Other than their beloved knives, which most chefs have an arsenal of in every size and shape, what kitchen gadgets do chefs use at home when cooking for friends and family? Six local chefs picked their favorite kitchen tools that save prep time while still allowing for some creative cooking at home.
Two of the most popular tools mentioned were the microplane and mandolin. The microplane, one of my favorites, can zest a lemon or grate chocolate, garlic or cheese. There's nothing like grating cheese from a fresh block of Parmesan just cut from the wheel. You'll never go back to the pregrated cheese.
Mandolins are the most efficient tools for slicing potatoes and vegetables evenly, which is nearly impossible just using a knife.
"I use my Japanese mandolin at home to make vegetable lasagna, and at work, I use it to slice foie gras for the shaved Hudson Valley foie gras on our menu," said Charles Hays, executive chef and owner of Vin48 in Avon, who likes the smaller Japanese mandolin for its fine, clean cut and ability to cut smaller veggies, such as radishes.
"The Japanese have been making swords since the eighth century - they know how to do it right," Hays said.
Michael Irwin, chef at The Last Course in Edwards, makes his own spice combinations at home with a spice grinder.
"My favorite tool that I use at home all the time is a coffee grinder to grind spices," Irwin said. "Traditionalists use a mortar and pestle, but a spice grinder is the quick way out without cheating. The quality of the spices is so much better - there's really no comparison."
Irwin grinds cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and dried chilies to make his own chili powder.
Another common kitchen gadget, the French press, can be used for more than just making coffee. Richard Hinojosa, executive chef at Larkspur Restaurant, gets creative with his French press, making broth infusions for soups or to pour over noodles.
"When I lived in Hawaii, I started making an Asian-infused broth that I would pour over rice noodles and lightly steamed fish. It's my version of a shabu-shabu," said Hinojosa, who starts with a light shellfish broth of lobster and shrimp shells, celery, onion and parsnip. He strains the broth into the French press and adds sliced ginger, crushed lemongrass, star anise, cilantro and a sliced chili pepper and then lets it steep for about 15 minutes.
When he's working at Larkspur, Hinojosa's favorite gadget is a Vitamix blender.
"I wish I had one at home because I use a blender all the time to puree soups for my family and have blown out a few blender motors," said Hinojosa, who uses a Vitamix to make silky smooth soups such as Larkspur's celery and leek potage or to make 500 gallons of Palisade tomato soup from locally harvested tomatoes (recipe at www.larkspurvail.com/happenings or on Facebook).
How do a Kamado grill and a Kitchen Aid mixer go together? Dan Kent, chef at The Charter in Beaver Creek, can't live without either one.
"I used my mom's Kitchen Aid mixer from 1965 until just last month when the motor finally blew out and I had to buy a new one," he said. "It's the most versatile gadget in my kitchen. I make pizza dough every week in my mixer, build a pizza with leftovers - chicken, roasted Brussels sprouts and fresh herbs - and then cook the pizza on my Kamado grill at 700 degrees. It's my go-to easy weeknight meal."
How many different ways can you use an ice cream scoop? Allana Smith, a trained pastry chef and operations director at Larkspur Restaurant uses the Zeroll Original Ice Cream Scoop for its unique, patented technology that defrosts the scoop as it's dipped into your frozen treat.
"It is absolutely the best ice cream scoop you can buy," said Smith who also uses a spring-loaded scoop to equally portion meatballs, ravioli filling, cookie dough, or to fill muffin and cupcake cups.
According to Sam Moore, sous chef at Gore Range Brewery in Edwards, the gadget that everyone needs is the Tomato Shark - a simple metal spoon with sharp teeth that cleanly cores and hulls a tomato or strawberry in seconds, leaving just the fruit.
"It costs about 57 cents and it's the most amazing tool," said Moore who uses the Shark at home to make tomato salsa, tomato sauce and fruit salads. "It cores anything in seconds, cutting prep time way down. It might sound lame, but it really is the coolest kitchen tool."
Kelly Brinkerhoff is a freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur (www.larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999.