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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. re: beevod

      Thanks for making me laugh.

    2. 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):

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn2PJ9...

              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:

                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adj1jJ...

                  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

                          escondido,

                          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: escondido123

                  Very punny, escondido.

                3. 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

                  +10

                  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. :)

                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                Indeed!

                            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

                                  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

                                      inaplastic,

                                      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.

                          1. If anything, too many gadgets make me wonder.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: escondido123

                              Yeah, me too.

                            2. Could careless, the taste and to a lesser extent the looks are what counts in my book.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: zuklaak

                                I'm pretty sure most sushi chefs worth their salt use traditional J-knives.They just work better for that particular application.Same goes with Chinese stir-frying.There's a reason they use large woks over incredibly high heat as opposed to smaller sautee pans.Having said that,If the chef sucks,sushi or otherwise,so does the food no matter what tools they use.

                              2. nope.

                                1. Depends on what you mean by "stereotype." It's often possible to make conclusions about what type of cooking a chef is doing by looking at their tools. Whether the product will be any good is another matter.

                                  I tend to look look askance at home cooks who have a lot of specialized gadgets in their kitchens -- unless I know that they really do use them. Over the years I have seen a lot of kitchens that are clearly designed for appearance rather than function. It seems like such a waste to have all that fancy equipment and acres of shiny granite when it's clear that little or no cooking ever takes place there.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jlafler

                                    Right, I think I started off the question a bit off. I think you phrased it better than I did. What I meant is that do you judge a Chef's knowledge and skill based on the tool of choice he uses. I do. If a sushi chef starts to slice the fish filet with a deba, I immediate have a red flag pops up in my mind because that is the wrong tool. Sushi chefs are easier to judge because they are doing their jobs right in front of your eyes where most chefs do not.

                                  2. All I judge a Chef on is how the food turns out! I could care less about his or her's equipment.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Mother of four

                                      You don't think the two are related?

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        Not really. I know people that have the latest and best of everything and their food is mediocre, and then I know others hat have very average equipment and prepare fantastic food. I have loads of new equipment that I never had years ago, do I really need most of it? Not really. I feel my food was as good then as it is now. I think that all this "I must have this and I must have this", is due to TV.
                                        I have good cookware, certainly far from the top of the line, I have good knives, but again far from the top of the line, a FP I have had for years, a KA stand mixer (the classic) and the usual mixture of tools which I am sure I could do without more then half of.

                                        1. re: Mother of four

                                          I probably have not clarified the original post as well I could have. I didn't mean the latest and most expensive tools, and I don't think cowboy meant that either. I meant the proper tools, like using a wok for stir fry and using a yanagiba to prepare sushi and sashimi. The analogy is a using a hammer to drive a nail into a wall and using a belt sander to sand down a wood piece.

                                          I expect a professional wood worker would use a belt sander to sand down a wood piece as opposed to using a grinding wheel to do so -- which can be done but very inefficient. I also expect a sushi chef should choose to use a yanagiba instead of a German knife to prepare sushi and sashimi.

                                          We are not talking about the cost/brands of the tools, but rather the type of tools. In other words, I am not talking about All-Clad vs Tramontina, or KitchenAid vs Sunbeam. I am talking about blender vs food processor, belt sander vs grinding wheel, German Chef's knife vs yanagiba . Let me put it this way, I also have concern when I see a professional chef try to open a can of food using a Chef's knife..... because, in my opinion, it seriously calls into question of his judgement and his respects for a Chef's knife and a can opener. Can a person open a can using a Chef's knife? Of course, he can, but that is not the point I was driving at.

                                          1. re: Mother of four

                                            I'll echo what Chem said - I'm not really talking about whether a cook uses shinier, more expensive versions of the same tools. Just whether he uses tools that are not well suited to the job at hand.

                                            Example - you can make good fresh pasta using a stand mixer and an expensive pasta machine. Or you can make good fresh pasta all by hand with none of the fancy equipment. No guaranty that one will be better than the other. But what you can't do is then throw that fresh pasta in a pot that's too small, holding not enough water - it'll clump together. Heck, in this case a cheap $10 stockpot is actually far better than an expensive but small All-Clad saucepan.

                                            It's not about whether a cook spoils himself. It's about whether he cares enough about the results or knows enough about what he's doing to choose his tools carefully and well.

                                      2. Sure there's a matter of "the right tool for the job." You have to worry about anybody who tries to break down a side of lamb with a paring knife or a delicate fish with a meat axe. A highly acidic braise in a reactive pot? Bad choice. But most of my prejudice is reserved for those who use (and talk continuously about) expensive name-brand cookware. It's probably just the envy talking, but it's like a guy driving a Corvette - you have to wonder what he's compensating for. (Ever hear the joke about the mouse and the elephant?)

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          Alan,

                                          Good point. I think I have phrased my original post badly because some of the responses seem to be about brands, as you have suggested.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            Alan: are you saying that every guy that drives a Corvette has a small wiener? :D

                                            I'm sure there are some that truly enjoy the thrill and exhilaration that a high performance machine can provide..

                                        2. Yep. Well, sort of. For starters I don't always see the people preparing my food.

                                          But basically, if I see a professional cook preparing my food using oddly chosen equipment or techniques, I don't automatically assume they're hacks. But in truth - they're put on notice. Now I'm noticing sloppy cuts in my sushi where I might not have before, or missing that distinctive wok flavor and wondering whether there was anything gained by using a frypan, etc. They've already got one strike against them.

