Prized possessions: the equipment chefs can’t live without

21 April, 2016 by
Aoife Boothroyd

From the humble spatula to the Thermomix, every chef has one particular piece of equipment that they just can’t do without. Aoife Boothroyd chats to a number of chefs around the country about their most prized possessions.

“It’s a bit of a sentimental thing for me,” says Oli Mellers, executive chef at Hobart’s Henry Jones Art Hotel. “I have a Wusthof Classic that my dad gave me before I started my apprenticeship. I’ve had it for about 15 years. It’s been with me all around the world and it’s cut me a million times but I love it. I get it sharpened every six months and look after it properly and it’s probably one of the most reliable things I’ve ever had. A lot of the newer gadgets out there are great, but there’s nearly always something that goes wrong with them.”

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Having tossed pans in some of England’s most renowned kitchens including Henson Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Maze by Gordon Ramsay, Mellers has worked with his fair share of shiny new kit. And while the kitchen at The Henry Jones has pretty much everything the back of house team needs, Mellers says that an induction cooking suite would be a dream addition.

“I’d go the whole hog and get a kitchen cooking suite with everything on it… It would just be amazing for efficiency of cooking and service,” he says

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Oli-Mellers-with-his-Wusthof-Classic-knife.jpg
Oli Mellers

Time saving treasures

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Pastry chef at Sydney’s Lotus, The Galeries, Tiffany Jones has a number of gadgets in her kitchen arsenal that she can’t live without.

“I can’t really do without a blast chiller as a pastry chef,” says Jones. “Turning things around really fast is essential in a busy kitchen so the blast chiller makes things very efficient, but my favourite piece would have to be the Thermomix. You can do so many things with it from cooking custards and bases to micronizing gelatos… Also being able to cook and blend things at the same time is amazing. It’s quite a time saver as well – I guess all of these things come down to time saving and innovation.

“If I could have anything though, I’d get a Pacojet. There’s something about the texture of that freshly blitzed ice cream that you just can’t go past. You don’t get it when you churn, but you always get it with a Paco. It just fluffs things up perfectly and you can make really amazing ice powders and other things that take a dessert to the next level. It’s on my wish list.”

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Although Jones relies on a number of sophisticated machines in her current kitchen set-up, one important tool that she says often gets overlooked is the faithful hand blender.

“People don’t realise how useful they are for doing all the little bits and pieces – especially when you’re testing recipes and you’re only doing them in really small quantities,” says Jones. “Hand blenders can get in there and puree things that a large blender can’t. They are also great for aerating things and making foams, plus you can go from hot to cold and they hold up fine. They’re very sturdy.”

The dream kitchen

Melbourne chef and restaurateur, Scott Pickett built his dream kitchen when he opened Estelle by Scott Pickett (ESP) in mid-2015. Comprising a sleek black design with all the bells and whistles, Pickett says that the one other thing he’d like to incorporate into his current set-up is a rotary evaporator.

“I was lucky enough to build my dream kitchen in my new restaurant, but there’s always a budget… Next I’d like a rotovap machine so I can distill different ingredients,” Pickett told Hospitality.

"The great part of designing the kitchen from scratch was that I was able to put everything exactly where it belongs. I became consumed by everything, right down to which way the doors opened for the under bench fridges for ease of service,” he says.

ESP-kicthen-image-credit-Dominique-Cherry-0478.jpgESP. Image: Dominique Cherry

“What I love more than anything though is the “floating” shelf that we had designed for the centre of the cooking unit, along with the slide shelves that conceal the cryovac machine and liquid nitrogen tank. Having quite a few refrigerated draws in the kitchen is also a dream.

There is one minor design element that Pickett would probably reassess next time ‘round. “A black kitchen is great from a design perspective, but horrible to keep clean. Lesson learnt," he says.

While ESP is kitted out with some of the best gear on the market, Pickett’s most valued piece of equipment is a humble (albeit costly) one: his handmade carving knife. “I had it made in Japan many years ago. It was extremely expensive, has had lots of use and has an incredible blade and edge.”

Old faithful

Fellow Melbournian and head chef at Saigon Sally, Adrian Li says his favourite piece of kitchen equipment right now is his waffle pan.

“I'm in love with my new waffle pan,” he says. “I’m going through a bit of a waffle phase right now, I just want to cook and eat waffles made from different things. The pan’s got great temperature control too. Getting the pan hot enough so the batter doesn't stick together with a nice crispy finish is an artform.”

Like Pickett, next on Li’s shopping list is a rotary evaporator.

Adrian-Li-of-Saigon-Sally.jpegAdrian Li

“Having a rotovap would be amazing – it’s a machine that distils flavours. There are many Asian flavours that we would like to incorporate into our dishes but without having to physically use them. This would help a lot.”

Like Jones, Li says that the old faithful hand blender is an undervalued kitchen tool.

“Everyone is trying to get their hands on the Thermomix, but for simple jobs the stick blender is faster and easier to clean.”

Practical pieces

With very busy lunch and dinner services, head chef of The Manly Wharf Hotel, Alex Towning says his brat pan is invaluable in the day-to-day running of his kitchen.

“Because of the sheer volume that we put out at the Wharf Bar, I just can’t go past the brat pan,” says Towning. “We cook the beef nachos in it, pasta sauces, stocks… without it we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the volume that we do, so whenever it breaks down it’s not very fun. It’s definitely the piece of equipment that I can’t live without.

Alex-Towning-from-the-Manly-Wharf-Hotel.JPGAlex Towning

“I also love one particular type of rubber spatula, it’s kind of strange. They are maroon with a white end and they just scrape the side of pots and bowls perfectly – they leave nothing behind. You know, if you’ve got a wooden spoon, when you’re stirring things and you miss the bottom of the pot it burns, but these rubber spatulas are heat proof and they are just great.”