When the house is packed with hungry people, you can bet the hardworking folks behind your meal make every moment count. A chef in the height of dinner rush is a study in economy: No movement is wasted. No station is cluttered. That's why a chef's most prized piece of kitchen equipment is often the one that can do many jobs. Perhaps our panel's favorites for versatility will become yours, too.
Charles Phan, chef and owner of San Francisco's The Slanted Door, loves his Chinese cleaver for its obvious chopping and cutting capabilities. "I don't even try to grind meat in my grinder anymore. I just use two cleavers and get a nice texture," he says. But he also uses the big, paddle-like knife to pound proteins flat and scoop ingredients up for transport. "You can also threaten your staff with it," he laughs. "It's scary!"
Similarly, Momofuku Milk Bar pastry chef Christina Tosi can't do without her sharp Santoku knife. "It makes everything coming out of your kitchen look super profesh, from lemon bars to lemon chicken," she says. "It saves time and gives confidence in all that you do in the kitchen."
According to Alon Shaya of Domenica in New Orleans, a Vitamix blender is the most versatile tool in his kitchen. "I love using a Vitamix blender. Every time I want to make a tasty sauce, purée a soup or grind spices, it always comes in handy," he says.
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Again, the humble spoon wins accolades from our chefs, this time from Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem: "I'll use a simple, medium-size spoon for mixing, tasting, mashing potatoes or root vegetables, and, of course, serving."
Greg Denton, co-chef and co-owner of Portland's Ox Restaurant along with wife Gabrielle Quiñònez Denton, reserves the most versatile prize for another basic tool: tongs. "You can use them like spoons, you can use them to help carry hot things, and if something is too high to reach, you can use your tongs to grab it."
Edward Lee of Louisville's 610 Magnolia uses his Microplane rasp to grate hard cheeses and so much more, including garlic, ginger and lemongrass. It also makes beautifully light textures out of horseradish, cured hams, chocolate and even frozen raspberries, Lee, who goes through a regular supply of rasps, says.
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