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Jun 11, 2011 09:43 AM

Do you stereotype a Chef based on his/her kitchen tools?

As the title suggests, do you or do you not? I certain do so in several occasions. For example, I have considerable reservation about a Chinese chef using a frying pan or a saute pan instead of a wok to stir fry my foods. Yes, there are two major styles of stir-fry and 6 sub branches of stir-frying, and some can be done on a frying pan, but many cannot. I seriously question the Chef's skill when he uses a frying pan for stir-fry.

I also have considerable doubt of a sushi chef if he does not have a single bevel knife. It just does not feel right when he/she grab a Chef knife and start to slice the fish filet. I want to see a yanagiba somewhere.

I also have certain expectations for a Southern barbecue master as well.

So, do you judge a Chef based on the tools he uses? If so, can you name one example. I will try to tally up the votes in the next week or two -- depending the numbers of responses. Thanks.

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  1. I give high points to a chef who uses a butterchurn

    1 Reply
    1. I tend to stereotype people who stereotype people. My mother, far from a chef but a highly skilled and experienced cook (she could debone a chicken in about 3 minutes - probably with a dull spoon, if she tried) bowed to certain tools (KitchenAid, Cuisinart) but was otherwise puzzled by the enormous array of cooking wares in the world. She did exceptionally well with a small set of tools. So I look at the end product rather than how they get there.

      14 Replies
      1. re: ferret

        I can't even imagine basing my enjoyment of a neal
        on the equipment. Anyway, on the typical
        American range, a pan is much more sensible than
        a wok and will do just as well.. I'd suggest you do
        a little study on the reasons for various types of
        cooking equipment.

        1. re: mpalmer6c

          "Anyway, on the typical American range, a pan is much more sensible than a wok and will do just as well....I'd suggest you do a little study on the reasons for various types of cooking equipment. "

          I have to disagree with this assertion. I think a lot of this confusions and misconceptions come from a very bad review done by American Test Kitchen or was it Cook Illustrates. A counter-example is Chinese fried rice. There is absolutely no way to do correct Chinese fried rice on a frying pan. There are other examples, but the fried rice is probably the clearest example. Cook Illustrates also did a horrible review on Westernized-Japanese knives, but that is another story.

          There are two major classic Chinese stir-fry techniques. One is Chao and the other is Bao along with 6 sub-techniques. I highly doubt anyone can do a Bao on a frying pan. If you think it is much more sensible to do a Bao on a pan, can you please walk us through the steps on the frying pan. Thanks.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            In a saute pan, I don't see why you couldn't do the rapid tossing technique of Bao, French chefs do basically that in many dishes. This is not based on any reviews, but just from watching the technique and applying it without a wok. Woks for me. :)

            1. re: escondido123

              Good point, but I think it is a bit different to toss/saute several shrimps vs tossing two bowel of rice (watch after 1:00 min):


              I am speaking in personal experience that I can toss fried rice in my carbon steel wok with ease and I absolute cannot do it in my DeBuyer frying pan without most of the rice being tossed out. :)

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I wasn't referring to fried rice in particular, but I certainly see guys toss big pans of pasta....isn't that much the same?

                1. re: escondido123

                  you mean like this:


                  The speed is very different for one, the size is also different. Try it. Tossing a few big objects and catch them is a bit different than tossing many smaller objects.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Chems right,sauteing and stir frying are two very different animals.When you stir fry in a wok,you're using the sides to push food up against while you add other ingredients.In stir frying you're also adding and removing different ingredients at different times.Making pasta in a pan usually consists of adding whatever takes the longest to cook first and keep adding ingredients until everything is done.

                    The heat they use with woks is incredible and it's controlled with your foot.Very cool to watch.

                    The right tool(not gadget) for the right job makes a huge difference....

                    1. re: petek

                      When Chems mentioned Bao I looked it up and it was about cooking at high heat, adding ingredients one after the other, tossing it as you go until done. I didn't find that very different from sauting and tossing at the same time. Guess I'm missing something.

                      1. re: escondido123

                        "Guess I'm missing something" Obviously :-D..

