Friday, December 27, 2013


No discussion of the culinary sciences can be complete without mention of the role of tools.

Tools are the foundation of any well-organized kitchen, and similar to the pantry, they depend on your needs, desires and wallet.

The goal of any tool in the kitchen is to make the chef's life easier. (This is not the general definition of a "tool". For example, weight-lifting tools are there to make your muscles work harder not make things easier.)

What tools you need fundamentally depend on the three things stated already — what you cook, how ambitious of a chef you are, and how much you are willing to spend.

If you live in New York, you have a fourth constraint — the size of your kitchen and storage space.

None of these four are trivial problems.

What you cook changes as you age. It's just a function of learning new things. You think you know who you are and then you fall madly in love one more time. It's the permanent escalator of new things and with that comes the permanent escalation of what you want out of your kitchen.

If you think you are immune to this, why not take a moment to reflect on what you used to make versus what you make today? Nobody, let's repeat, nobody is immune.

Ambition is a easy target to mock. The CC scoffs at the days when he considered stuffed omelettes as "ambitious". And so it goes. We are "learning types'. We learn new things and we can effortlessly knock that off which moves us on to bigger and brighter desires.

Budgets belong to brute-force reality but never before in history has so much equipment been available for so little. It's just a function of technology and productivity. And it will get cheaper!

Space is the real constraint for most people. Ruthless practicality drags us down to the ground even as our florid fantasies take flight. Even then we are "innovative" types and we figure out new ways to squeeze out extra space out of our limited floor space. (Experienced cooks will be nodding their heads here while Johnny-come-lately's might end up scratching their's.)

Good tools are critical to the cooking experience. They make life simple by doing mundane tasks either faster or better. While it is possible to function without them, they are the critical lynchpin that makes things efficient or easy. They make it possible to make gourmet meals at the drop of a pin in the evening when you are tired.

Good tools are like your helpful friends. You know every quirk, every twist, every angle of their very being. You can handle them without even thinking.

Good tools fit effortlessly into your hands. It's the first sign of excellence when you upgrade a tool which is superior to one that you have already owned. You are not just upgrading the tool but upgrading your ambition as well.

The CC has already traumatized countless friends and relatives by exclaiming that their kitchen was "like going camping" so his insensitivity and ruthlessness are well-known and well-traversed territories. In fact, he just prefers to travel with his own tools because that's what experienced people do.

Moving on though.

There are no "ideal tools" and even more importantly no such thing as an "ideal kitchen".

After tons of descriptions of her "ideal kitchen", Elizabeth David confessed that her "real kitchen" fell short. Remember that this is a woman at the top of her profession who could build any kitchen she wanted and in spite of that didn't manage to.

The dream of the perfect tools and the perfect kitchen is a mesmerizing chimera that can never exist for the simple reason that it would require us to be perfectly omniscient about our ever-changing desires and perfectly unchanging against the reality of our ever-learning selves.

It would also require all future technology to come to a perfect standstill.

What's left then is the imperfect present with three constraints — knowledge, ambition and budget.

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