Objects of affection

Local chefs dish about the tools they can't live without

February 11, 2011|By Dennis Hockman, Chesapeake Home + Living

There's something about Valentine's Day that makes me think of attachments. And not just the human kind.

As hard as it is to admit, sometimes the focal point for our feelings doesn't even have a heartbeat. Instead it may be something that, well, comes with attachments.

For example, I'm pretty fond of my countertop grill. But lately, I've been cheating on it with my new love, a Breville Panini press — I feel a little guilty, but those sandwiches are just too good.

To explore this deviant love, I talked to a handful of local chefs who were brave enough to admit the secret passions they harbor for some of the tools of their trade. Since cooking is a labor of love, you would expect them to have just one true culinary sweetheart.

But what I found is, like me, they had a hard time narrowing it down to only one most-loved, can't-live-without countertop appliance.

Forced to feign fidelity, I fully expected all of the chefs to profess their commitment to the stand mixer. And although every single one of them did mention the KitchenAid stand mixer as among the most important small appliances a chef could own, only one selected it as a "must have."

Despite my obsession with countertop appliances — I begged my wife for a meat slicer for Christmas last year — I'll admit that maybe something with sharp rotating blades lacks romance, but if you've got a foodie for your other half, a nice, versatile mixer might be the most direct path to his or her heart.

Nancy Longo

Profile: Chef and owner of Pierpoint and longtime Ravens' delegate chef for the Superbowl "Taste of the NFL."

Can't live without: Food processor (Cuisinart, $99-$799).

Why she loves it: Longo, who forced her husband to buy her a KitchenAid mixer for Valentine's Day one year, picked the food processor as her countertop love. "It is an appliance you can use for a multitude of things."

What to prepare with it: "You can chop, puree, make sauces and grind meat. Immersion blenders are also great. Either would make a great Valentine's Day gift for a foodie — both are long-lasting and will get used on a regular basis."

John Shields

Profile: Chef at Gertrude's at the BMA, cookbook author and television cooking show host.

Can't live without: The Crock Pot (Rival, $9-$50).

But that wasn't Shields' initial choice. At first, he turned to chefs at his restaurant, who unanimously agreed: coffee maker. Shields, on the other hand, offered some less stimulating options before choosing his true love. "For me, one must-have is a rice cooker. I use brown rice and it takes longer to cook, so rice cookers come in handy. Lately, my must-have has been a Crock Pot."

Why he loves it: "I love to cook, but when you have one day off a week like me, best-laid plans for meals I want to prepare for myself at home don't always work out. I don't use my Crock Pot all the time, but it's great to have — you can throw something together in the morning, head out do all those chores you haven't had a chance to do all week, grab a movie, and then come home, prepare a salad and dinner is ready."

What to prepare with it: "For me, I always like soups, stews and chilis in a crock pot — hearty dishes that I can have as a meal if I add a salad. When cooking in a Crock Pot, you usually have enough for several meals of leftovers. Recently, I played around with a few different recipes I like and came up with a nice vegetarian Mediterranean stew."

Thomas Dunklin

Profile: New on the Baltimore scene, Dunklin — the chef at B&O American Brasserie — is fresh in from Portland where he quarterbacked the Red Star Tavern and Roast House.

Can't live without: The Vita-Prep (Vitamix, $385-$595).

Why he loves it: It's a lesser-known tool that's the equivalent of a mixer. "A KitchenAid mixer is the most versatile machine in the kitchen," says Dunklin. "Based on my background as an executive chef, pastry chef and a baker, this piece of equipment can do everything from making cookie dough, bread, meringue, ice cream, pasta, grinding meat, sausage and milling whole grains. It is the perfect tool for a home cook to be able to perfect any kind of project. Lesser-known is the Vita-Prep. Its versatility and power is just as good as a KitchenAid mixer. It purees blends and mills."

What to prepare with it: "It is perfect for a home cook to make restaurant-quality pureed soup, baby food, hollandaise, salsa, rice flour and the many other things that people always wonder how it was made in a restaurant."

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