Speaking of small appliances…

I remember back when I got my first restaurant cooking job. I was sixteen and needed a second job to pay for a gold watch for my then-girlfriend’s birthday present. What was I thinking???

Anyway I remember walking into the back and looking for all the small appliances and cool gizmos that I associated with cooking. The early eighties were the heyday of Presto Hot Doggers and Ronco inside-the-egg scramblers, and I expected to see a lot of that stuff laying around in a professional kitchen.

The chef — Alfredo was his name if you can believe it — noticed me looking at all the empty work surfaces and racks of pans. “Looking for all the gadgets?” he asked. I smiled and nodded. “That’s them,” he said and gestured over to the prep cooks in the corner who were chopping away. A total of five minutes later I became one of them. A total of six minutes later I had my first serious cut on my hand.

But I always think of ol’ Alfredo when I walk into a restaurant kitchen and see nothing but pots, pans, bowls, cutting boards, knives and stoves. The dude was right. Most of the time in a good restaurant the people really are the gear.

49 thoughts on “Speaking of small appliances…”

  1. Great post Joe! As a former cook and now restaurant manager I couldn’t agree more. People outside the business think the restaurant biz is a piece of cake…until they see the kitchen on a busy night and the amount of organization it takes to feed a room full of people. Thanks for enlightening the masses.

    1. Thank you, Dave! I greatly appreciate the comment. It means a lot coming from a man of your background.


      – Joe

  2. Yes – have to admit I will often go for a knife and chopping board over the food processor – mostly because I don’t put the food processor in the dishwasher, a knife is much quicker to clean up afterwards. Same goes for creaming butter and sugar at the moment- nice clean glass bowl and a whisk – (refer comments about mixers).
    Food processor fantastic for crumbs, purees, soups etc. 🙂

    1. So true, Heather. My processor bowl won’t go in the dishwasher either. I too find myself thinking twice…quite a bit!

      Thanks for a great comment!

      – Joe

      1. Prior to having a food processor, the thought of being able to make pie pastry quickly thrilled me. After getting a food processor, I realized that I spend the same amount of time cleaning as I did doing it all by hand with the pastry blender. If I were more of the inventor sort, I would try to redesign the thing to easier to clean….in fact, that seems to be the theme behind small appliances.

        Thanks for the post!

  3. This may not be in keeping with the (excellent) less-is-more moral of the post, but do you have an opinion about those new stand mixer beaters with rubber “blades” for edges, allowing them to scrape the side of the bowl as they revolve? They are supposed to eliminate the traditional “scrape down batter” step in baking recipes. The idea seems to make sense, though I always worry about straying too far from tradition.

    1. Hey there Reader Lee!

      I was just talking about these recently. There are a lot of bakers who swear by them. I really don’t like them for a few reasons. While I don’t enjoy scraping as a rule I think it’s an important thing to do. A very good habit. It allows a baker to get up close and personal with the batter or dough…visually inspect it and see how it’s progressing. The implicit “just dump the ingredients in the bowl and forget ’em” message of those blades just gets under my skin.

      Also I guess I don’t trust the strength of those plastic beaters and the rubber blades even less so. I’m sure they’re plenty strong for cake and muffin batters, but call me crazy they just feel cheap and brittle. None of this pleased one of the makers of those blades when they asked me to endorse them. Made me feel old and cranky! Sigh. I should probably just accept it.

      – Joe

      1. A waste of batter/dough as well. I have one that is fairly well made and specifically for the Kitchen Aid. However, I find that getting off whatever you are making from all of those little blades is very frustrating.

        As for my commercial kitchen story, when I was new in Nashville and looking for a job, I thought I could transfer my home baking obsession, backed up with waitressing skills and some knowledge of the kitchen environment, into an actual baking job. As a pastry chef trainee at a local hotel I soon learned it was harder work than I could have ever imagined. There was no machine to help you crack 18 dozen eggs for the lemon curd. I never could bench press 60 pounds of Danish dough at 3:00 am or any other hour of the day and I still have nightmares of cutting strawberry fans to garnish just baked cheesecakes that weren’t cool or firm and began slumping on the plates for a banquet of 600 that was beginning in just minutes. Those darn strawberry fans were my ultimate nemesis as they went on absolutely everything.

        1. Ha! Great story, Linda! Mrs. Pastry once spent a summer working in the dessert department at the Blackhawk in Chicago, and she still has strawberry fan nightmares as well. I had no idea how traumatic they were!

          – Joe

  4. Totally agree. A good knife and tons of elbow grease is what makes my kitchen going.

  5. I started in the 60’s & I don’t think there were any of those things in commercial kitchens. I remember a human sized Hobart mixer & that was about it.

