My Favorite Gear May 2007
Judiaann Woo - May 2007
We all need someone to lean on, especially chefs who couldn't survive without a helping hand from their most useful workhorses—big and small.
Just as your phone is now your computer, your stereo, and your camera rolled into one, multitasking has also come to the kitchen. Chefs today are looking for multifunctional, multipurpose equipment that can serve double, triple, and even quadruple duty or more. It might take the form of a combi-oven with a dashboard sleeker than that of any new Lexus or a classic countertop workhorse with an array of multiple attachments. Functionality and indestructibility are key. The tools--both large and small--that best combine those qualities and are able to stand the test of time are the ones that follow chefs throughout their career. The gear they can count on. The gear that gets the job done.
The Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa
Atlantic City, New Jersey
"We have a huge operation here at the Borgata: 13 restaurants, 22,000 units for in-room dining, banquet facilities for 2,000, and a new tower going up in January for an additional 800 units. We have to work efficiently while producing the best food we can, with safety being a top priority, so equipment like the Combitherm convection steamer oven by Alto-Shaam (at right) becomes a must. We have seven units throughout our property, and they all get a ton of use. The programmable settings allow us to have consistently good results every time, whether we're baking, steaming, or braising. We use them as part of an integrated system of cook/chill components with interchangeable roll-in carts. The carts allow us to quickly manage large quantities of food with ease and efficiency. Another tool that we find very helpful is the vacuum packaging machine from Berkel. We use it for items that we cook sous-vide but also to help preserve freshness in meat and seafood and to prevent oxidation in certain vegetables. By storing these foods in a low oxygen environment, we're able to increase their shelf life and preserve their natural texture and color. We find that the system helps us to manage both portion control and also quality control."
"Early on in my career I inherited some Wolf ranges that were already 15 years old before I got my hands on them. They had been rebuilt and were in very good condition. Then I put an extra 10 years on them before we decided to remodel the kitchen. Even though they were 25 years old at that point, they were still in great shape. For the upgrade, I went entirely with Wolf's top-of-the-line Commanders series. Our ovens are now retrofitted to go up to 650 degrees--turbo charged! You really don't need that much heat, but it allows for quick temperature recovery, which is important when you're constantly opening the oven doors. We do a lot of consulting, and we always recommend Wolf. They're not the most expensive ranges out there, but for my money, they're the best. They're durable and able to stand up to constant hard use. Looking around my kitchen, another timeworn item is my commercial citrus juicer by Sunkist. I've had it for 14 years now, and it's still going strong. We use nothing but fresh squeezed juices for food prep, cocktails, and sorbets, so it's always in use. We're doing a blood orange Martini right now, and it motors through cases of citrus in nothing flat. It's the boy! I like that it's only got a few parts, so it's easy to clean. It's heavy too. It must weigh at least 30 pounds, so it's not going anywhere. It's the Abrams tank of juicers. Others are just toys."
The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
"When we were getting ready to open the golf course, I noticed right away that the only piece of equipment that was missing was a salamander. Needless to day, we got one installed right away. I can't imagine working in any professional kitchen without one. Just flashing a plate for 20 seconds before it goes out will ensure that what's hot stays hot. We use salamander broilers by Jade throughout the resort because they're strong and well built. They can stand up to constant use. You have to remember that a hotel is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can't afford to have your equipment break down on you. Not having a fully functional kitchen just creates a bad working environment, and that's not good for anyone. As for eye appeal, we're having fun with the new ‘Anti-Griddle' by PolyScience. It works like a mini flattop, only in reverse. Instead of the stainless-steel surface being hot, it's freezing cold--staying at a constant negative 30 degrees. We use it primarily in the pastry department to make à la minute frozen or semifrozen desserts. It's popular at receptions because of the ‘wow' factor. People get a kick out of seeing a liquid transform into a solid right before their eyes. Just like a griddle, you can flip the items over and depending on how long you let them ‘cook,' you can keep the texture light and crunchy with a creamy center or frozen throughout. You can even layer various components with different freezing points to create several textures within a single dessert."
New York City
"My Matfer commercial chocolate tempering machine is a real time saver. I put two to four kilos [4.4 to 8.8 pounds] in the day before I plan to do chocolate work and set the temperature to melt. It frees me up. I gain time to produce more chocolates or to work on other things. Even though it's called a tempering machine, it's not really meant to temper chocolate but rather to hold it at a set temperature. A small electronic heating element melts the chocolate and will regulate the temperature based on your settings, but it's still important to keep an eye on it while you're working because you'll have to make adjustments as the volume of the chocolate decreases. The temperature at the bottom will be slightly warmer, so it's important to stir regularly to get the most accurate reading and to emulsify the chocolate before using it. Another time saver is my Sper laser thermometer, which uses infrared technology to measure the surface temperature of whatever you point it at, including chocolate. Patrick Coston introduced me to one four years ago when we were in business together. I was pretty skeptical at first, but I played around with it, and it really works! It looks like a gun with a small screen that displays a digital reading. I use it almost exclusively for chocolate, but it works great for anything else where temperature is crucial, like crème anglaise for ice cream. When used properly, it's very accurate and fast. I like that it's hygienic too, because you're not introducing a foreign object into the chocolate. Some people say you can't work with chocolate and stay clean, but I say it just takes practice, discipline, and it helps to have the right tools."
