Since my wife usually fact-checks these columns before I send them in, I’m not going to lie about this. The truth is: I’m not a great cook. Or even a good cook. What I am is a very occasional cook. That said, I am also a gadget geek, and one of my favorite things about visiting professional kitchens is seeing all the toys.
“If I’m being naughty, “ says Barbette’s head chef, Sarah Master, “my favorite gadget is a commercial-grade tabletop deep fryer.” Master began her cooking career in New Orleans and loves home-fried chicken wings, walleye po’ boys, and beignets. “We left the South,” she says, “but we didn’t want to leave the food behind.”
A more practical favorite: the cast-iron skillet she received as a wedding present 10 years ago. “It’s only about eight inches wide and has sloped sides perfect for flipping eggs,” she says. “It holds heat well, and when I get it ripping hot, I can make an omelet in less than a minute.” Why is her pan better than mine? “It’s all about the proper seasoning,” she explains.
There is something to be said for a well-aged pan. That’s what Lance Kapps, the executive chef of the Saint Paul Hotel, relies on at home: “A beat-up pie tin I’ve had since college,” he says. He still uses it to broil food in the oven.
Brian Bossert, executive chef of Tria in North Oaks, says he would never give up his Wüsthof knife set, the one with the block autographed by Harald Wüsthof himself. It was a 50th-birthday gift from his sous chef and lead cook.
For Tanya Siebenaler, the chef and owner of Sapor Café in Minneapolis, the go-to tool is a pair of short, heavy-duty, stainless-steel tongs—the style with a strong spring that doesn’t lock. “When I cook with friends and family at their homes, I often give them a pair as a gift,” she says. Lucky them.
Chef Jamie Malone may cook fancy seafood dishes at Sea Change, but at home she relies on a simple batterie de cuisine. Malone’s favorite tools are a red Dutch oven and a gram scale for baking bread. She says that many home cooks actually have too many semi-useful gadgets instead of a smaller number of really good tools. “People who say they don’t enjoy the process of cooking,” she argues, “just don’t have the right tools and/or recipes!”
And maybe that’s my problem: I just need some of the right tools. Malone laughs—kindly—at this notion. “Another explanation is that you’re an alien in the kitchen,” she says. My fact-checker agrees.
Jason Derusha is a reporter/anchor at WCCO-TV. Have a dining mystery you want Jason to solve? Email him at DeRushaEats@gmail.com