Ask any serious cook if they have a favorite kitchen tool or gadget and you’re liable to hear plenty of strongly held opinions about the best silicone-tipped tongs, the perfect sauté pan or the ideal immersion blender. For fun, we asked three local chefs about the one kitchen item they just can’t live without. Here’s what they had to say about the indispensable implements that make working in a hectic restaurant kitchen easier.
Deneb Williams Executive chef, Allora
For Deneb Williams, who helms the kitchen at upscale Allora in East Sacramento, there is no separating him from his most reliable tool: a 10-inch chef’s knife with a folded Damascus steel blade. “I’ve had it for something like 30 years—so long that I don’t know the brand because the markings have long ago worn off,” he says. “When it’s in my hand, it feels like it’s part of me. It goes where I go.” In fact, Williams transports it back and forth to work in a Craftsman toolbox. He can’t imagine working with any other knife. “The weight and balance of a knife is the thing you get used to the most. I’m far more precise with this knife than any other. It fits my hand perfectly. I’ve used this tool more than anything else in the world.”
Janey Tozier Head chef, Lola’s Lounge
At Lola’s Lounge, the eclectic pan-Latin restaurant on the edge of midtown, chef Janey Tozier swears by the tostonera that owner Lola Serrano-Class picked up for her on a recent trip to Puerto Rico. The small, paddle-shaped device, made of wood with brass hinges, has one job: to smash plantains for making tostones, those heavenly fried plantain disks that are a staple of Latin American cuisine. “I love this thing so much. It has become my favorite tool,” proclaims Tozier, who had previously been using a metal tortilla press for the repetitive task. “We slice the plantains, then smash them and fry them again, and this thing really helps the whole process go so much quicker.” As for Serrano-Class, she loves that the simple gadget keeps her eatery “authentic to our Puerto Rican heritage.”
Greg Desmangles Culinary director, Urban Roots Hospitality Group
The kitchen tool most favored by Greg Desmangles is perhaps underappreciated by home cooks: a scale. “It’s a humble tool, but simple things like that are the cornerstone of our kitchens,” says the chef, who first started using a scale to portion out roast turkey for sandwiches at Pangaea Bier Cafe a decade ago. Today, scales are used regularly at Urban Roots Brewery & Smokehouse to measure everything from the smoked meats for sandwiches to the cheese that goes into the mac and cheese sauce. “In my opinion, measuring by weight is the most accurate way to keep a recipe the same, because doing it by volume can get a little subjective. The scale always works, so we don’t have to guess,” explains Desmangles. “In this business, consistency is key, and our scale is our biggest tool when it comes to consistency.”