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Chef James Smith

10 Tools Every Cook Needs

Chef James Smith of the Clean Eating Academy shares his all-time favorite kitchen tools.

1. Chef’s Knife

This tool is by far one of the most important foundational tools in your kitchen. Because you use the chef’s knife for so much of your prep time, it’s very important for it to be comfortable and well balanced. I tested a couple of knives before choosing my first knife: the Victorinox 10-inch chef’s knife with a rosewood handle.

This was the first knife I used in my apprenticeship at Scaramouche restaurant. My first chef mentors Keith Frogget and Chef Boban Matthews were adamant that knife skills were essential. Being able to use a knife with precision and speed became my mission. At the Clean Eating Academy, we will spend a lot of time reviewing basic knife skills to boost your confidence and skill in the kitchen.

Related: How to Choose a Kitchen Knife

2. Y-Shaped Peeler

I believe that this is the best peeler, although some might prefer the straight swivel variety. A sharp peeler is key to reducing your prep time. It will also ensure that your vegetables are clean and clear of any blemishes that can show up in your dishes.

3. Mandolin

The Mandolin is a tool that has been used in every professional kitchen I’ve worked in. There’s still no replacing the ability to make precision cuts with a knife, but, when speed is needed, the mandolin can be an important addition to your tool chest.

In a professional kitchen, you’ll most likely find a French mandolin; it’s a stainless steel device that sits on the countertop and can cost as much as three or four hundred dollars. It usually has a couple of blade options and can slice vegetables as thin as paper. It can also julienne veggies and, with the turn of the mechanism, cut French fry potatoes. For the home cook, there are cheaper plastic varieties. These generally have different blade options as well.

4. Fish Spatula

If you like fish, you definitely need this next tool. The fish spatula resembles a car grill and tapers from edge to base. It’s a thin, flexible stainless steel spatula with a slight curve at the end and is perfect for carefully getting under a fillet of fish while pan-frying, so not to damage the fish. This lightweight tool is versatile and can be used for many foods when turning in a pan. I use mine to flip everything from eggs to fish to chicken and meat. I still remember my excitement way back early in my career when I bought my first one.

5. Pasta Strainer (Colander)

In a restaurant, we used large stock pots and colanders to strain pasta in large batches. But, as we have moved onto having many varieties of pasta offerings we started working in smaller batches, cooking al minute (to the minute). The pasta strainer is a bowl-shaped, stainless steel tool with a handle and is designed to strain smaller amounts of pasta. It has smaller perforations so the pasta doesn’t slip through.

It can also be used as a scoop. I use mine for removing vegetables from boiling water and as a blanch basket when I want to cook vegetables for just a minute and then refresh so I can do many batches and not have to keep re-boiling more water for the next batch.

6. Potato Ricer

I love mashed potatoes, and one of the hardest things to do is create soft, velvety, creamy mashed potatoes without the gooey texture. If you overwork potatoes, they can become sticky and unpleasant. By cooking them and pressing them through a ricer, you achieve a lovely texture.

7. Meat Thermometer

Next, a good quality thermometer is an important addition to your tool chest. For cooking meats to perfection to making sure chicken is cooked through perfectly and still juicy, a thermometer is an essential tool that ensures your food is safe to eat. Good quality ones can even tell you your precise oven temperatures.

8. Spice Grinder

One of the tools I carry with me everywhere is a spice grinder. I use one that has a removable bowl for washing, so I avoid flavor cross contamination. It can be used to grind your coffee beans or toasted whole spices for ultimately fresh spice flavors that can be added to your recipes.

9. Mesh Strainer

Magikuchen strainer

A fine mesh sieve is a tool I think everyone should have. I use it to strain stocks or sauces for a perfect velvet texture, which can make all the difference in a recipe. Use it to strain any liquid to create a smooth consistency.

10. Kitchen Tongs

Walk into any restaurant and you’ll see the cooks on a restaurant line holding kitchen tongs. They are used to pan fry foods, turn over foods when reaching into the oven (and even to help remove hot pans from the oven). I also use them to place the finished foods precisely on the plate. They are a workhorse, and I have used many in my career and my favourite is the high tensile steel type with a bend at the articulation instead of a spring and pin mechanism. I also like the version that has a dipped in the silicon handle material for no slip and also some heat resistant support.

Learn how to cook the way nature intended! Join the Clean Eating Academy online and get the nutrition information and culinary skills you need to master clean cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen. Sign up now.