Jessica Boone
Fruit cobblers are just one of the many items Akasha Richmond prepares in her Alto-Shaam Combi Therm Oven.
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My Favorite Gear January/February 2010

Merrill Shindler - January/February 2010

Top chefs name trusted equipment big and small that gets the job done time and time again, whether it's à la carte service or banquets for 500.

In an age when restaurateurs want value for every dollar spent and fine dining leans more to revamped sure-fire favorites than free-form experimentation, it's not surprising that this state-of-a-decade survey finds that topping chefs' favorite gear lists are workhorse performers with exceptional strengths and staying power. Aware that going green helps them save green, chefs when possible also want equipment that's energy efficient. But they haven't let any such righteous considerations get in the way of the simple joy of cooking--and of making customers' eyes light up. Customers hungry, say, for the enduring joys of fresh out of the fat hot doughnuts.

Jeffrey Russell, executive chef
Equinox Resort and Spa
Manchester Village, Vermont
"Guests line up for our fresh cider doughnuts, made by the thousands on weekends. We have an automatic machine, the Belshaw, which is a doughnut robot, all done with conveyors and chains. We have a hopper we put our batter in. You press a button, and it drops the batter onto the conveyor into the grease. It automatically flips the doughnuts over. And when they're done, the conveyor drops the doughnuts into a bowl of sugar and cinnamon. It makes 114 dozen an hour. We make about 250 dozen Saturday and Sunday. We only serve them hot. If they're not hot, we toss 'em. It's the Krispy Kreme concept. New, the machine normally costs about $10,000. We bought ours on eBay for about $1,400. They didn't really know what they were selling. It was filthy when it arrived. It took a month to break it apart and clean it. I went online and printed out Belshaw's 165 page manual to figure out how it works. Thank goodness we're a hotel with an engineering department--they figured out how to wire it, it was so complex. Now it looks brand-new. It was always one of my plans to do doughnuts here. But I didn't have a budget, so I started looking around. Once it was working, I put in my expense report. It's easier to beg for forgiveness than for permission. Our idea was to bring Vermont back to the Equinox. Cider doughnuts are a great Vermont tradition--crunchy on the outside, warm in the middle. I like to use a Japanese mandoline, a rotating one, made by Benrimer. It spins circles. You can make long strings of potatoes and wrap things with them. There's lots of Japanese writing on the box, but it does say "Turning Slicer," so that's what it is. Years ago, I had some credit with a supplier. So, I looked through his catalog and saw the turning slicer. I liked the look, and I got one. I've used it ever since. I love gadgets. I've got every little gadget you can think of. There are things I don't even know what they are, or what they're used for--micro squirt bottles, that sort of thing. They all go in the gadget drawer--one at home, one at the restaurant."

Akasha Richmond, chef/owner/caterer
Akasha
Los Angeles
"When we were building the restaurant, I bought as much energy efficient equipment as I could. Maybe the biggest item we bought was the Alto-Shaam Combi Therm Oven. It's eco-smart--it uses less energy. We bought it two years ago, so they were ahead of the curve back then. It's supposed to be engineered to save both power and water. Which is what we're about--so much of the restaurant is sustainable, recycled, environmental. It's us. And I love what the combi-oven does. You can bake in it; you can steam in it, which is great for items like brisket. It constantly puts steam and water into the oven, which keeps everything moist. You can do something called ‘re-therming'--you can steam food without drying it out. It's so good for crème brûlée and cheesecake. Nothing dries out. It has a probe, and you can program it. It's a very versatile piece of machinery. I feel it saves us a lot of money because of all the little things it does. It's like the best spouse ever. And it doesn't snore at night. In the restaurant, and at home, I use 360 Cookware, a brand of waterless cookware that's very green. The factory is green, using energy efficient systems. They don't use chemicals to polish the cookware. They use something called vapor technology, a high-grade stainless steel that's very green. It lasts a lifetime, so you don't have to keep rebuying things. You can cook vegetables by just rinsing them, and it steams them in the pot. It's especially great for home use. I've got to tell you--it's just great. I love doing one-pot cooking--just five minutes and it's done. I also love palette knives. I used to paint. They're great for so many things. They're totally green--no energy but me. You can do anything with a pair of tongs. You can do anything with a palette knife. I need some new ones. I like shopping for my kitchen equipment at an art store."

Martial Nougier, executive chef
Café des Architectes
Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
"You can cook anything in the Rational Convection Oven. I do a lot of sous-vide. It's perfect for sous-vide. You use lots of steam, set it for 139 or 140, and the sous-vide is perfect for whatever I cook--rack of lamb, guinea hen, rabbit, duck, so many things. And we do everything for food and beverage. We have so many banquets, and it's perfect for them, for preparing so many dishes. Really--I love it, I love it, I love it. And I love the Vita-Mix, the blender. It also does so much. I do the soup, I do all the purees. The way I cook, there are so many purees, the carrot puree, the celery root puree. The Vita-Mix will puree anything, it's so powerful and strong. The texture is always how you want it. It allows me to do different ones, so I can make things very smooth or with some bits of the food. It's very versatile. You don't need to use a timer. The texture is perfect. It always comes out right. I love the Vita. I love the equipment I use, if it works well. And these work very well. I also love the Japanese mandoline--it doesn't use any energy. I love pasta machines. They're just by hand, my energy. No electricity. Just me."

