Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Armed to the Teeth, Part II

By The Foodist

Last time I talked about buying to much crap when you first arrive at school, so that leaves the question "What on earth should I buy?"

The general idea when buying anything should normally be quality over quantity , except in the area of kitchen equipment. Now don't misread me and think that quality doesn't matter, because it sure does, but I want you to keep this in mind.

Buy a $25 peeler and chances are its going to grow legs and walk out of the kitchen. Its a sad truth about kitchens, and one that's lead to the birth of the stereotype about chefs protecting their gear as though it was a newborn child. When you find a good piece of equipment you safeguard it with your life, but you cant always be there to protect it. So what to do?

Like I said before quality is important yes, but sometimes cheap, reliable, and easy are the best ways to go.

There are a few items that every knife kit would be useless without. Of course, you need to have a decent quality chef's or French knife, a paring knife, and a slicer. But here are a few cheap but reliable "extras" you may want to consider buying:

Peeler I've heard people tout this peeler or that peeler more times then I care to remember. The debate is constant and with every new peeler people go crazy. Peelers are essential in kitchens, they make a dull job fast and easy. But don't think you have to go out and buy a $25 one. Personally I prefer a good plastic horizontal peeler. A strong body with a good reliable blade are what you want to look for, something that wont wear out and wear your hand out when you're pulling a Beetle Bailey and peeling 25 sacks of potatoes. Horizontal or Vertical really doesn't matter much that I've found, its really personal preference, I've just found I tend to go faster with a horizontal blade.

Wooden Spoon I know it may seem silly, but a decent wooden spoon is indispensable in a kitchen. I use a wooden spoon whenever possible, the less metal on metal the happier I am. What you want to look for is a good heat resistant as well as water tolerable spoon. Something that can handle constant abuse.

Whisk Ahh yes, the whisk. It would seem that every Sally Homemaker with her own line of products would lead you to believe that you need this type of whisk for eggs, and that type of whisk for brownies. Just not true. What you want to look for is a whisk with a comfortable handle (Ever try hollandaise sauce with a crappy whisk? ) and sturdy wiring. The wiring can be key for a whisk, too thick and you wont get air into your product too thin and it will break apart easily on you. A good way to tell a decent whisk is to hold it upright in front of you and give it a little back and forth shake. If the wiring doesn't move it's too stiff. If it flays all over the place it's way to loose. What your looking for is a very slight movement of the wiring, just enough so that it still feels stable. There is nothing saying though that you don't want a thinner wiring for uses other than everyday whisking. Thinner wiring works wonders for whipping cream. Again its personal preference but don't think you need a different whisk for every application.

Instant Read Thermometer One of the biggest fads I see with culinary students are going and buying these high tech thermometers that use lasers to record temp or can compute the launch trajectory of a NASA space craft. Look, Ill be honest here. If you buy a cheap thermometer, calibrate it correctly, make sure to recalibrate it before each use, and take care of it it will last years. Unless of course your name is Bob and you decide to toss yours down your garbage disposal (it committed suicide my arss!). And buy the way, those laser thermometers only record surface temp which doesn't do you much good if you want to temp a turkey.

These are just a few items you can buy cheaply and will reward you with years of reliable service. And your wallet will thank you. If you want further motivation to buy "cheap and reliable" here's a short list of things that have grown legs and walked out of my knife kit in the last 6 months:

2 Paring Knives, 1 Whisk, 1 Steel, 3 Peelers, 1 Bread Knife, 1 Digital Camera (curses!), 2 Wooden Spoons, 1 Wine Key, and 1 thermometer.

Thankfully all but the Camera and Bread Knife can be replaced cheaply.


Tags said...

Is it time for the CIA to install videocams to deter the kleptonic plague that appears to be festering there?

Bob del Grosso said...

You want culinary student kleptonic how's this one?

In 1995 I was working in a restaurant in Darien Ct, when a twenty-something kid appears at the back door with knives to sell. Since it was after the lunch rush the whole crew piles out the door to have a look. The guys trunk was filled with knife kits from Johnson and Wales.
As soon as I saw that I turned around and walked away. I don't remember if anyone else bought any- I don't think so.

The Foodist said...


Unfortantly in the rush of a kitchen im not even sure a camera could pick it up.

Funny thing though, after i wrote this I went to class today and was told that the plastic bowl scraper I borrowed from a classmate last week was never returned. Now i could have sworn i returned it, but regardless I bought him a new one today.

Like I said "Grow legs and walk out of the kitchen".


wow.... what a (chuckle) tool

JunkyPOS said...


I've got some tools you might want to see up close....


realitybites said...

Hi Foodist.

Is that a picture of the knife kit that the CIA issues? If so, do you know it's retail value? Can the public purchase them as well?

I too use a horizontal peeler. The one I have I bought in Switzerland back in 1991. The frame is made of lightweight aluminum. I know I didn't pay more than five bucks for it. But it peels like a dream. The blades are still sharp. Of course I don't peel massive amounts of veggies like you guys at the CIA do. But still, it has stood the test of time. It doesn't seem to have a name engraved on it so I don't know who makes it.

Scotty said...

It is probably not necessary while in school, but a couple of non-culinary things got added to my knife kit after I went pro:

A small, inexpensive maglite type flashlite.

An inexpensive multi-tool (I got mine with the purchase of a razor). For, pulling pinbones from a side of Salmon, adjusting a pilot, heck, the alleged saw works decently as a fish scaler.

A decent can opener, the back-up to the big crank one is a flimsy dime store model.

And, a corkscrew.

tyronebcookin said...

I have what you call an Executive Knife Case...it travels well if I pack in my garnish case against the top of the blades (or towels, or folded pants, or coat..etc)...but if not they do come loose during air travel.

From the looks of the case you show I like the 'slide in' stable environment it seems to be in...can I get one of those empty?

Scotty: I agree with you on those extra tools.

Another thing I love is instead of traveling or caring whether I have a mandolin or not, I bought a benriner/japanese mandolin real light, removal blades, some kind of plastic. Travels nice. http://www.acitydiscount.com/Benriner-Japanese-Mandoline-N4290.0.48305.1.1.htm?PPCID=9&link=2700444

But everyone tries to sell it for 40 to 60 dollars, I picked it up at the local 'international' store for 14$.

But I don't care pro or home cook, a good investment would be a 'cut resistent' glove for that benriner...skin will be missing sooner or later.

The Foodist said...


To answer your question, No thats not the CIA issued knife case. The issued knife set I use is one that was discontinued about a year ago, the CIA went with a new knife kit and from Ive experienced and heard about it its not all that good.

My older issue one I like. The chefs knife is a good wieght and reliable, though the blade has trouble holding an edge for a long time. The bread knife is really good and the fillet knife is very flexable, but again, has trouble holding an edge.


Stay tuned for Part III, im gonna pass along some items I have found that are incredibly usefull!

Scotty said...


I look forward to that, and the chance to compare what you have to what is in my work duffel.

However, please don't forget to mention the towel, because, as we all know A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker (or a cook)can have!

redman said...

I agree, great list. Like the part about testing the whisk. I buy cheap bread knives now and replace as they dull rather than blow big coin on the german ones

Castle said...

Wow, I thought that I already had too many kitchen gadgets and tools, but it looks like I'm still missing out! I already have beverage fountains, a potato masher, a quick-chop veggie dicer, and tons more! Thanks for the post, these items are definitely tempting.