As a modern-day private chef, you have countless kitchen tools and gadgets at your disposal. However, while some are useful and deserve countertop real estate, others can be a gimmicky waste of space and money.
Have you ever seen meat shredding claws that look more at home in a superhero movie than a kitchen? Any chef knows that two forks are all you really need when it comes to shredding pulled pork or chicken salad. Did you waste money on a garlic press just to realize that you were better off crushing cloves by hand?
We’ve compiled a few essential tools every private chef should keep in their kitchen:
Obvious essential kitchen tools, right? You’d think that given the many brands of cutlery and their often over-exaggerated claims, identifying a quality knife wouldn’t be too difficult — but you may be mistaken.
First, to handle most culinary endeavors without breaking the bank, you’ll need to have three types of knives: a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife. When shopping for cutlery, you may want to choose a renowned knife-making brand, such as Henckels, Messermeister, or MAC.
Keep in mind that even these esteemed knife-makers sell a range of different qualities of knife — from plastic-handled blades for home use, to professional-grade cutlery. Be sure to choose a high caliber knife. A well-maintained, high-quality blade can last you decades.
Cast iron skillet
When discussing kitchen tools, you cannot leave this one out of the conversation. Cast iron skillets have been used in America since the 19th century. Although heavy, they’re an irreplaceable tool every private chef should own. When seasoned properly, cast iron skillets can achieve the perfect sear on fish, vegetables, and meats. Cast iron skillets are also one of the most versatile of kitchen tools, too. Unlike non-stick pans, cast iron skillets are completely oven-safe, which means you can use them to finish off frittatas or to bake hearty breads. Bring your skillet camping, and impress friends and family by using it to cook up bacon and eggs over the open fire!
Since wood is a non-reactive element, it is the most perfect of all kitchen tools for stirring acidic ingredients such as citrus and tomato sauce (they won’t change your food’s color or make your meal taste like metal). Additionally, unlike metal spoons, wood is less likely to scratch your pan. Furthermore, wooden spoons outpace plastic or rubber in terms of not melting or changing the taste of your food. Wooden spoons also have a higher heat tolerance, which means they won’t burn or melt if you leave them on top of a simmering pot (trying to keep your spaghetti or potatoes from boiling over). Because wood can attract bacteria when not taken care of properly, make sure you clean your wooden spoon immediately between and after use, especially if you’re stirring meat or seafood.
This may seem like another obvious choice for private chefs. Yet, whether you are baking or cooking, you need a set of graduated mixing bowls that can properly accommodate both your dry and wet ingredients. There are plenty of choices for mixing bowls, including wooden, metal, and Pyrex. Metal mixing bowls are great for beating eggs over ice for custard, or chilling mousse while you whip it.
If you plan on being a home chef, you’ll need to be able to cook chicken, beef, lamb, and other meats to your client’s satisfaction. Cutting meat to check whether it’s done isn’t an option — your guests don’t want an unappetizing piece of filet that’s been sliced in half, or a mangled burger on a bun. More importantly, cutting meat prematurely to check if it’s done can cause those delicious juices to pour out, resulting in a dry and flavorless dish. Many chefs rely on an all metal oven thermometer, which can help you gauge the true oven temp as well as roasts baking in the oven. If you prefer digital, Taylor is a brand that will satisfy both chef and wallet.
It’s time to get over your fear of one of the scariest of all kitchen tools: the mandolin. By purchasing a quality instrument, ALWAYS using the safety guard, and employing careful, even strokes, you can slice uniform fruits and vegetables with ease. When it comes to slicing veggies for a dish such as ratatouille, consistency is key, because irregular cuts will not heat evenly.
Sure, you could use a fork, but you’re a professional private chef, not a home cook. While a standup mixer can save your forearms from aching, as well as your time, it’s vital to have a whisk handy. Whisking gives you more control over your ingredients, so you know to cease stirring when your whipped cream or egg-whites are ready. Use a flat whisk to deglaze a hot pan or create a perfect roux. If you’ve never heard of a vinaigrette whisk, we recommend one of these fancy kitchen tools to help you blend small amounts of liquid or dressings in a tall container.
Computer, tablet, or phablet
You probably have a smartphone you could always turn to in a pinch to set a timer, check cooking times, search for new recipes, or adjust measurements; but let’s be honest — it’s just not practical, especially when you have hungry guests waiting. Instead, we suggest a private chef invest in a kitchen tablet or computer. Your device should be portable and fast, as well as dust and waterproof. It should also have a touch screen with a screen protector, for easy cleaning if your fingers are soiled. Ideally, you would set up your kitchen computer on a nearby countertop to use as a virtual assistant while you work. Think of it as your digital sous chef.
The right tools make all the difference
When choosing which kitchen tools to use, try to avoid what Alton Brown refers to as “uni-taskers” — devices that serve just one purpose. These include grapefruit and avocado knives, egg-slicers, potato chip crispers, and onion choppers.
Keep in mind that using the right tools can be the difference between a mediocre meal and a great one. Your culinary arsenal should be packed with practical, high-impact, quality tools that make your life easier and help you create delicious meals for your clients.