Using the most suitable cooking utensils can make the difference between a wonderfully planned gastronomic banquet and an awkwardly made excuse-for-food. Or so the celebrity chefs who are sponsored by the major kitchenware companies would have us believe. The question we novice chefs have to ask is, ‘Do the correct tools genuinely make all the difference?’ ‘Does the way you chop, slice, dice and dish out your meat and two veg physically affect the flavour?’
Okay, granted, if you lack the appropriate utensils, it may be tricky to drain your pasta without picking up a couple of third degree burns, and you might find those curly radishes to top your salad bowl difficult to pull off, but is there really an optimal shape and size for food intended for the human mouth? To get a short answer to this question, we need to take a look at Chinese cuisine.
Chinese recipes emphasize the importance of presentation. Eating is a sensory experience. If the food looks, smells and even sounds good (think of sizzling woks wheeled to your table in a good restaurant) we’re salivating even before the first morsel gets anywhere near our mouths. Chinese chefs have long understood that your senses are connected. Your senses all lead to the same place – your brain. And it’s your brain that makes the final assessment. As innumerable sponsored-up-to-their-eyeballs master chefs will fall over each other to inform you, the way you prepare your veggies and present your dishes will have an enormous affect on the way your meal will taste The other definitive feature of Chinese cooking is the way the vegetables and meat are cut. There are strict rules concerning the size and shape of the food on the plate. Each dish should be easy to handle – it should invite you to pick it up… but then again you’ll have to use chopsticks.
Cooking utensils, it would seem, really can transform a mundane meal into a feast… if you know how to use them. Owning the appropriate set of knives to chop and cut, nip and tuck, is one thing; owning the skills to use them is another. However, to develop your technique, you need to own the utensils in the first place. You have to start somewhere, and leafing through a kitchenware brochure at the behest of some celebrity chef or other is as good a place to start as any – the best place to start is from the recipe. After all, the recipe is what you are interested in, and what you and your family is going to end up eating.
What makes a cook into a master chef? The salient factor is their ability to shower their creations with loving care and attention, as anyone who has read an Isabelle Allende novel will testify. Once you have your tools and skills, the possibilities for experimentation and gastronomic exploration are boundless. And you can bet there is a specially designed set of cooking utensils to cope with any culinary creation you might dream up. For the majority of us, one appliance can be adapted to manage a diverse range kitchen tasks, but for the experts there is a specific tool for each and every kitchen task.
This apparently trivial distinction between the two ways of thinking about cooking can have a profound affect on your meals. Take an onion, for example. According to the experts, it should be sliced a particular way to enhance the flavour, although, as we have learnt from the Chinese, the visual result is at least as big a factor in determining how the food will taste. Viewed in this way, slicing the onion ‘after the book’ becomes as important as, say, the amount of oil you add to the pan. It would seem that using the right kitchen utensil in the chef’s domain is imperative. In short, prepping your ingredients by following someone’s mealtime master plan can transform the appearance and flavour of the final dish. Get this right and you are no longer a cook. You are a chef
Selecting The Best Utensil
Selecting the right set of cooking utensils is dependent on the content of each individual recipe. Suggestions for cooking utensils are very often presented within the cooking book or online recipe page and, traditionally, they are accompanied by clear instructions to enable you to choose the right utensil for the right job. Cooking utensils, it would seem, do have a central role to play. Your family is certain to enjoy the excellence of your cooking if it is prepared with skill and loving care, but if not, they may reach for an entirely different set of utensils.
There are many companies that produce fine cooking utensils, but on balance, it is better to start from the recipe book and build up a collection of what you need as needs arise before you start leafing through the pages of glossy catalogues.