Chefs Weigh in on Their Top Prep-Equipment Picks

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When it comes to kitchen equipment, it turns out chefs are just as susceptible to the power of celebrity as the rest of us. “It’s like fashion. If Tom Ford does something really cool, a lot of designers are going to follow,” says Matt Stowe, director of Culinary Operations for the Joseph Richard Group in Surrey, B.C. “If the [culinary] rock star of the moment, Daniel Humm [chef-owner of New York’s Eleven Madison Park, named the world’s best restaurant in 2017], outfits his kitchen with [188-year-old French cookware brand] Mauviel, I have a feeling you’d see a lot more of it in restaurant kitchens.” Equipping a professional kitchen is a balancing act between affordability and durability, although experts say the latter is becoming increasingly important to Canadian restaurateurs.

Chris Moreland, national Sales Director and corporate chef for Mississauga, Ont.-based Food Service Solutions, says restaurateurs have traditionally been willing to scrimp on prep tools, but are changing their thinking as costs rise and profits shrink.

Moreland says operators such as Cara and Boston Pizza are looking to create “smart kitchens” that are smaller, more efficient and feature better-quality, longer-lasting products. “There’s an emerging need for innovative ways to help offset labour costs through more efficient forms of preparation,” he says. “For operators that still want to do things at a higher-quality standard, and control their own food costs, it’s going to lean more towards the equipment side of solutions.”

Tyler Shedden, culinary director for Toronto-based Chase Hospitality Group, estimates it can cost between $150,000 to $250,000 to outfit a new kitchen with major appliances, plus an additional $25,000 to $50,000 for smallwares such as pots and pans and cutting boards. The cost of using inferior equipment can be significant, says Shedden. “Without the right equipment, you lose time and time is everything. Having the right equipment in place, that works properly, is the first step to expediting anything you have to do.”

With that in mind, we asked restaurant professionals to provide some insight into which prep tools they rely on most and the innovations they believe could impact the industry.

POTS & PANS
U.S. brand Allclad and its French counterparts Mauviel and Le Creuset dominate the conversation when it comes to professional cookware. “They all have thick bottoms and lifetime warranties — the things chefs look for,” says Stowe.

Aluminum cookware might be cheaper, but it isn’t designed to withstand the rigours of a professional kitchen, says Shedden. “If you spend the money in the beginning, it can be very beneficial and you don’t have to re-up on certain things — especially pots and pans.,” he says. “We will never buy an aluminum pan. Ever.”

Stowe swears by his eight-inch All-Clad stainless-steel frying pan, which he claims is more versatile than a larger pan.

High-end cookware brand Hestan based in California, has introduced a new line of products called NanoBond, which use a proprietary blend of alloys, most notably molecular titanium. Hestan says the pans deliver 35-per-cent greater heat conductivity than aluminum-clad cookware and are four-times harder than stainless steel.“They hold up much better to kitchen abuse,” says Moreland.

KNIVES
Like many young cooks, Stowe started his career using German knife brands such as Henkel and Wüsthof, but quickly moved on to lighter-weight Japanese brands such as Misono. “When you’re working with a knife for eight or 10 hours a day during prep, having a lighter knife just helps your wrists and you feel a lot better at the end of the day,” says Stowe, who favours the Misono UX10 10-inch chef’s knife.

Japanese brands also tend to hold their edge longer and are easier to sharpen, says Stowe. “Knives are a very personal thing,” says Shedden, who favours knives made by Finnish company TK. “As a cook, you cut things and then you cook them, so a knife is really an extension of your arm. You want to find something that’s comfortable to use when you’re using it for hours upon hours.”

Stowe says any chef’s toolkit should include a variety of knives (chef’s knife, paring knife, slicing knife, boning knife, et cetera), as well as a microplane, a Y-shaped peeler and kitchen shears.

THE SPOON
Spoons are another essential tool in the chef’s arsenal and the Gray Kunz spoon has developed a cult following. Known for its larger bowl (which holds exactly 2.5 tablespoons), tapered edge and shorter, narrower handle, the Gray Kunz spoon has been lauded in Saveur magazine, while an Instagram search using the hashtag #GrayKunz produces more than 700 posts.“It’s got an industry cult following,” says Stowe, a spoon collector.

FOOD PROCESSORS
In January, Food Service Solutions introduced a new Swiss-made food processor from Brunner-Anliker called the GSM 5 Star. The machine is capable of delivering the types of fine cuts used in professional kitchens, while the company boasts an output of 150-kilograms per hour.

“It’s a precisely made piece of Swiss engineering,” says Moreland. “When the Swiss make things, they make them to last.” Brunner-Anliker has been in business since the 1970s, and versions of the GSM 5 Star built in the mid-1970s are still in use in kitchens across Europe, he says.

Such quality doesn’t come cheap, of course. Food Service Solutions is selling the product for a base price of $7,000, and operators will also be required to choose from among 52 different blades on an à la carte basis (blades start at $240 each, says Moreland). However, Moreland says the unit is capable of replacing one full-time employee dedicated to tasks such as dicing vegetables for soups. One chef reportedly told Moreland that his GSM 5 Star saved him $40,000 a year in labour costs.

VACUUM-PACKING
Moreland says vacuum-packing equipment is poised for a breakthrough in the months ahead, as rising labour and rent costs force operators to look for ways to stretch their food budget. “Chefs look at it as saving them labour because they don’t have to repeat work for things that are going bad, and also being able to do their production smarter” says Moreland, whose company recently partnered with the Italian brand, Besser.

For example, a restaurant could make all of its sauces in bulk, put them in bags and cryovac them and put them in their refrigerator to use as needed.

“It will take shelf life from four days up to 15 days,” says Moreland. “The demand is going to steadily increase. The younger chefs are really embracing the idea of doing sous-vide cooking and utilizing vacuum chambers in their kitchens in order to preserve food.”

Written by Chris Powell

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