The Gear They Carry

16 Tools That Pro Chefs Can’t Cook Without


October 12, 2019 Home By

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 ringer night in, night out. So when chefs talk about the gear they couldn’t cook without, we listen. Here are the kitchen tools four pro chefs can’t get enough of.

Rick Ortiz

Rick Ortiz is the chef and owner of Antique Taco, a three-location string of Mexican restaurants in Chicago, Illinois. Ortiz’s background, like his restaurant, is a deep mix of high- and low-brow sensibility — the chef worked at two Michelin-starred Relais Sainte Victoires and in the kitchens of Chicago’s Soldier Field.

La Caja China Roaster

“I love my Caja China. It took some time and some pointers to get it right, but I continue to learn more and more of its many uses. It is great for cooking for family and friends in your backyard or at outdoor events. We’ve cooked cochinita pibil low and slow and turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. I like to use the exposed hot charcoal or wood embers on top for direct cooking a pot of frijoles charros or posole. Be sure to add the grill grate attachment to cook your favorite Vegetables. I love it for elotes with spicy mayo, grated Parmesan and a sprinkle of ground champulines (grasshoppers).”

Hedley & Bennett Aprons

“I’m also obsessed with my Hedley & Bennett Aprons. I have quite a few. They are comfortable and hold up to the wear and tear of the kitchen or just make you feel fresh. I have one for each season and for different types of work. I have a few brighter and lighter Hedley’s for the spring and summer when I am cooking carne asada or seafood over a hot grill, and darker heavier thread Hedley’s for the fall and winter when we are making hot caldos and smoking meats.”

Three-Pack of Tongs

“The tool I use most frequently are my tongs. Small, medium and long should do the trick. I use small tongs for garnishing, medium tongs for serving vegetables and proteins and long tongs for cooking over high heat. If you have a hot pot with handles and one side towel you can use your tongs to hold the other handle. You can use your tongs to spread out the hot charcoal and wood. If you use your tongs enough they eventually become an extension of yourself.”

5 Rabbit Beer

“My favorite ingredient is beer. Not just any beer but 5 Rabbit Beer. 5 Rabbit is an artisan latino cerveceria in Bedford Park, Illinois. I like to use it in my marinades and for finishing sauces and beans. The 5 Lizard Cerveza helps make a great brine for chicken cooked asado style and their Xicago is great for rounding out beans and guisados. Enjoy one or two while you cook. It makes everything taste better.”

Craig Koketsu

If you’ve been in New York City for more than a week, there’s a good chance you’ve eaten something with Craig Koketsu’s fingerprints on it. The partner and executive chef of the city’s Quality Branded restaurant group develops recipes, techniques and processes for each of its four neighborhood spots (Quality Meats, Park Avenue Summer, Quality Italian and Quality Eats). His style is classic with a touch of modern flair and he’s been named one of NYC’s top up-and-coming chefs by both New York Magazine and Esquire.

Vollrath Heavy Weight Mixing Bowls

“The curve of and depth of these bowls is perfect. You can mix and whisk aggressively in them and don’t have to worry about spillage. The heavier gauge of the stainless steel also makes for more even heat distribution when you use them as a double boiler to make hollandaise. I have one in almost every size, and since they nest, they don’t take up a lot of space.”

LamsonSharp Slotted Turner

“Hands down my favorite offset spatula. I use it mostly when I’m working the griddle — its sharp edge makes sure that every bit of the golden brown sear stays on the scallop. It’s also the perfect size and ridgidity to fillet Dover sole tableside. Lastly, it’s ideal for cutting and scooping out brownies from the pan.”

Mac Professional Series Bread Slicer

“Deadly sharp, it’s equally adept at slicing through roast beef as it is through a crusty baguette. And it passes the overripe tomato test with flying colors. The long blade also allows you to make longer strokes which result in cleaner slices.”