                        1. re: escondido123


                          You can toss foods in a frying pan for sure, but if you notice that most people who toss foods in a frying pan do so in a much lower speed with much greater care than those with a wok. It can be done. I am not speaking out of speculation. I have done so in both cookware. I have a carbon steel wok and I have a carbon steel frying pan. It is much easier to toss rice in a wok than in a frying pan. You can try to test this in your leisure.

                          Also at the heart of the question is not simply about if you can do it, but the choice of doing so. Can you slice a fish with a Chef's knife? Of course, you can. However, for a sushi chef who knows he will be slicing fish for most of his day and then to choose to use a Chef's knife over a yanagiba, then it calls into his judgment.

                          So let me give you an example. You can use both NMR and MS for structural confirmation, but NMR gives you better confidence for most cases and therefore a better tool. MS is quicker. For a scientist who knows his job is day-in and day-out on structural confirmation and then for him to pick MS over NMR, then it calls into his understanding of these techniques. You can also think of the tests a doctor prescribe to diagnosis diseases and illnesses. Many medical tests have overlapping capabilities but also many differences. Some tests are optimal for finding certain information. Let's say you want to see the structure of your heart valves, you would hope your doctor prescribe ultrasound over X-ray.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            The right tool for the job is always a good idea. Your knowledge of both sushi and structural confirmation are far beyond me, so I'm sure you're correct.

                            1. re: escondido123

                              Hmm, my knowledge on structural confirmation probably is ok because that is fairly close to my day job. I don't know about my knowledge about sushi is any better than yours since I am not a sushi chef.

                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I know next to nothing about the techniques for stir-fry, but I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on the required equipment for the barbecue guy!

            2. Not really. Save for one kitchen I know that uses a lot of Sitram --> successful restaurant and chef. Of course, I already knew that since they have a Michelin star.

              1. many an awful cook uses first-rate tools to produce inebible glop and, coincidentally, a fine cook can produce wonderful food with sticks and stones. judging a chef by his/her tools indicates that madison avenue has taken over your taste buds.

                17 Replies
                  1. re: howard 1st

                    I assure you,you'll find no "sticks and stones" in a good kitchen. :)

                    1. re: petek

                      Oh, get all literal on us, why don't you... ;)

                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                        Sorry,I couldn't resist :) As a "professional" cook I get a little defensive when I hear people say that good tools(+technique and skill) don't make a difference in the quality of food they produce.
                        You wouldn't question a mechanic, woodworker,electrician or any other skilled craftsman on their choice of tools,why would a chef be any different? It's not just for show,they do serve a purpose.

                        Plus they're a joy to use and make my job much easier. :D

                        1. re: petek

                          I couldn't agree more that good quality tools applied appropriately make it easier (and more fun) to make your food good, but I also think that a skilled and adaptable cook can produce good food with basic/limited, even inferior equipment. :)

                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                            I still amazes me how my mom makes such delicious. traditional dishes with such rudimentary equipment(no sticks or stones :D).I still get nervous when I watch her cook,but have learned to just sit back and enjoy.Chalk it up to decades of experience I guess.

                            1. re: petek

                              We're lucky our moms are great cooks. :)

                            2. re: inaplasticcup

                              "but I also think that a skilled and adaptable cook can produce good food with basic/limited, even inferior equipment. :)"

                              You are talking about limitation and exceptions here. Of course, a good doctor can diagnosis your heat valve problem without an echo test, but in today's day and age with the avaliability of medical device, won't it be odd that a good doctor intentionally not ask for an echo?

                              The question was not about can you slice a fish a Chef's knife? The question is that how would one feels a professional sushi chef intentionally chose a German Chef's knife over a yanagiba as his optimal tool? Of course skill matters, but in my mind, the selection of choice reflects judgement and therefore knowledge.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I'm sorry I didn't respond to your specific sushi example. Now that I think about it, there are so few instances I can think of in which I actually see the equipment the chef uses, that in most cases, I can only judge a chef's ability by his/her finished product.

                                I've personally never seen an itamae use a chef's knife to slice the fish.