Emily Luchetti, pastry chef
Farallon, Waterbar
San Francisco
"It may sound boring, but I like a big clean work surface, a big clean wooden table. I'm very fond of the Viking Gas Thermal-Convection Oven, which is more for home than restaurant use. But it does such a good job, that's reflected in dishes like pumpkin spice bread pudding, warm chocolate malt gâteau, and quince/huckleberry empanaditas. And I love the KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I couldn't live without it. It's a standard. And I updated myself this year. I got the anniversary edition with the glass bowl, which is great because you can see the ingredients in the bowl and determine if they're being evenly mixed. It's very cool. The bowls are very tall on a lot of the other stand mixers on the market. They're hard to get into when you're trying to get the spatula in and mix everything around. And I love it because it's so solid. The five-quart is just the right size. It's like Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear--that's the size that fits me best. Also, the speed goes from really low to really high. And it doesn't make too much noise. Some of the others are terribly noisy. In terms of smaller items, I really like the Ateco Mini Offset Handle Spatula. It's a metal spatula designed at just the right angle. I can handle it and get the frosting just right. It's a very smart device. We love our spatulas. It's so easy to get into pans and level things off with an offset. Several companies make them, but I really like the Ateco. I don't think it even costs $10. Some of the best tools cost next to nothing. It comes in different sizes. I like the smallest. What I also love is the OXO Cherry Pitter. Pitting cherries can be so hard. The OXO makes it fun. And it works. I also like their liquid measuring cups; they're very smart. You can see the measurements inside on the right and the left. They're so easy to use."

Stephan Bahr, executive chef
Metrazur
New York City
"I love the Wood Stone Pizza Oven because it never, ever breaks down. Our restaurant has been here for 10 years, and everything breaks down--except for the Wood Stone. I've never had a problem. It doesn't have any moving parts. And the internal hardware is really good. Nothing burns out. We've never had to replace anything in the Wood Stone. It's gas fired, but we use different fruit wood chips to flavor the food. It's a perfect piece of equipment for dishes such as charred Angus sirloin steak with rosemary fries, smoky Scottish salmon with corn and mushroom hash, "natural" chicken with truffle/Parmesan broth, and lamb shank with frizzled onions. And then, there's my ice cream maker, a Coldelite. It's like the Wood Stone--it also never breaks down. We do different flavored sorbets--cranberry/grapefruit, piña colada. It works so well. And the product is always good, always right. I'm also very fond of my knives. They're by Mizuno, a fine Japanese knife maker. They're very difficult to sharpen; they come with their own stone. I would travel with them, but I don't travel--I stay here all year long. They're perfectly balanced, the steel is excellent, and the handles fit the hand so well. Once you put an edge on the knife, it stays. That doesn't always happen with other knives. With Mizuno, I never have to worry that my knife will suddenly become dull."

Mark Beaupre, director of food & beverage/executive chef
JW Marriott Orlando
Grande Lakes
"My favorite big piece is the Jade Industrial Six-Burner Range. It's bullet-proof, a very simple piece of equipment that works every time. The grates are very heavy, and any type of pot or pan can just slide across the top. It can hold anything, and it always maintains a steady temperature. It's one of those pieces of equipment you can always rely on. It never seems to break down. And it gets a lot of use from us. And we put our KitchenAid Coffee and Spice Grinder to use 365 as well. Not a day goes by--not an hour goes by--we're not using it for something. I've been beating on my KitchenAid forever. It never lets me down. I have one that I use for both spices and coffee. I make sure to clean it really well between uses. I'm an avid fan of the coffee from Kauai. I love their beans. So, I clean it very well. Otherwise, the coffee will pick up some odd flavors. We always exchange information with the other managers at Marriott. If one of us has a great experience, that piece of equipment will appear in kitchens everywhere."

David Burke, chef/owner
David Burke Townhouse (and others)
New York City
"With the Wood Stone Pizza Oven, you can do everything from pizza to whole fish to soufflés. It's great because you don't have to waste a lot of sauté pots and pans. It's a very clean, neat way of cooking, where you can use roasting trays without having to use a lot of fat. There's much less splatter when you cook in the Wood Stone. And you don't have to deal with all the noise of pots and pans banging together. I find cooking in the Wood Stone works every time. It's a matter of finesse. Once you understand the oven, you can cook almost anything in it. You can use the All-Clad Table Top Griddle for blini, quail eggs, pork belly, or foie gras. I love working tableside with it. Diners are always impressed when we sear foie gras or cook quail eggs on it. And I have little saucepans that go along with it, so it becomes a show at the table."