    I clearly remember more than one occasion where I peeled & chopped 50 Lbs of onions. My left hand has several spiffy scars earned before I learned how to chop correctly or when I got tired & sloppy. Even today I don’t use a processor often & never for chopping. Why go to the trouble & mess. I can disassemble an onion before you can get your damn queezyart plugged in B-{D

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only cranky one around here, Frankly! 😉

      Thanks for that!

      – Joe

    2. Speaking of scars… that would be a great topic for a non-cooking-but-culinary-related post, wouldn’t it? I’ll bet we al;l have some scars incurred during cooking! I have a scar that could be used as a reference standard for the thickness of a Jack-in-the-box tomato. It has been 40 years (or so) but I still remember running my thumb through that tomato slicing machine. If only I had been using a knife (and, like Frankly wrote, I could have produced the same perfect slices in less time than using the slicing machine but they had rules, rules, and more rules.) I also have scars from an angry cat but that doesn’t seem like it would be very interesting. Forget I mentioned that d@mn c@t.

      1. Hehe…talk about a “guy” post! Suddenly it’s Jaws and we’re Quint and Hooper! See that scar? 😉

        My best ones are non-kitchen related. But I’ll tell you I used to feel quite manly when I had a regular bakery job. My forearms were always covered long skinny burns from all the accidental contact with oven doors and racks. Oh yeah, I’m a baker baby!

        – Joe

          1. Wow, Rainey, those are great! I don’t need to have scars on my forearms to be manly (that’s what the anchor tattoos are for). I’m going to buy some of those!

            – Joe

          2. They’re great and I heartily endorse them. Another company makes Nomex ones as an alternative but I found they eventually got very brittle and gave out so I’d avoid those.

            I expect to have my silicone set for a long time to come. OTOH, if they give out I guess I could pop for another $8.

        1. Joe,

          I can relate to the “My forearms were always covered long skinny burns from all the accidental contact with oven doors and racks.” I am still working in bakeries as a manager now. But, back in the 90’s working as an assistant manager in a French bakery in Miami, I had those burns and carried the scars from them for a long time. They have faded now. I have learned to test every rack before I touch it now and I only use rack ovens now, less chance of burns to the forearms compared to a deck oven.

          Sure do miss working in that French bakery.

          1. The marks really last a long time, don’t they? Thanks Jason!

            – Joe

  6. Someone mentioned making pie dough in their food processor. Frankly, a big bowl and a clean pair of hands is the best bet for up to 11 pounds or so of dough. Any less and the effort you save does to cleaning up, not to mention that pie dough is fairly delicate and most machines overwork the fats into the dough.

    Pie dough is “pâte brisé” which translates to “broken dough.” It should look raggedy with nice big pieces of fat visible.


  7. Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I love the kitchen gadgets I’ve choosen. (I don’t buy things like pie bakers or donut bakers and that sort of thing) I don’t use many of them a lot, but I sure am glad I have them when I they are useful. I use the food processor frequently and would hate to think of having to make salsa, grind nuts, and a few other tasks, including the occasional dough, without it. I do grumble when I have to clean it, though. Every time I think a new drudgey saving goo-gaw seems sort of like overkill, I think of the cooks a hundred years ago that would jump at the chance to have many of the conveniences we have now. I use stuff for them!

    1. Hey Susan! I never meant to say there was anything wrong with kitchen gadgets in either principle or practice. In fact right now on my counter there’s a mixer, food professor, blender, coffee grinder, electric kettle and toaster. I’ve a got two digital scales, a sous vide cooker, deli slicer, proof box, immersion blender, hand mixer and ice cream maker as well. So I’m loaded!

      – Joe

      1. Proof box? What kind? Are you happy with it? My house is cold, my proofing takes long but there’s a proof box in a store down the road just waiting for me! It’s pricey…so I’m still unsure.

        1. Hey Bob!

          It’s a folding proof box by Brod & Taylor. They’re not terribly expensive and quite handy. I reviewed the thing on the site a few months back. Do a search and you’ll find it easily. I think you can get one for just over a hundred bucks.

          – Joe

        2. I have a big polystyrene box I rescued from the rubbish at work. I can put my bowl of dough and a towel-wrapped hot-water bottle in it and it works a treat. I also used it to cook my Xmas ham this year, à la haybox. The ham was still very hot after 24 hours in it.

      2. What scales do you recommend? I have a spring-loaded scale, but it can only take a couple of ounces, and I doubt its accuracy. I also have a digital scale that seems pretty good. It tares, but it only does ounces (not pounds!), not metric, and someday I’d like to replace it.

