This is Chef Staples, where professional chefs dish on the gear they couldn’t cook without. This week: Chef Nico Russell of Oxalis in Brooklyn, NY.
Nico Russell spent most of his cooking career working at Michelin-starred restaurants. Then he started his own restaurant, a pop-up in Brooklyn called Oxalis, and found acclaim for what The New Yorker called "a tasting menu that’s a fine-dining bargain." The pop-up soon became permanent, and in 2020 the Michelin Guide awarded Russell's restaurant a star of its own. The menu is produce-centric, but not vegetarian, with a cooking style that leans French. Since the coronavirus pandemic forced New York City restaurants to shift to outdoor dining, Oxalis is only serving an a la carte menu in its courtyard. Locals can also head to Oxalis Pantry, the restaurant's webstore, to order at-home meal kits, pantry staples and booze. Russell, who has been working out how to maintain his restaurant on outdoor dining alone, took some time to share his top cooking tools — and none are over $20.
Ateco Cake Tester
"From the moment I got introduced to these items I have used them for everything. If you look in most kitchens you will see the ubiquitous blue top hanging out chef jackets or shirts. They just rock. At Oxalis, we use them to check temperatures of protein or check the doneness of vegetables. They really help us gauge the texture and temperature of the item without cutting it open. This is another tool that is never too far from me either at home or at Oxalis."
Peltex Offset Spatula
"For me, tools in the kitchen that are too big are terrible and clunky. I prefer smaller, more compact tools that can act as a 'do-it-all' type of tool, and this spatula is a perfect example of that. I use it for all of my searing of protein and vegetables. The size is perfect for me because it is wide enough where the item I have on the end is stable and does not have the opportunity to slide as it might on a thinner offset spatula. This is a big one for me — I use it for 95 percent of the things I am cooking in our kitchen."
Victorinox Serrated Paring Knife
"Again back to smaller tools, I use this for a good amount of vegetable work and smaller tasks throughout the day. This knife does a good amount of the prep work or tasks where I do not need a super fine edge or finished carved slice for the plate. I generally just love using paring knives because I like working closely with the products. These tasks bring me lots of joy in the kitchen (a good example is cleaning girolles or artichokes). Another note: I love all of the serrated knives from Victorinox. We use the larger bread knife on our pastry station for service, as well."
Matfer Bowl Scraper
"This tool really helps maintain cleanliness on your station in the kitchen. The early years of my career I would slide the knife under some cut ingredients (i.e. herbs, shallots, garlic), but once I learned about the bowl scraper as a way to collect items on my board or even just to scrape down the board, it was a huge game changer for me. I would say this item is vital to keeping your board and station uncluttered."