Field Cast-Iron Skillet (No. 12)

“The cooking surface of this incredibly well-made pan is practically non-stick. I also love its straight sides which make for perfectly round parmesan fricos and old-fashioned cornbread. When considering sizing, my advice is to go big, especially since the pan is easy to handle because it’s lighter weight. Also, you can always cook less in a larger pan, but you can’t always cook more in a smaller pan — the 12-inch diameter allows me to cook four medium-sized pancakes at the same time which saves loads of time when I have friends over for brunch.”

Jimmy Papadopolous

In the last five years, Jimmy Papadopolous has earned an Eater Chef of the Year award in Chicago, a Zagat ’30 Under 30′ designation and various ‘Best New Restaurant’ awards for his 2017 opening of Bellemore in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. Papadopolous describes the restaurant, a temple of dark woods, woven cane chairs and brass, as “artistic American.”

Japanese Water Stones

“I have long built my knife kit over my career to where it is. Collecting one of the most important and basic tools to great cooking; a knife. Right behind having a knife, the second most important thing is keeping it sharp. I like sharpening my knives to the point of being able to shave the hair off the back of my hand with a single stroke — a feat that wouldn’t be as easily attainable without the technique and skill that comes from mastering Japanese water Stones.

Polyscience Immersion Circulator

“I cannot stress enough how convenient, precise and how much these machines shrink the margin of human error in professional and home kitchens alike. An absolute must in my kitchen.”

Vita Prep Blender

“They literally can turn a brick to dust. Well, I have never tried to powder a brick in one so, not literally. But they are amazingly versatile. From silky purées, to powders, to emulsifications, my kitchen could not function without one.”

Minipack Vacuum Sealer

“One of the best inventions ever. Vacuum sealers have become complete commonplace in professional kitchens — I could not picture our kitchen functioning without one. From cooking sous vide to tight storage of all prepared food products, a vacuum sealer is an absolute essential.”

David Shim

David Shim’s Cote in Manhattan’s Flatiron District is one-part American steakhouse, one-part Korean barbeque. It features classic gas-fired yakiniku grills from Shinpo at the center of every table and American-ish items like a shrimp cocktail with gochujang instead of cocktail sauce. The result of Shim’s cuisine blending was a strong review from the New York Times’ Pete Wells, a place on GQ’s Best New Restaurants of 2018 list and a Michelin star.

Weber Lighter Cubes

“If you ever find yourself outdoors with a charcoal grill, these mini cubes are a must. How many times have you seen people stuffing paper, small pieces of boxes or pouring liquid charcoal lighter? Everyone has their own way making the fire but many times isn’t as easy as one thinks. With the mini lighter cubes all you need to do is put the lighter cubes in between the charcoal and wait till it starts to light, give a light fanning and you are ready to go.”

Kizen Instant-Read Thermometer

“A digital thermometer is one thing that I always have when grilling. Everyone has their own way of telling if the steak is done but it is always great to have a backup plan. There are some with basic temperatures on the thermometer itself so that you don’t have to google what a medium-rare steak is supposed to be.”

Peugeot Pepper Mill

“There are many different pepper mills out there, but this is the one that you want to have. I have used this throughout my career in NYC working at a lot different restaurants and this is also the one that we use at home. Peugeots are great because they can handle the usage of a professional kitchen and it also has different settings to either make it finer or more coarse. It also looks beautiful.”

Iwatani Aburiya Portable Gas Grill Stove

“This is the ultimate portable grill that anyone can have. Living in NYC, not many people have the luxury to grill in the backyard but with this small gadget, you can practically grill anywhere. It has different inserts to either grill steak, seafood and vegetables or make yakitori or skewers. It gets hot enough to make really nice grill marks on steaks as well. This has always been my portable go-to grill.”

More Chef-Approved Kitchen Gear

From a lava stone molcajete to a disposable thermometer to a very, very old-school pasta maker, these four professional chefs reflect on the gear they couldn’t do their jobs without. Read the Story

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