                                          Of course, not every instance is grounds for actually thinking less of a cook. I've run across the occasional sushi chef who just prefers a sujihiki and doubtless can use it far, far more skillfully and to better effect than some can use a yanagiba. There are methods and tricks I don't know, and sometimes a professional cook surprises me - fairly often, actually. But when I see a technique that strikes me as sloppy such as choosing ones tools poorly or indifferently, it definitely sets off alarms.

                                          11 Replies
                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            So maybe this should be a discussion about how do you feel when a sushi chef makes bad cuts and uses the wrong knives...do you question his skills?

                                            1. re: escondido123

                                              Most definitely, if a sushi chef makes bad cuts I question his skills. Heck, I don't even 'question' his skills - it's plainly evident that they're lacking. Sashimi ain't corned beef hash - the knifework matters.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                escondido,

                                                "how do you feel when a sushi chef makes bad cuts and uses the wrong knives"

                                                Of course we do, and I suspect you do too. Sushi chefs, more so than many other chefs, rely heavily on their knives. Their knives are both the cutlery and the cookware (since it is often the first and last thing the foods will touch before going onto your plate). The knives have more direct impacts on your foods than other cuisines -- that I can think of.

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  Sorry, but since I don't eat sushi, it doesn't matter to me at all. ;0

                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                    You don't eat sushi? Even if you really don't eat sushi, I assume you know what it is, right? and how it is prepared, right?

                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      "Even if you really don't eat sushi..."

                                                      Shocking, isn't it, Chemical? :P

                                                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                        If you read its entirety statement, as opposed to a single phrase, yes, it is surprising. I don't believe you need to eat sushi to know what it is, and therefore, I don't believe you need to eat sushi to know the importance of knives in sushi prep.

                                                        For example, I don't have to drink tons of seawater to know its damage to my body. I have never done it, but I know the consequence. Shocking? :P

                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                          LOL. I was actually just poking a little fun at myself because I love sushi so much it's almost shocking to me that someone else doesn't want to eat it. :) (Though I do realize escondido is far from alone in disliking it.)

                                                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                            Actually, I can understand how someone does not eat sushi due to the idea of "eating raw" foods. It can be very repulsive in that sense. For example, I do like sushi, but I don't think I can eat live octopus.....

                                                            Anyway.... I suppose if we are talking live octopus, then no cookware or knife is necessary.... just our mouth and teeth......Oh my god... I have to run to the bathroom to throw up. Be back in a few hours....

                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                              It isn't the rawness that bothers me--I eat raw clams, oysters and beef--but rather the flavor. One piece is ok, but a whole meal just doesn't sit well with me.

                                                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                        Of course I know what sushi is is and how it is prepared (I didn't decide I didn't like it until I had tried it numerous times at places my sushi-loving friends recommended), but since I don't eat it and do not prepare it, I focus my attention on other things. You assumed that it mattered to me if a sushi chef made bad cuts and used wrong knives. I was just letting you know that it doesn't. Now perfectly evenly sliced potatoes for a gratin, that I can appreciate. But whether they do it with a knife, a razor blade, a cleaver or a mandoline I will never know since the chef is not on display.

                                              2. No, not really.

                                                I'm more concerned that a chef understands her own skills and limitations and therefore understands which tools she needs to prepare a dish.

                                                For example, if a chef has poor knife skills, she should not take a cleaver to a cucumber to make matchstick strips. Pull out the darn food processor by all means, or even a mandoline.

                                                Conversely, even if a chef has the knife skills and dexterity of Martin Yan, she should not try take said cleaver to a lemon to juice it. Use a juicer for heaven's sake.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  As much as I'd like to say that I do...........I've had some pretty tasty food from people using some pretty beat up and mismatched cookware and utensils. Go to Mexico and walk around an open market and you'll find some phenomenal food, prepared with some pretty unorthodox utensils and cooking vessels and you'd change your mind.
                                                  My 90 year old grandmother made incredible food using cookware with no handles, probably purchased in 1951.

                                                2. If we are talking about a professional chef here, then no, I don't care what tools he is using in the kitchen as long as I get the product I paid for.

                                                  If we are talking about a home cook, then yes, I do prejudge based on his equipment, although I am always willing to be proven wrong. If I walk into someone's kitchen and see a stamped serrated knife block on the counter and one scratched-up teflon skillet on the stove, I will assume he doesn't know how to cook. I am not talking about price snobbery here because kitchen basics are not even remotely expensive; you can turn out a credible meal with a cleaver, cutting board, spatula, iron pan, and a cheap pot. No name brand cookware or specialized tools necessary. If someone does not have these five items I do question their cooking skills until proven wrong .

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                    YES. You don't have to have expensive tools -- but you have to have *good* tools.

                                                    A good cook can manage with crap tools -- but in cooking (and painting and photography and woodworking and everything else) -- you really can control the quality and the finish far, far easier -- and produce a better product -- if you use decent tools.

                                                    A good knife with a well-maintained edge and a decent pan are our tools -- buy the best you can afford and learn how to maintain them well.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      sunshine is correct.Expensive doesn't always equal good,but good almost always equals better.

                                                    2. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                      Yes. A small number of well-chosen tools is a good indicator of competence in the kitchen.

                                                    3. If the food comes out as it should, I don't care if it was chopped with a razor blade and fried in a saucepan -- the proof is in the pudding.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        The actual expression is "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" -- and I'm only being pedantic about this because it seems so appropriate in context.

                                                        1. re: jlafler

                                                          I feel the same way about "Happy as a clam." I wonder if most people know that is a shortening of the expression that makes sense...."Happy as a clam at high tide."

                                                          1. re: jlafler

                                                            Some of my best friends are pedants.