The Kitchen Tools They Didn’t Tell You About in Culinary School
Kitchen tools are an extension of a cook’s own hand. There is the grab for the trusty chef’s knife, mandoline, and needle-nose pliers. But there is more to a well-equipped toolbox. An aesthetically pleasing knife roll provided to the culinary kid is a start, but she needs a lot more than knives to be successful at whittling the day’s prep list.
What is in that knife roll, industrial toolbox, backpack? The usual battery of kitchen tools? “Spoons, spats, Microplane, knives, Biotherm, pastry brushes, toothpicks,” remarks Brett Bramhall, kitchen manager at Bull and Bear Roadhouse in Syracuse, NY. “I usually keep a can of beer handy in case I decide to whip up beer batters or Reubens. Other than that my toolbox is pretty simple.” Which raises the question, what else is a must-have?
When polling industry pros, the responses ran the gamut. The practical: “Sharpies,” says Brian Tamm, sous chef at Alaska’s Toolik Field Station, to the more metaphysical: “A moral compass,” insists Jamie Wetherald, sous chef at Mountain View Community Nursing Home in Ossipee, New Hampshire. “Teamwork, a sense of urgency, attention to detail, [and] cleanliness,” she continued. “I know these aren’t physical tools, but some of the most important, yet forgotten, [tools] in the kitchen.”
What else did they leave out of that “Ivy League” culinary education? From the Poached Jobs world headquarters kitchen, we compiled a list of tools necessary for restaurant survival:
A metal clipboard/box: Rugged enough to survive getting left in the walk-in for extended stretches, versatile enough to be the go-to for inventory counts, produce ordering, and tracking catering BEO’s. A combination clipboard/box will serve you well to keep paperwork organized and, nearly, debris-free.
An AeroPress: That one-cup coffee brewer that requires no electricity but brews that perfect cup. Why? Coffee is a commodity in the wee hours (and late nights!) in the kitchen. Wrangling a server to get a cup of caffeinated lightning can be a chore. An inexpensive, yet high-quality brewing method like the AeroPress can be a lifesaver when the Friday night push becomes an early Saturday prep session. We all know coffee is free at work but what about brewing that really expensive box of Geisha that you don’t want to unleash on the minions?
A quality pocket knife: While not completely tucked into the kit, a pocket knife is an essential everyday carry. Some jobs don’t deserve kitchen cutlery and with which your $400 santoku shouldn’t be mired. A well-made, reliable pocket knife is as indispensable as any other kitchen knife.
A durable notebook: A notebook is mandatory for keeping tonight’s specials organized, recording Dave’s request for next weekend off, and capturing that fleeting thought about using carrot puree as the base for a new barbecue sauce. Notebooks are cultural artifacts. Long after tenure at the current restaurant ends, that notebook will live on in your travels.
A ChefAlarm: Go beyond the instant-read thermometer – a higher-tech version exists in the ChefAlarm. Equipped with multiple sensing probes, a ChefAlarm affords a ‘set it and forget it’ ease to get the roasted turkey to 165-degrees without constantly opening and closing the oven door. The benefit of the additional probes makes the health department happy with the capability of logging ambient temps in the coolers, tracking receiving temperatures of shellfish, and keeping the soup out of the temperature danger zone.
The essentials can become an “I-wish-I-had” arsenal that would fit only in a small moving van. At some point, you have to close the box and rest knowing that you are adequately outfitted with all the kitchen tools you need to do culinary warfare.