Tools of the trade: What is your must-have, can't live without, technology?
Published: February 7, 2013
With all the hubbub about mobile payments and tablet menus, it’s easy to forget that technology, as defined by Webster’s, cuts a broader swath; it’s defined as “the practical application of knowledge, especially in a particular area.” No surprises, then, when we asked several chefs to name their all-time favorite, can’t live without, technology, that the responses reflected technology in its broadest sense. Basically, it’s all about getting the job done—what’s necessary to prepare a signature menu item, or maybe just help the kitchen run a tad smoother.
Taylor Boudreaux, chef of Napa Valley Grille in Westwood, California, brings to the table a straightforward approach, emphasizing local sourcing and seasonality and always keeping in mind composition and the interplay of flavors on the plate.
“My favorite is the Microplane food grater. I’ve been using one for a number of years now. It has great versatility. It can be used for prep or to finish a plate. We use it to prepare a number of vinaigrettes for service, make compound butters and to finish pasta dishes that call for cheese. It replaced several other items I used for grating or zesting. The Microplane cuts the prep time down immensely.”
Sean Brasel, executive chef/co-owner of Meat Market, South Beach's sizzling contemporary steakhouse.
“My favorite technology is the Cryovac electronic thermo circulator. Cryovac machines help you organize perfect sized portions as well as saving food sealed much better than using containers etc. Thermo circulators can hold an exact degree of cooking for an indefinite amount of time, I use them for our creamed spinach and creamed corn, as well as confit asparagus, shrimp, short ribs and pork belly; I would use it for more if I could. I’ve had a circulator for about five years; before I had one we would just use standard ovens. They have revolutionized cooking. I can set up a hot cooking station in a plastic bucket anyplace in a kitchen. I have added several sous vide items because I have that technology; we always look for preparing better items with less risk to quality and consistency. Sous vide certified angus short ribs are on my menu straight from this.”
Fabrizio Carro, co-executive chef (with twin brother Nicola) of Quattro Gastronomia Italiana, Miami Beach's Northern Italian dining destination.
“My favorite technology is the fojòt. It is a terra cotta individual pot that in Piedmont, Italy, we used to serve soup, fondue or traditional Bagna Caoda sauce. It has a small round pot with a small place under the surface to put a candle and keep hot. It is part of my past, my present and my future. I have had one since I was a child, though I always buy new ones when I need them because I use it for so many things. Everything I cook is authentic and the fojòt helps to keep it that way. I use it to bring a special touch from Piedmont to all of my customers. We use it to prepare the Fonduta Valdostana al Tartufo Bianco. It¹s a truffle fondue and needs to be kept hot, so it is served in the fojòt.”
Matt Christianson, chef of Urban Farmer in Portland, Oregon, which redefines the modern steakhouse with its emphasis on local, organic sourcing and simple straightforward presentations.
“This may be overdone, but I think I have to say my cell phone. I’m sorry, but it is true! The connection between me and all of my purveyors is so important. The relationships and communications I keep with all of my purveyors ensure the highest quality of product. I receive crop availability updates, orchestrate employee resources, write recipes with photo instructions, research and brainstorm… all on my phone. A career as a chef can be very demanding. Any tool that allows immediate resources and communication ability without having to stop what I might be doing allows me to further focus efforts to both the food that I prepare, and to my family. Menus and their size are limited to the amount of great product you can bring to the table successfully. By being able to stream food information, it feeds creativity, product freshness and quality.”
Larry LaValley, chef of 3800 Ocean, Palm Beach (Florida) Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, offering menus inspired by the local abundance of South Florida’s renowned crops as well as the regional flavors of its collaborative team.
“The Vitaprep blender—this style of blender is amazing at making perfectly smooth purees, soups, smoothies, sauces, aiolis and much more. It is very high powered in comparison to your standard blender and is great for emulsifying sauces. This was great reducing prep times and allowing for more artistic presentations of purees and sauces. It gives a nice sheen to the final product.”
Dena Marino, chef of MC KITCHEN, in Miami's Design District, providing modern Italian cuisine, and specializing in seasonal dishes with ingredients selected on the basis of quality, harvest maturity and farming integrity.