El Bizcocho, Rancho Bernardo Inn
"We bought a Convotherm combi-oven steamer by Cleveland when I was selected to represent the United States at the 2007 Bocuse d'Or in Lyons, France. I thought it would be a good idea to practice on it before taking it into competition. It's a great piece of equipment that combines all the benefits of cooking with steam, direct heat, and convection heat in a single unit. It's fully programmable, and if I feel like it, I can even program it in French if I don't want anyone to touch the controls. You just set the program, lock it, and walk away. We use the combi-oven for many different applications, including something as simple as steaming eggs. The texture comes out perfect every single time. You can also decrease moisture levels to produce crispier textures, and it's got a great self-cleaning function that really works. As for a smaller piece of equipment, nothing beats the reliability of a Robot Coupe food processor. They're universal--every kitchen has one and for good reason. They're strong and durable, and they can take a lot of abuse. We typically chop everything by hand, but when we have a large banquet or event, nothing gets the job done faster. They're great for getting really smooth purees or for mousses. They also come with a lot of different attachments so you get multiple uses from one motor."
"One of my first jobs had me cooking on a wood-burning oven. I have lots of memories of setting up my area, twisting newspapers, having to stand on a milk crate. It was a real nightmare. It took me several months just to get the hang of it, but I have to say, the whole experience really taught me how to cook. I'm designing a new kitchen now, and a wood-burning oven would be perfect for the kind of food I want to cook. Even better, I'd love for Waldy Malouf to design the oven for me! Now, he understands high heat cooking! There's just something wonderfully special about cooking with wood. For one thing, the ovens can get unbelievably hot--almost a thousand degrees. But you learn to move things around and to use the heat to your advantage. Nothing gives you a better sear, and everything stays so juicy. It's great for cooking whole fish, chicken, or even bread. The floor of the oven gets really hot too, so everything gets nice and crispy on both the top and bottom. The method might seem very old-fashioned, but the food you can create is very contemporary. Another low-tech favorite are my spoons. One is a larger saucing spoon that I've had for about eight years now. Nothing picks up rice, sauce, or vegetables better. It's got the depth of a ladle, yet it's the size of a tablespoon. The other is a smaller teaspoon or demitasse spoon. Actually, it's a child's spoon, a Minnie Mouse spoon to be exact. I guess that's a little embarrassing--a grown woman with this Minnie Mouse spoon! But my mother gave it to me, and I've had it ever since I was five years old. It's the only thing I have from that time of my life, and it reminds me of my family. It's my favorite saucing spoon. I don't like to travel with it for fear that I might lose it."
The French Pastry School
"We have blast chillers in each of the classrooms. I find them to be a must-have tool in the pastry kitchen. The ability to freeze items very quickly helps to preserve the best texture by locking in the structure of water and fat. The longer it takes for something to freeze, the greater the chance of losing that perfect emulsion. We like the blast chillers from Irinox because they come with several different programmable settings so you can easily control how fast and how hard something freezes. In the quick freeze method, I can freeze an apple, defrost it, and the texture will be the same as if it were never frozen. A quick freeze can even help with yield. A sponge cake always deflates a little while it's cooling, but if you transfer the pan straight from the oven into the blast freezer, it deflates very little. When defrosted, the cake will be moist with full volume. A slower freeze is ideal when making laminated doughs. Another cool feature is the UV function. You put your washed and dried tools on a tray, put it the blast chiller, and they come out germ-free, just like at the doctor's office. Also, in each of the classrooms, you'll find five-quart KitchenAid mixers. I find them to be a great value. How many other pieces of industrial-grade equipment can you buy at that price that are as durable or versatile? If you think about how long they last, they're a great value. Personally, I think they're underutilized. The pasta roller attachment works beautifully for rolling gum paste. Mix all the ingredients together for a streusel topping and pass it through the meat grinder attachment to get the perfect crumbly texture. You don't have to buy all those separate pieces of equipment when there are so many versatile attachments for the KitchenAid."
Starwood Hotels and Resorts
White Plains, New York
"We're always looking for new ways to save time and energy without sacrificing flavor and texture. And if we can get more controlled results and a higher assurance of food safety, that's even better. We've found that Electrolux's pressure braising pans let us do all that and more. It's a very innovative piece of equipment. It's got all the best features of a 40-gallon tilt steam kettle and pressure cooker combined, but you can also use it like a griddle because it functions with both a closed and open cover. It even comes with a self-diagnostic alert system that will tell you if the food falls into an unsafe temperature zone. We find the pressure cooker function works great for braising, for stews, soups, and stocks. We've been able to cut at least 25 percent of our cooking time--saving both manpower and energy costs. On a smaller scale, I really like my Champion juicer. It's not for high-volume because it only has a single feed tube, but it works great for juicing fresh ginger and organic carrots for sauces. I even discovered an unconventional use when my sorbet machine didn't show up in time for a restaurant opening on Bora Bora. Jean-Georges Vongerichten showed me how it can make sorbet in a pinch. You just remove the screen so that the whole pulp can pass through the machine. You can make great sorbet using nothing more than really ripe frozen fruit."