gruyère as a dish he couldn’t make without his blenders. Ditto his purees (apple, olive, porcini, sunchoke, sweet potato), his vinaigrettes, and his aïolis. And he swears by his Waring Pro Portable Convection Oven for off-site catering. He says, “It’s great for heating passed hors-d’oeuvres. I can do everything I do in the kitchen off-site. I just have to make sure that what I’m doing fits in it.”

For Harrison Keevil (chef/owner, Brookville Restaurant, Charlottesville, VA), the techier the gadget the better. Which is why he’s crazy for “my Professional Series Polyscience Immersion Circulator. Maybe not so much big, but expensive and worth every penny. I have started to dabble in low temperature cooking, and I’ve used this tool just about every day. My favorite thing to cook in it at the moment is eggs. We love them at Brookville, and low temperature cooking provides such a silky texture to this gorgeous ingredient.”

If you make sushi, you need a great knife. Eric Bromberg (chef/owner, Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group, New York City and Las Vegas) has found one. He says, “Everyone should have a hand-crafted custom-made chef’s knife. I love mine from C. Thomas Knives.” And like so many chefs across America, Bromberg can’t imagine life without “a Cook & Hold Alto-Shaam oven. It will cook and hold all sorts of dishes. You’re able to successfully cook a Thanksgiving dinner for 30 people and serve all the dishes hot at the same time!”

For Deb Paquette (chef/owner, Etch, Nashville), the kitchen tool of choice is a CVap Cook & Hold Oven CAC509 from Winston Industries for “controlled vapor, with a 5 to 10 percent better yield than a circulator.” But she also says, “My baby is my Alto-Shaam—the oven that steams and smokes. It’s fabulous. I swear, I’m gonna teach it to polish my nails.” She hasn’t given up on the old ways—“there’s nothing better than a big-ass steak on the grill.” But she also loves learning new equipment: “I’ve cooked on a regular range my whole life. It’s time to learn new things.”

Nicholas Elmi (formerly executive chef, Rittenhouse Tavern, Philadelphia) couldn’t imagine life in the kitchen without a cake tester. But, as he says, “Not for cakes. We use it for cooking fish during service. For larger cuts especially, if you insert it at an angle, there should be little resistance once the fish is properly cooked.” And speaking of simplicity, he’s also mad for a large cleaver and mallet: “I use this lovely combo of tools to perfectly split calves’ heads without damaging the brain. We use the heads for tête de veau, and we batter and fry the brains.”