Like a razor-sharp knife, there are plenty of tools that make a chef’s life immeasurably easier. We asked an array of Philly’s top culinary masters to share their budget-friendly favorites. Here’s to successfully kicking off your holiday shopping — or adding to your own wish list.
Recommended by: Billy Riddle of Spice Finch
Chef Billy Riddle puts his salad spinner to use for far more than washing lettuce leaves. It’s put into service to strain ricotta and pasta, and to clean herbs and other lightweight vegetables. And he never leaves town without it when traveling for work.
“The worst feeling is chomping down on a bite of dirty or sandy food,” Riddle says.
The dishwasher-safe gadget features a clear plastic bowl that can double as a serving dish and a white basket that can be used separately as a colander. Pair them together with the pump-operated lid to wash and spin-dry any kind of leafy green.
Recommended by: Rich Landau of Vedge Restaurant Group
While best known for transforming hunks of Parmesan into fine granules, this little grater’s ability to shave nuts makes it a game-changer for chef Rich Landau.
“As the French say, you eat with your eyes first, and this became such an incredible tool for us to enhance both visual and textural impact through these little cheese-like nut slivers,” says Landau. “We use it to shave Brazil nuts on salads, macadamia nuts on desserts, and almonds on our pesto Trapanese and ramen.”
Landau points out that the stainless-steel tool also works great for mincing garlic. And he praises it for maintaining impressively sharp edges, even over five-plus years of use.
Recommended by: Chef Townsend Wentz of Oloroso, A Mano, Townsend, the Pearl Tavern
Since the start of his culinary career over two decades ago, Chef Townsend Wentz has kept this German utility knife by his side, and he’s often bought it as a gift for friends, too.
“It’ll change your world. It just makes cutting so much easier without needing to have a wildly expensive or fancy Japanese chef’s knife,” says Wentz, who uses the knife daily to chop dense vegetables such as butternut squash and potatoes.
Beyond vegetables, the ergonomic, L-shaped design also lends itself well to slicing crusty bread. And with a high-carbon stainless-steel blade, if used with care, it won’t need to be sharpened for years.
Recommended by: Chef Nicholas Elmi of Laurel, ITV, and Royal Boucherie
At Laurel, Chef Nicholas Elmi runs three dehydrators 24 hours a day to create all sorts of innovative flavor infusions. Beets are dehydrated, then reconstituted in blackberry juice to create a beautiful, slightly earthy garnish for chocolate desserts. Carrot juice pulp is dehydrated, then churned into butter. Fermented squash is transformed into vegan “cheese.”
Elmi takes a more simplistic approach at home, though, frequently employing his dehydrator in the service of making snacks.
“If we have leftover peaches from the farmers’ market, we’ll slice them up and put them in, and I’ll snack on them when I get home at night. Same with apples and berries,” says Elmi.
Elmi uses pricier commercial dehydrators at Laurel but suggests the Presto four-tray system for the home cook. Both affordable and compact, it makes it easy to dehydrate all sorts of ingredients without taking up too much space in the kitchen.
Recommended by: Chef Joey Baldino of Zeppoli and Palizzi Social Club
A zester helps quickly punch up flavors both sweet and savory in any meal. Invest in the wrong one, however, and an otherwise simple task can turn into a tedious, fingertip-nicking chore. Chef Joey Baldino recommends the Microplane zester, a tool he’s relied on since he first entered the industry.
“We’re using it all night long to top dishes like pasta with a light shave of Parmesan and pies with the perfect zest of lemon,” says Baldino.
The dishwasher-safe tool stays sharp for years without rusting, a problem encountered by many traditional zesters.
Recommended by: Chef Kenny Bush of Gabi
If you’re a fan of pureed soups or other creamy fare, Chef Kenny Bush recommends investing in an immersion blender.
“Immersion blenders are easier to clean, and you can use them in the same container you’re storing the food in,” says Bush, who regularly utilizes his to blitz herbs into butter, which he spoons onto steaks, pasta, and bread.
Bush points out that the tool also comes in handy for incorporating thickeners into gravy and for whipping up a single-serving smoothie.