There are no gear testers more rigorous than the commercial chef. Can openers, skillets, thermometers, mixing bowls and all manner of other essential gear are put through the wringer night in, night out. So when chefs talk about the gear they couldn’t cook without, we listen. Here are the kitchen tools five pro chefs can’t get enough of.
Jason Fox, chef and owner of the now-defunct Michelin-starred Commonwealth restaurant, has been leading the kitchen at the Proper Hotel, where he's in charge of the San Francisco hotel's rooftop bar Charmaine and restaurant Villon. The move to the Proper granted Fox the chance to expand the breadth of his cooking from casual to fine dining. From a perforated spoon to his Holy Grail item, these are the tools Fox might be using to cook up your meal.
Ateco Offset Spatula
"This is probably my favorite, and most versatile, inexpensive hand tool that I use. From searing scallops, mushrooms and almost any other food, to spreading out purees or delicately plating ingredients, I can do it all with this spatula."
Gary Kunz Perforated Spoon
"These spoons, and variations of them, have become a mainstay in professional kitchens over the last 10 years. Any cook in a fine dining restaurant will have one. I really like plating with the perforated one. We marinate different vegetables in flavored oils, and these are perfect for plating and pulling up the vegetables with just the right amount of oil left over."
Charcoal Konro Grill
"I have been obsessed with Japanese cooking methods over the last few years. These grills are essential for yakitori, and use binchotan charcoal for heat. The charcoal burns very hot, and not too smoky, so it is perfect to get your charring just right, without adding an overwhelming smoky flavor. The grill is made of ceramic, and it's the perfect vessel to control your heat zones. Plus, it;s designed to hold numerous skewers at once — great for the restaurant, or backyard grilling."
Vitamix Vita Prep Blender
"I think the Vita Prep is one the greatest advancements of modern cooking in the last 20 years. If I had to choose between circulators and vacuum sealers, or any other modern kitchen tool, this would be the one. We have one running almost non-stop in our kitchen. It has a fast-enough motor to make bright green purees and soups, or can be used to speed up prep of sauces we want broken down, but not completely homogenous. It's also great for making cocktails at home."
Ghetto Gastro is a supergroup of Bronx-based chefs who work "at the intersection of food, design and art," according to founding member Jon Gray, who hosted a TED Talk on his home borough last year. Pierre Serrão, one of the group's founding members, shared his kitchen essentials, and they're as cool as he is.
Great Jones Pots and Pans
"The ethos of my artistic practice starts with style while layering flavors and keeping the vibes eternal. The Great Jones cookware is perfect for even distribution of heat."
Ghetto Gastro Steasoning
"I always keep a tin of our Steasoning [a blend of benne seeds, sansho, szechuan peppercorns and espelette] on me just for safekeeping."
"Without a sharp Takamura blade your food is sure to be dull."
Ghetto Gastro Jordan 1 Fearless
"The Ghetto Gastro Jordan 1 Fearless replaces the traditional kitchen shoe — everything from the produce to the shoes only the best for the best."
Master & Dynamic MA770 Speaker
"Round out the cypher with the good sounds. Quality over quantity with everything we do — pay attention to the details."
Lester Walker, another founding member of Ghetto Gastro, gave us the lowdown on his most-used cooking tools. The hottest one? A blow torch.
Sur La Table Blow Torch
"I’m a quick fire type of chef and love to utilize what is on hand. This comes from not always having much to work with and making it pop. We only layer flavors, as well as manipulating textures so a blowtorch is very handy in executing these feats."
Moribashi Japanese Cooking Chopsticks
"I love working with chopsticks and tweezers because they allow me to be detailed and meticulous in plating and distributing."
"I need to keep my whites white at all times and not soil the drip so a wavy Tilit apron is always a go-to."
Black Sharpie and Blue Tape
"Let’s not forget to always label and date products to ensure freshness and produce the best quality spread."
Tyler Malek is an ice cream genius having tasted and crafted over 230 ice cream flavors. Malek is the ice cream epicure and co-founder of Salt & Straw, an ice cream brand based out of Portland, Oregon. With his cousin Kim Malek, Salt & Straw's founder and CEO, Tyler helped turn a humble, local ice cream shop into an ice cream Goliath. Despite its locations being on the west coast, with a couple Miami stores coming soon, Salt & Straw has become a go-to destination for its out-there ice cream flavors (think Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero and Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries). Malek gave us a scoop on his kitchen essentials, and, of course, they all relate to ice cream.
Zerroll Ice Cream Scoop
"This scoop is my most-often used tool. I’ve experimented with them all (most not successfully) and keep coming back to the plain-old, two-ounce standard scoop made by Zerroll. It’s solid and has a scoop curvature that cuts through the ice cream nicely. They just make for a good-looking scoop."
White Mountain Hand-Crank Ice Cream Machine
"What ice cream maker I use, and recommend, really depends on the ice cream occasion. There are three different types of ice cream makers and each has its own perks. Hand-crank makers are best for the fun and novelty of making ice cream at home. White Mountain is my favorite in this category and one of the few crank makers remaining."
"A frozen bowl machine is super entry-level and easy to use for those just starting to get into ice cream making. It’s cheap, easy and makes great ice cream. The only downside is the 24 hours of advance freezing required and being limited to making only one flavor!"
Breville Smart Scoop
For those pretty serious about at-home ice cream making, I recommend an internal compressor machine. Our go-to in this category is the Breville Smart Scoop. We use this kind in our R&D kitchens and churn many flavors all day long."
Waring Qwik Stik
"For some reason, every recipe we create typically needs a stick blender. It’s so helpful. It can mash berries; it can emulsify olive oil; it’s the best at combining ingredients in an ice cream mix. This is one of the best multi-tools in my home kitchen, too. It can quickly emulsify a tricky vinaigrette and more.
Made In Saucepan
"Good candy and caramels are critical in our Salt & Straw kitchen. Ensuring we get replicable recipes through even heat can be the difference of a caramel sauce coming out luscious and velvety versus tacky and tooth-breaking. A good saucepan will go a long way in every facet of the kitchen, from candy making to a quick hollandaise for those weekend brunches. I love the pans from Made In Cookware as they work on both our induction and fire burners, and they last forever."
Nico Russell is the chef and owner of Oxalis, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Brooklyn that serves vegetable-forward dishes. While the menu is produce-centric, it's 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. 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."
"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."