By Andrew and Mary Catherine Curren
Andrew Curren is executive chef and partner at Easy Tiger, 24 Diner and Arro.
Mary Catherine Curren is executive pastry chef at Easy Tiger.
My wife, Mary Catherine, is a pastry chef—I am a savory chef—and we share a common desire for every tool, machine, mold, pan or tagine on the market to make our next exciting creation. But with a 500-square-foot condo and a 75-square-foot kitchen, space is a hot commodity in our house.
Between the coffeemaker, espresso machine, juicer and Cuisinart Mini-Prep, our counter space is limited, so certain frequent-use items are prioritized and kept as handy as possible: a knife block for sharp knives, a drawer for spatulas, wooden spoons, tongs, ring molds, wine keys, Microplanes, bench knives, ladles, tweezers, chopsticks, bottle openers, thermometers, timers, etc. Whittling it all down to a few kitchen must-haves, though, wasn’t easy, but we were up for the challenge. And to make this assignment a little more interesting, I picked my wife’s must-haves and she picked mine. Let’s see how we did.
1. MINI OFFSET SPATULA. The number-one tool in my wife’s arsenal would have to be her mini offset spatula (a spatula with the paddle lower than the handle), made by Ateco. The reason I know this is because I frequently borrow it and she is quick to remind me to return it immediately. This little guy is worth every penny. For between $5 and $15, this small spatula can get in between, under and on top of just about everything. Definitely a must-have for a pastry novice or expert, and might I suggest buying two in case someone decides to borrow it since it is quite versatile?
2. DIGITAL SCALE. Number two is a digital scale—preferably a gram scale. When baking, measuring is key; just like a carpenter measures twice and cuts once, a pastry chef must do the same. The Escali Pico is a great household scale for under $30. I would suggest purchasing a couple of extra batteries, though. I’ve run to the store more than once while Mary Catherine’s hands were covered in flour!
3. PROPANE TORCH. Number three would be her propane torch. The regulator hooks onto a one-pound propane cylinder, found at all hardware stores, and costs about $75. The difference between this and the $50 butane model is that this one will last a lifetime, and the cylinders ($20 a piece) provide hours of torching. (The pastry-specific butane models tend to break halfway through their first use). From crème brûlée to brûléed bananas, peaches, figs—just about anything you can dust with sugar—everything turns out fun, crunchy and always tasty. Her Dawn Kwik Torch DT1000 also comes in handy when trying to unmold cakes and tarts that have cooled tightly to their pans.
4. JUICER. Number four would have to be the Breville JE95XL Two-Speed Juice Fountain Plus. These range from $200 to $400, but are well worth the money. I must say I don’t need an alarm clock anymore because my wife is up at 7:30 in the morning whirring beets, kale, lemons, carrots and anything else she can get her hands on to kick off our day with a nutritious start. Cleanup is easier than people admit to, as well.
Well, now that my husband has expertly chosen and examined some of my favorite kitchen tools, it’s my turn to give it a go. It certainly is a challenge to limit my choices to just four, but there does seem to be a quartet of gear that sees a bit more use than the rest.
1. FRENCH OVEN. Number one for him is a classic. The Le Creuset Signature 6¾-Quart Oval French Oven is ideal for stovetop cooking and finishing in the oven. In addition to conducting heat expertly for even cooking, it’s also beautiful enough for serving. Andrew prefers the 6¾-quart over our smaller 5-quart option, as he has a tendency to cook for 10 to 12 people regardless of it being just the two of us for dinner. The entire Le Creuset collection is durable enough to last a lifetime and be passed on to future generations.
2. COFFEE AND SPICE GRINDER. Number two is the Braun coffee and spice grinder. There really is no substitute for freshly ground spices, and Andrew uses ours almost every time he cooks a meal. When I worked for local coffee roaster Texas Coffee Traders, I would get phone calls monthly requesting that I please buy one while at work to bring home because ours was, once again, lost to the kitchens of our restaurants. On those occasions when our grinder went MIA, one of our mortar and pestles would get dusted off and put to use—reminding us how much we really do love our spice grinder.
3. FOOD PROCESSOR. Number three is one of our kitchen’s newest additions. The 4-cup Cuisinart Mini-Prep has quickly become one of Andrew’s favorite little helpers. Anyone who cooks frequently understands the benefits of a good food processor. We have always had the traditional larger models, but because we now have such limited space, we’ve had to keep our 14-cup Cuisinart stored away in an awkwardly accessed corner of a closet. When we discovered the Mini-Prep, we realized that, most of the time, four cups is plenty of capacity. And it’s small enough to live on the counter, which makes for convenient and fast access.
4. OFFSET SERRATED KNIFE. Number four is Andrew’s Wüsthof Gourmet offset serrated bread knife. Most people are familiar with a traditional serrated knife and typically use it only for slicing bread. There’s no doubt that the only way to slice bread is with a serrated knife, and an offset handle helps you avoid jamming your knuckles into the cutting board. But he doesn’t just use the knife for bread; he also uses it for ingredients a bit more delicate as the teeth on the knife gently saw through the flesh of a tomato or a ripe peach.
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