My Favorite Gear Jan/Feb 2009

Diana DeCicco / January 2009

No matter how capable the chefs, to acheive dependably consistent results they often need more than their own two hands. Which is why they rely on their most trusted equipment.

Whether it's catering banquets, getting out the orders on a busy Saturday night, or competing in the Bocuse d'Or, chefs look to that special heavy-duty workhorse to help them repeatedly clone a dish to perfection. They may need it to make flawlessly poached eggs, unvaryingly al dente pasta, a quicker custard, or tender braised beef cheeks. Whatever it may be--a combi-oven, powerhouse blender, or an entire cooking suite--the equipment chefs rely on most not only gets them through good times and bad but keeps customers coming back again and again.

Steve Schimoler
Crop Bistro & Bar
"My favorite piece of equipment is Hector, the best dishwasher I've ever had! Seriously though, I've been working with Vita-Mix, and we have a prototype of the Vita-Mix XL, which is a gallon-and-a-half monster, just recently introduced. I've been helping with development, design, and functionality. Vita-Preps are great, but this new one is like a jet engine in terms of power. Basically, this can replace the small Vita-Preps because I'm able to do three times the volume of any recipe in the same amount of time I would normally do one batch. That's huge for a couple of reasons: I've been able to cut down on labor, almost one-third; also it gives a more consistent product because I'm not measuring out three different batches. It's so powerful that I'm able to literally take raw meat, rough chop it, pack the blender, and make sausage. I had the opportunity to be the first to play with it and really work through it. We found more extreme uses than would be expected--there's nothing I found it couldn't do. One of the best parts is the lid for hot blending that vents the steam. I can bring boiling soups right off the stovetop and safely puree immediately. Another piece of invaluable equipment is the Daniels Food Equipment vacuum tumbler. I have a 40-pound capacity vacuum tumbler which does an unbelievable job of tenderizing and marinating chicken, pork, and fish. It opens up the muscle structure of the meat so the marinade goes into it. It's my secret weapon. I'm surprised more chefs haven't bought them yet."

Frank Brunacci
Trump International Hotel and Tower
"The Rational headquarters is just outside of Chicago, so when we were creating the kitchen for Sixteen I went to visit and left with six ovens. I can't live without the Rational SelfCooking Center® for banquets and catering. We have three 62s, two 102s, and one 202--each progressing in size. We're still building a business, and the Rational helps because I can rely on it more than the cooks for its output and consistency. For example, we use the 202 to heat cold plated dishes. If someone is plating a few seconds behind, there's no pressure because every dish after it comes out with life and freshness. I can even use it to braise overnight, knowing I'll get a great product without worrying about it drying out or overcooking. We can get up to 450 people a night for a plated dinner, and with this oven you can walk away to take care of other things: it tells you when your product is cooked--every piece is always perfect no matter what size or thickness. On the restaurant side, I can't live without the PolyScience Thermal Circulator. It's like the Rational--every piece of protein comes out the same. It's ideal for breakfast when you do scrambled or poached eggs on a buffet line. For three hours they stay perfectly cooked, perfectly heated, and perfectly moist and fluffy. It takes all the idiot out of eggs. You just can't beat that. We're open for service about 14 hours a day, and the circulator is probably on for 15 hours. With practice you can really use both of these pieces to their full advantage and come out with a perfect product every time."