“My favorite ‘technology’ that I use in the kitchen and truly cannot live without is my Microplane grater. I used to only have a basic grater and zester; nine years ago I purchased a Microplane grater, and without a doubt, it is one of my best investments to date. It is very versatile and I use it in my kitchen for many ingredients; however, I am an Italian chef and it is in my DNA to garnish dishes with cheese. Therefore I use it a lot for pasta dishes. The Microplane hasn’t really influenced my choice of menu items, but it makes expediting more efficient in the kitchen as its fast and easy to use. I’ve also noticed that there is less waste on ingredients when using the Microplane. I use it on several of my pasta and fish dishes, like Bucatine Alla Carbonara and Oven Roasted Head On Langostines with creamy polenta, Serrano chili, garlic, basil and orange zest. I love watching the cheese fall from the Microplane and melt like snow on a plate of pasta. The grater is also great at adding that zing of citrus zest to a seafood dish, which elevates it to the next level flavor wise.”
Dean James Max, chef of Parallel Post, located inside the Trumball (Connecticut) Marriott and serving sustainable, steroid and hormone-free seafood, meats, produce and cheese from farms and fisheries in Connecticut and eastern New York.
“My favorite kitchen technology is the Vitamix blender, It allows us to do amazing sauces, purees and soups. I have had it for 10 years now. It’s been in top kitchens for that long, but most restaurants don't have it yet. No other blender can mix at the same speed; before we used this blender, it was hard to achieve smooth purees of ingredients. Some things would take a couple different processes. This instrument allows us to streamline those processes to make a more efficient and delicious product. Our Watercress Soup would not be as smooth and bright green without it.”
Christopher Molyneux, chef of Parallel Post, Trumball, Connecticut.
“My favorite is the tilt skillet. It allows me to cook stocks and sauces evenly and consistently. The heat is evenly distributed, which accounts for a smaller chance of burning or overcooking. We’ve had it for 2-1/2 years; before that we used a stock pot on the stove top with a spigot. It was very heavy and could burn easily if the flame was too high. Since we can cook the stocks and sauces more evenly, the preparation is actually less time consuming, which allows for us to make multiple sauces with this great tool. The tilt skillet has allowed us to have a roasted chicken sauce, Cabernet sauce, roasted pork shank, whole grain mustard sauce. We use it to prepare our chicken soup; without the tilt skillet, we would not be able to achieve the desired consistency of the roasted chicken stock we use as the base.”
Rick Tramonto, chef of Restaurant R’evolution, New Orleans' Cajun and creole hot spot.
“My favorite technology is my Vac Pac machine for cooking sous vide style. This machine has changed the way I store, marinate, compress and cook food at my restaurants; it has revolutionized the kitchen processes. I’ve had it for about the last eight years, and I had nothing like it before. It’s not that I can’t prepare this dish without my signature menu items, it’s that I can’t prepare it as efficiently and deliciously. Many dishes have been influenced by this…I use it all the time! I would say that our Braised Veal Cheeks with Truffled Mashed Potatoes and Smoked Ham Broth benefit greatly from the sous vide machine—the flavors are incredible."
Andrew Zimmerman, executive chef of Sepia, the Michelin-starred Chicago spot that showcases pristine natural ingredients that are primarily organic and/or sustainable.
“My favorite piece of kitchen technology right now is my Blodgett Combi oven (after my Japanese slicing knife of course). It is my favorite because it offers so many possibilities; it works as a convection oven or a steamer or both at the same time. The temperatures are all digitally controlled and very accurate even at low temperatures. It will proof bread and then bake it in the same oven and has a long time/low temp roasting function that simulates similar results to sous vide cooking and it can be used to re-therm up to 52 plates for banquet service. The oven has opened up menu possibilities. For example, I can make 4 dozen Uni Chawan Mushi at a time using the steamer function. I never could have made that many at once without buying a huge steamer... that would only have acted as a steamer nothing more. There aren't any menu items that we absolutely could not do without the oven, but our pates come out better with less fat loss and shrinkage, our roast beef is cooked exactly the way we like, the hamburger buns for lunch are easy to get done and very consistent and I need fewer cooks for my private event space. “