The Chef's Shelf: Tools Rule
If you’re like me, you’re always looking for little tools and gadgets to make cooking easier. Between busy weeknights and lazy weekends, motivation to cook adventurous, elaborate meals can be impossible to find. Chefs spend their entire work days—or nights—cooking, so it’s understandable they oftentimes want to make quick, low-effort meals at home. But, I wondered, is there something they reach for to help make cooking at home a breeze? I asked a few local chefs what cooking utensil or gadget they have at home that they can’t live without. Here’s what they said:
Melanie Miles, chef and co-owner at Rail, swears by her slow cooker.
“We work a lot and cook all day, so cooking is usually the last thing I want to do when I get home,” she says. “My Crock-Pot is a lifesaver because we can freeze meals and just drop them in in the morning to be ready when we get home at night.” Her favorite Crock-Pot dishes to make? Italian chicken (her version of Italian beef), chowders and chili.
Ricky Hatfield, chef at CharBlue downtown, can’t live without his food processor.
“I’m always making some sort of sauce, salsa or purée at home,” he says. But it’s no surprise that his latest favorite dish involves steak: flank steaks with chimichurri, an herbaceous Argentinean sauce typically made with parsley, oregano, oil and garlic.
Aaron Butts, chef at The Golden in Fort Wayne, says his six-inch utility knife is essential.
“That’s what I prep with if I’m cooking at home,” he says. “I make quick meals that take a little bit of prep.” Lately, he’s been making brown rice with broccoli, cheddar, egg, soy sauce and sriracha at home. It’s quick, yet tasty and filling.
Cindy Hawkins, pastry chef and owner of Circle City Sweets, swears by her apple corer, slicer and peeler.
“Since all of the slices are the same, you get a much more consistent bake—meaning all of the pieces are the same final texture,” she says. Her go-to dessert made with an apple corer is an apple tarte tatin, a classic French dessert made on a base of puff pastry and covered in a melty caramel sauce.
Justin Miller, executive chef at Hillcrest Country Club, can’t live without a high-temperature rubber spatula.
Miller recommends a small spatula that, he says, feels like an extension of your hand. “I use one all the time, even when plating.” At home, though, it’s his wife who makes all the gourmet meals. His go-to meal is an omelet made with three large eggs, garden vegetables and some smoked gouda.
Brad Gates, owner of Brad Gates Catering and executive chef at Hedge Row, can’t live without iron skillets.
“They are extremely versatile and cleanup is quick and easy,” he says. “Iron skillets conduct heat evenly across the pan. It makes for efficient cooking.” Lately, his favorite dish to make in his iron skillet is scallops. “A nice hot iron skillet makes some beautifully caramelized jumbo scallops, and my kids love them,” he says. “In the end, that’s what matters most.”
John Herndon, chef at 22nd Street Diner in Fall Creek Place, can’t live without his perforated chef’s spoon.
“It’s my prized possession,” he says. “I use it instead of tongs. I always say I can use spoons better than anything else.” He uses it for just about everything, so it’s impossible for him to narrow down one favorite dish. However, he offers some advice: “It’s good for basting.”