Sometime in the early part of the last decade, I had the pleasure of interviewing the late great Anthony Bourdain. I asked the Kitchen Confidential author and TV host if I should step out of the purview of my own palate and try something new.
“I think if I’m an advocate for anything, that would be it,” Bourdain told me. “I mean, everybody else in the world has been cooking longer than us and chances are they’ve been cooking better than us. And what’s the downside, what can you lose in the end, how bad could it be?”
Well, Tony—bad—like, really bad. Especially if I cooked it. That is, prior to my tenure apprenticing with my gourmand father. He taught me how to cook when I came to him in my mid-30s, the prodigal son returned, finally ready to learn his ways. It’s been more than a decade since and now I’m a credible gourmand myself. My pop’s first piece of kitchen gear advice was “Get a good knife, keep it sharp and learn how to actually use it,” which I stand by. I also agree with Julia Child, who famously said, “I think every woman should have a blowtorch.” Actually, I think everyone should have a blowtorch, and perhaps someday we all will.
When it comes to less-flammable kitchen essentials, Joseph Zobel, chef and owner of Fern Bar at The Barlow in Sebastopol, makes a case for mixing it up—literally.
“My favorite kitchen gadget would be the Vitamix,” Zobel says. “It’s a versatile blender that can be used to purée, emulsify and grind. It can be used for a multitude of applications and is invaluable in our kitchen.”
Matt D’Ambrosi, Chef at Blue Ridge Kitchen, also at The Barlow, echoes the sentiment.
“Vitamix is basically a commercial-grade blender,” D’Ambrosi says. “I love the Vitamix because I love making sauces and purées. The Vitamix blends everything so smooth and silky, leaving you with a wonderful texture.”
Blake Dan from GrillSimply.com, a site dedicated to “providing real and genuine advice and guides around cooking, grilling and barbecue” strongly advocates acquiring an instant-read thermometer as part of your kitchen gear tool kit.
“There are so many different ways to test the doneness of meats, some more creative than others,” Dan says. “You might use the finger-touch test to determine steak doneness, for example. However, there is no better, easier or safer way to do it than by using an instant-read thermometer. These are so affordable for the difference they make in the kitchen when it comes to determining the doneness and internal temperature of your food.”
As Dan points out, food cooked at the appropriate temperature will result in a more moist and succulent outcome, which is naturally more delicious than over or undercooked meat.
“Plus, when it comes to food safety, you can always be sure to eat it when it’s above the food safety advised minimum temperature,” Dan says. “Although you might get pretty good using other methods to test meat doneness and temperature, using an instant-read thermometer is always accurate and by far the easiest. Definitely an underrated tool in the culinary world.”
Beyond the tools, there are the tips—Blue Ridge Kitchen’s D’Ambrosi thinks you should spice it up this time of year.
“As for a holiday cooking tip, I would have to say break out your holiday spice such as clove, cardamom cinnamon or star anise,” he says. “Add them to a good braised dish like a short rib or lamb shank. Cooking with any of these spices always reminds me of the holidays.”
And, if you really want to optimize your holiday cooking experience, Fern Bar’s Zobel suggests not stalling when it comes to doing the dishes.
“As far as kitchen tips, keep it simple and clean as you go,” Zobel says. “Don’t let the dishes pile until the end of the meal. You’ll thank yourself when all is said and done!”
Blue Ridge Kitchen offers takeout from 11:30am to 8pm, seven days a week. Visit brkitchen.com. Fern Bar offers takeout for the holidays. Visit FernBar.com.