        1. Hi Sandra!

          You’ll be surprised at how reasonable digital scales have become. I definitely recommend them over spring scales, and these days you can get a very serviceable one for under $20 at most larger grocery stores. The one I recently bought for a baking class tares and does both metric and imperial. It’s all a baker needs!


          – Joe

  8. Oh…and one more thing.! People who work in bakeries and restaurants are paid to only cook (and sometimes do dishes) unlike most home cooks who have everything else to do, too!

    1. Exactly my point with all these posts, Susan. Home kitchens and pro kitchens are completely different environments with their own needs, economics, etc.. Thanks!

      – Joe

  9. Heh. I feel this way every time I read a recipe that presumes that everyone who bakes has a countertop mixer to use for mixing cookie dough or cake batter, or mixing and kneading yeast dough. These days, this is just about every recipe I read. I have a tiny kitchen — less than 2sq feet of useable counterspace — and not much cupboard space, so I’m not sure where I’d put the thing. I’m starting to think I’m the only person in North America without a mixer! (I just pushed a yeast dough into a 9×13 pan, after mixing it in a bowl with a wooden spoon until it cleared the sides of the pan, which took about 5 minutes. The recipe (from New York Times) said to mix the dough in the mixer until it “clears the sides of the bowl — about 5-7 minutes”. I hope I mixed it enough.)

    1. Hey Ted!

      As married to my mixer as I am, I’m a firm believer in making do with what you’ve got. Bread especially doesn’t need a machine. It sounds to me like you’re doing great. Keep it up!

      – Joe

    2. Ted-

      I bake a lot of yeast doughs and I use recipes interchangeably in a stand mixer, a bread machine and a heavy bowl. I find this dough whisk a wonderful tool for dealing with heavy doughs. http://www.amazon.com/Breadtopia-Danish-Dough-Whisk-Large/dp/B002C012OO Of course, using Peter Reinhardt’s “epoxy” method or Jim Lahey’s no knead technique, you don’t need more than a bench knife and your own hands or a stretch of time for excellent results.

      I’m thinking your bread is going to come out great!

      Bottom line: I wouldn’t want to give up any of my options (’cause I’ve got more space), but as many have said before, often it’s so much easier to use the simplest tool and skip the clean up.

      Also, as you say, we often forget what excellent food has come out of small, uncomplicated kitchens. And I say that with an image in mind of Julia Child towering over a glorified hot plate in what looked like a doll’s kitchen.

      1. I’ve seen these, Rainey, but never used one. Thanks for the recommendation!

        – Joe

  10. Wow, one minute into it and you slice your hand? That sucks. Almost as much as a second job to pay for a watch for a teenage girlfriend…I’ve been there, my friend!

    1. We all do silly things in our youth, no? I cut my pinky down to the bone slicing lemons. Why I stuck the thing out I have no idea. Must have thought I was at a tea party. The knives were so sharp I didn’t feel a thing. Eek.

      I shudder when I think of the watch as well. Wound up at the bottom of the Desplaines river it did. Still there as far as I know. Yeesh.

      – Joe

  11. My food processor parts all go into the dishwasher except the base. I don’t get it out though unless I have large quantities to prep (like all the goodies that go into my marinated pasta salad), it’s just easier and faster to use a knife on a day to day basis. I do use my Kitchen Aid though for batters and doughs (except yeast breads), my tendonitis cursed elbow just doesn’t allow me to do it all by hand anymore.

    1. What brand of food processor is that, Sandi? I need one, clearly. I tried washing mine once and completely wrecked it.

      – Joe

  12. Hi!
    Could you please do a post on properly using kitchen utensels? I’m new to baking, and don’t have alot of $ or kichen space. We have a little hand mixer that’s pretty seriously underpowered. It would be nice to know how to chop properly.


    1. Hey Dawn!

      What sort of chopping do you have in mind? I have a tutorial on onions under the Techniques menu. That’s all I’ve done on the subject so far.

      – Joe

      1. How about a tutorial on the slap-chop. I’ve never been able to get that to work well for me. Ha ha ha.

        1. I used to buy those kinds of contraptions for my mother when I was a kid and was always mystified that she never seemed to use them. Funny, they always work so well on TV!

          – Joe

          1. My mother keeps buying those gadgets for me, no matter how much I promise I prefer prepping with a knife, or cooking eggs in a plain skillet. 🙂

          2. You know, it’s the thought that counts. Some of those things are actually fun. I once went to a dinner party where everything was prepared using gadgets As Seen on TV. What a riot…and the food was good!

            – Joe

  13. I “chop” nuts by putting them in a single layer in a plastic sandwich or freezer bag and whacking them with a mallet. Fast and no clean up. Probably should use a paper sack that can be recycled…

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