Timothy Hollingsworth
The French Laundry
Yountville, California
"One of my favorite pieces of equipment is the Cuisinart pressure cooker. It's a new interest because I'm braising for the Bocuse d'Or, which takes place on January 27 and 28 in Lyon, France. While training at our center at The French Laundry, I'm braising oxtail and beef cheeks in a manner similar to sous-vide, but it's impossible to do it correctly and consistently. So I thought about using a pressure cooker like my mom used when I was little. My other favorite piece of equipment is the Cleveland Convotherm Combi Oven Steamer because I'm able to cook with steam more correctly than with a standard oven. At the Bocuse d'Or, I'll cook custard and sous-vide vegetables. With the combi-oven I'm able to set the time and not worry because the oven is calibrated. When I make my custard, I don't need a water bath. This allows for a much more consistent product, and it bakes much quicker--under seven minutes. We cooked with this oven in Orlando at the semi-finals, and at that point it was brand-new so we hadn't figured out all the great things we could do to use it to its maximum potential. The speed and accuracy of the oven make it the perfect piece of equipment for something like the Bocuse d'Or, where a few minutes can make a huge difference. We were also doing trios, so it was important to have an oven that holds a consistently even temperature and can produce an even color. The oven eliminates our having to go back and forth to check an item, pull out trays, and turn them."

Tony Maws
Craigie on Main
Cambridge, Massachusetts
"The Alto-Shaam Quickchiller and the Alto-Shaam combi-oven have both made huge differences for our kitchen. We have a larger kitchen to work with here at Craigie on Main than I had at Craigie Street Bistrot. But here we have an upstairs and a downstairs, and the downstairs allows no heating elements. Therefore, we need each piece of equipment to be incredibly efficient--and the Alto-Shaam blast chiller and combi-oven both are. Right now I'd have to say the blast chiller is the one I can't live without. It has had the single biggest impact on our kitchen with its ability to bring food from hot to cold in minutes rather than hours. We now can take the purees for ice cream, chill them, and make ice cream the same day. Another great example is our duck breast. After we brine, render, sear, and smoke, we can now chill it in minutes to prepare it for sous-vide. The blast chiller saves us a half day for that dish alone. Because we handle it faster, I think it makes the duck taste better--all its goodness has been captured. Another great advantage of the chiller is that it has environmental benefits. It's not on all the time, and it's incredibly efficient when it is. We're saving tons of energy. The blast chiller isn't only energy efficient, it helps us all be more efficient, as our staff can accomplish more now that the chiller is cutting our wait time into hours versus days. It frees up our staff to do so much more. Plus, as it's all stainless steel, it's really easy to clean."

David Denis
Le Mistral
"In my kitchen at Le Mistral, we have a custom-made Electrolux S90 cooking suite. I went with this for its quality and sleekness and because it's so heavy-duty. I worked with it for a long time in Switzerland and have good memories. It's two lines of equipment--an induction flattop, two fryers, 12 gas burners, a griddle, and a pasta cooker. Because it has been placed in the middle of the kitchen, we work front to front and don't face a wall. It's easier to work like that. My favorite part of the cooking suite is the flattop griddle. This gives me very consistent product because the heat is well spread over the whole griddle. We get perfect results when searing foie gras or scallops. Not one piece will be of a different temperature or color. The other great part is the pasta cooker. The water is always hot and ready to go, so we're not constantly having to boil it. Also, there are a few various size baskets so we can cook a few different pastas at the same time. It's also very easy to clean--it comes with a drain, which makes it very practical."

Christina Tosi
New York City
"We work with the 50-pound Traulsen blast chiller, and it has become a tool we really love. Our bakery has only been open a few months, and I have a trillion ideas about how I want to work with it. We have a very small kitchen, but it has the capacity to give us large volume. We make everything fresh daily, including cakes. The only way to do that is to chill cake layers as quickly as possible, frost them, and assemble the cakes right away. We actually make a candy bar pie that has a backwards assembly. You would typically put the densest part on the bottom for gravity purposes, but for this pie, we put the lightest part on the bottom. We start with a thin layer of ooey-gooey caramel, put it in the blast chiller, then backwards layer with the denser ingredients. We couldn't do that without the blast chiller. At WD-50 I learned to throw cakes right in the freezer from the oven. It really locks in all the flavor, texture, and moisture. So we do that with the blast chiller. We use it far beyond its original purpose from a food and safety standpoint. It eliminates the need for an ice machine, a prep table, and almost for a freezer. It's about five pieces in one."