As a line cook, let me tell you: Cooking in a professional kitchen can drive you crazy. Everything is time-sensitive, everyone’s always fighting for space, and we spend almost as much time storing, cleaning, and carrying things as we do cooking them. Most of the time, though, it’s pretty rad. And the best part? The toys. From top-of-the-line blenders to every size pot you can imagine, the plethora of equipment in a professional kitchen is a dream for anyone who likes to cook.
Because of that, cooking at home has actually become kind of a drag. Counter space is minimal, my cutting board is terrible, and the two pots I own are too big for oatmeal and too small for soup. Don’t even get me started on the smoke alarm. It would be absurd to wish for my own six-burner stove or industrial exhaust hood, but there are some things (nine, to be exact) I use at work that I do really, really want for Christmas...
1. Six-Quart KitchenAid Stand Mixer
A KitchenAid is probably the most versatile piece of kitchen equipment there is, and it can be used for so many things. Any kind of dough or batter in a restaurant gets made in a KitchenAid (or sometimes a Hobart machine, because it's bigger, but the function is the same). With the proper attachments, the humble KitchenAid can be a meat grinder, a sausage stuffer, a pasta roller, a citrus juicer, and more.
PS: Dear Santa — The KitchenAid comes in a dizzying number of colors, and I prefer Majestic Yellow.
2. VitaPrep Blender
Yes, it is the most expensive blender of all time, but it is also the best. It’s literally painful to use my mom’s Cuisinart blender after getting used to a VitaPrep. Walk into a restaurant kitchen at any point during prep, and you’re bound to hear at least one whirring. We use them for everything.
A VitaPrep makes an unbeatable puree. Whether you’re pureeing vegetable soup, tonnato sauce (it’s a fancy word for tuna belly), or blackberry coulis, this machine's crazy horsepower is unmatched.
It's also great for emulsification. Translation: A vinaigrette, hollandaise sauce, or aioli that would otherwise require prolonged temperature control, a whisk, and a whole lot of forearm strength can be achieved with a simple flick of the VitaPrep switch (though temperature control still matters).
3. China Cap
Essentially a perforated, cone-shaped strainer with a long metal handle, a China cap mimics a colander but is way more user-friendly. It’s great for scooping aromatics and bones out of stocks, draining large quantities of pasta, or rinsing rice or vegetables.
A China cap is great because its cone shape means that all liquid drains out of a single spot at the apex (aka way less chance of making a mess). Also, it hooks onto the side of a bowl or sink, and its handle makes it easy to hold steady.
4. Chinois Strainer
Similar to a China cap but made of fine mesh, a Chinois is used to pass (strain) liquids or purees. Most purees we make in the VitaPrep end up getting passed through a Chinois. The result is a really smooth, almost velvety texture. Stocks or broth-based soups get passed to ensure that they’re clear. Many sauces (reductions, vinaigrettes, etc.) are passed, too, to get any residual lumps out.
A Chinois has a handle similar to that of a China cap, and it rests on a bowl the same way, making it easy to strain things out of one container and into another.
5. Sani-Tuff Cutting Board (18” x 24”)
It’s big, heavy, and made of some insanely unnatural hard rubber, but a Sani-Tuff just makes cutting so much easier. The material doesn’t get scratched the way plastic does, and it doesn’t feel perpetually dirty or water-logged like wood.
We use these cutting boards for everything at the restaurant. Most kitchens have larger ones as well as the 18" x 24" boards, and they’re all stored in racks and used or cleaned as necessary. Bonus: They're super-easy to clean.
6. Japanese Mandoline
Basically a plastic board with a blade in the center, its purpose is to slice vegetables (or anything, really) quickly and totally uniformly. The mandoline actually comes with three blades: one for regular slicing, and two with teeth that will actually cut whatever is being processed into sticks. Sometimes, the larger-toothed blade is used for julienning large quantities of something, but the flat, un-toothed blade is used by far the most often.
Anything that must be sliced perfectly uniformly to ensure proper cooking is done with a mandoline (think potato chips, or fried shallot and garlic slices). Things that will eventually get julienned (the julienne blade isn’t perfect, and most of the time a chef will have you do the cut by hand) or finely diced are first sliced on a mandoline, and then cut by hand accordingly. It just speeds up the process and leaves less room for error.
Note: European mandolines are far more complicated than their Japanese counterparts. They are expensive, rust-prone and difficult to assemble, and really have no place in any home kitchen.
7. Kuhn Rikon Vegetable Peeler
It’s just a cheap, plastic handled, Y-shaped peeler. This shape is so much better than the awkward, bulky, sideways peeler that most people have at home. Its use is the same, though. Really, it’s just a peeler.
Because it comes in multiple colors, it’s always easy to tell whose peeler is whose in a crowded kitchen. Also, because they’re cheap, a peeler gets thrown away as soon as it’s dull. So actually, Santa, I want six of these for Christmas, please.
8. All-Clad Pots & Pans
Made entirely of stainless steel, these pots and pans are oven-safe, work on pretty much all cooking surfaces, and have even heat distribution.
With the exception of nonstick pans, a restaurant kitchen typically uses only stainless steel cookware. It is the most versatile kind and means that anything can be moved from a gas burner to a flat-top stove to an oven without having to be transferred to a different pot or pan.
Nothing — nothing — is more annoying than cookware with plastic handles. Not only can plastic-handled pots not go in the oven, but they also burn if your stove is full and you’re not super-careful. With stainless steel, there’s no danger of that.
9. Set of 25 Plastic Quart Containers
Exactly what they sound like, quart containers are basically cheap Tupperware. And sure, Tupperware is OK. The real reason I want a set of quart containers is that they eliminate the need to match container to specific lid. Even the matching pint and cup containers you can buy use exactly the same lid. So great.
At most restaurants, mise en place (prep ingredients) are divided into quart containers, then labeled and dated accordingly. Quart containers are easier to store and move than larger containers (space is limited on the line, so it’s important to be able to have things stored in small enough quantities), and they also stack well and are a good unit of measure. If you ever go into a restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator, you will no doubt see hundreds of quart containers lined up on shelves, each with a specific label.
Really, it’s impossible to bring a restaurant kitchen home. It’s not just the stuff itself that makes the professional kitchen so great, but also the sheer quantity of it. That $700 All-Clad set would get lost in a restaurant’s huge stack of pots and pans, and the sleeve of quart containers would disappear in about twenty-six seconds. Also, no one—no one—could stand for their house to be so blistering hot all day long. Even still, any of the above items would absolutely make my little Brooklyn kitchen feel more like, well… home. Maybe some day I can even hire someone to wash my dishes.