Considering the work going on behind the swinging doors of a world-class restaurant can trigger an existential crisis — how are so few people making pitch-perfect food, day after day, for the thousands that flow through the dining room? At the helm of every great restaurant is an equally great chef, one with more experience searing salmon, mixing guacamole and slicing onions than most cooks garner in a lifetime. Whether by choice or by necessity, no one knows their way around the tools of cooking better than them. In order to glean a bit of wisdom from the masters of the trade, we asked four top-tier American chefs about the gear they couldn’t run their kitchens without.
Executive Chef and Owner, Cúrate | 13 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Chef Button’s eco-friendly approach to classic Spanish tapas at Cúrate Bar De Tapas in Asheville has earned her four separate James Beard nominations. Her cooking, restaurant and cookbook, Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen, represent high-level, yet approachable Spanish cuisine. After training under celebrity-chef José Andrés and with the equally world-renowned Ferran Adrià at Spain’s elBulli, it’s safe to assume she knows her gear.
Japanese Can Opener (Ganji Kankiri)
“This is the best all-purpose can opener ever. It will open anything, and any shape can — square, rectangular, oval or round. It is easy to use and with no moving parts, it doesn’t break. It’s also super clean because there are no gears and crevices to mess with and it’s super heavy duty.”
Joyce Chen Scissors
“I love these little scissors, they are small but mighty. Super sharp, they can cut through just about anything, and the way they are made they hold up to a lot. I love using them for cutting up lobster shells or crab legs, they also work great for deveining shrimp.”
Atlas Pepper Mill
“This is something I use at home, just about every single day. I have struggled for years to find a pepper mill that would take the abuse of being ground again and again without needing the screws adjusted all the time, and finding one that produces a nice perfect even grind is also a challenge, until I received this pepper mill as a wedding gift. It has changed my life.”
“This charcoal grill is from Spain and it is amazing. It is fully enclosed, like an oven, but has heavy duty cast-iron grill grates inside of it that pull out like oven racks. You set the coals flat under the grill grates and it gets up to 500 to 600F or higher. You grill on the grates and close the door, it sears and cooks super evenly and gives that nice smokey charcoal cooked flavor. It’s also super clean because it closes and funnels the smoke up through a flue in the top so it isn’t spewing smoke or sparks all over the place and it burns through much less charcoal than a typical charcoal or wood-fired grill due to its super-insulated cast iron lining.”
Executive Chef, Maysville | 13 17 W 26th Street, NY, NY 10010
After cooking his way from West Palm Beach to New Orleans, Cape Cod and eventually New York City, through classic French restaurants like Charlie Palmer’s Aureole and Christian Delouvrier’s Lespinasse, Shane McBride’s newest kitchen home, Maysville, is all about perfectly smoked meats and good whiskey.
Parchment Paper Sheets
“Indispensable in my kitchen. Whether it’s on a sheet pan helping to keep that burnt meat juice off of it. Under my peeler on my cutting board while I’m peeling potatoes for an easy cleanup. Or rolled up in a julep cup for a French fry holder. This is something needed in every kitchen.”
Buck Carbon Fiber Pocket Knife
“I always have a pocket knife on me, especially in the kitchen. This particular Buck has taken a good beating and keeps going. Great for opening boxes or a bottle of beer.”
Peugeout Pepper Mill
“Built to last, I still have my first one that I bought at bridge kitchen wares when I moved to New York City.”
F. Dick Meat Fork
“Since I was a young cook in New York City, this has been the most important tool I’ve had. Back in the day, there was an unwritten ban in the kitchens I worked in that tongs were illegal, so you had a spoon, meat fork and a fish spatula. I can do pretty much anything with those three things.”
Executive Chef and Co-Owner, El Toro Blanco | 257 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10014
Glancing at Chef Stark’s essentials ought to give you a pretty clear idea what type of food she specializes in. The Colorado native started her career in Mexican food in Los Angeles and found her way to running the kitchen at New York’s Dos Caminos, where she turned one restaurant into five. She’s been on Good Morning America, Today and judged on The Food Network. In March of 2018, Stark settled in as the new executive chef and partner at New York’s El Toro Blanco.
Ateco Cake Tester
“I always have one of these in my pocket for testing the internal temperature of meat, fish or poultry while cooking. They also cost less than a dollar, so I buy them by the multipack as I am always misplacing them.”
Lava Stone Molcajete
“Some things just can’t be reproduced in a blender or food processor, like guacamole. This is my go-to.”
Victoria Tortilla Press
“I like the Victoria Brand cast-iron press. There is nothing that compares to a handmade tortilla, and they are so easy to make. Store bought tortillas don’t even come close.”
Vitamix Vitaprep 3
“This is the most indispensable tool for me as it replaces the traditional stone molcajete and allows me to make sauces quickly. The adjustable speed function is great for avoiding spatter and keeping things clean and safe.”
Executive Chef, Fausto | 348 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11238
After waltzing to and through some of New York’s best Italian restaurants — think Jean-Georges’ The Mercer Kitchen, Osteria Lupa Romana, Joe Bastianich’s Del Posto and the now-defunct L’Artusi — Chef Shambura landed the executive chef gig with co-conspirator Joe Campanale at Fausto, a buzzy Italian outpost in Brooklyn. If a lifetime spent making pastas and rustic ragus in high-level professional kitchens doesn’t qualify as expertise, we don’t know what does.
Microplane Classic Zester/Grater
“A good zester is so important in our kitchen. We use them constantly for zesting citrus and grating cheeses to finish all kinds of dishes. Cheese comes out fluffy and delicate.”
Nubee Temperature Gun
“Temperature control in our wood burning ovens is essential. We use infrared thermometers to monitor the fires from a distance since we can’t stick our hands into the ovens.”
Winco 25-Quart Rondeau
“We make ragus and braise meat daily at Fausto. These pans are essential to our daily routine; they are great for searing meat and caramelizing vegetables and can handle large batches to meet the needs of a busy restaurant. They are so versatile and can be used for so many different cooking techniques and recipes.”
Bottene Pasta Machine Torchio
“A torchio is an old school, hand-operated pasta extruder that comes from the Veneto in Northern Italy. Muscle, patience, and a torchio is the only way to make traditional Venetian bigoli — long, thick strands of hand extruded pasta.”