                                1. re: inaplasticcup


                                  You are correct. I think the ultimate judgement of a chef should be its final food products. Just like the ultimate judgement of a doctor should be his ability to diagnosis my dieases and conditions at the end. Yet, I cannot help but feel uneasy if my doctor requests what I consider as the less efficient test to diagnosis my health.

                                  I understand that you have never seen an itamae/sushi chef use a German Chef's knife to slice a fish, but how would you feel about it if you do see it. Would that in any way makes you question his judgement or skill? Or would his unconventional choice has little impact in forming your opinion?

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    The short answer to your question is PROBABLY NOT. :)

                                    I think in the very rare instances when I do get to see my restaurant food actually being made, there are so many other indications of a chef's level of competence on display before the equipment even becomes a consideration. Calm, instinct, quickness, ease, organization...

                                    If a chef bumbles to begin with, poor choice of equipment will probably only confirm my suspicions. If they appear adroit, an unusual or unexpected choice of equipment will make me take notice, maybe even assume that he's discovered something that works better for him than the norm, and if possible, ask about it so I can learn something new. :)

                                    1. re: inaplasticcup


                                      Thanks for your answer. Can I assume that you mean cookware/equipments have less impact for a Chef than other professionals? Would that be a fair statement for your view or not?

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        In *certain* instances, YES. But a couple of things:

                                        I think, as someone said up or downstream, that it's a flawed analogy to compare a sushi chef using an unconventional knife for any number of possible reasons to a doctor essentially failing to diagnose a cardiac issue by not ordering a full and pertinent workup.

                                        And I'm not comfortable making that blanket statement as respects every other profession. Too many variables.

                                        But thanks for posing the interesting question.

                                      2. re: inaplasticcup

                                        "there are so many other indications of a chef's level of competence on display before the equipment even becomes a consideration."
                                        But often (though not always), I think poor choice of equipment is more indicative of indifferent cooking than it is of a new or clueless cook. You might see a cook seem calm and unflustered while cooking, but using poor technique and equipment cause they just don't care and that's what happened to be most handy.

                                        Obviously there are a lot of variables at play and it's not always that simple.

                              2. re: petek

                                "You wouldn't question a mechanic, woodworker,electrician or any other skilled craftsman on their choice of tools,why would a chef be any different? "

                                I think people are more forgiving about foods and culinary. Most of the posters have indicated that they won't make any preliminary judgement until they taste the foods. The choice of culinary tools matter not, they said.

                                If I see a contractor using a screwdriver to hit the nails, I will be concern. Can you drive a nail using the butt of a screwdriver? Of course you can. Is it the optimal tool? Pretty sure it is not. As such, I am pretty sure that I will form a negative opinion at that moment, and not wait til he has finished his jobs.

                                If my doctor prescribes a X-ray test to check my heart valve, I will be a little concern of his decision. Can it be done? Yeah, maybe. Is it the optimal test? No. I would definitely question his decision at that very moment and ask why doesn't he ask for an echo. I don't think I will wait til a month before forming a opinion.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  If I walked into a cabinet shop and saw the cabinetmaker using tools from the Dollar Store, you can bet I'd walk right back out again, because it would tell me that a) he doesn't have enough business coming in to to pay for good tools, b) he doesn't understand the correlation between skill and tools and quality, c) he doesn't care. Doesn't matter which of the three is true -- or any combination thereof -- it means that this is not a shop that is going to put out the kind of work I'm going to plunk down my hard-earned cash to buy.

                                  A skilled craftsman can create a wonderful piece of (art, cabinetry, pastry, etc.) in spite of dodgy materials or tools.

                                  A skilled craftsman can create a masterpiece with the right tools.

                                  Note I never said *expensive* tools -- but you can't create quality with crap tools, no matter how good you are.

                                  The best guys out there use the best tools that they can afford...and that doesn't always mean that they bought the most expensive tools.

                        2. Not at all. I judge the final product and nothing else. Kitchen swag is useful, but it's only a tool, not a crutch. I've seen wonderful food turned out with crappy cookware and horrible food turned out on the finest gear.