Jeremy Leinen, CEC, Executive Chef of Dunwoody Country Club, shares what equipment and tools are most critical in his kitchen.
Chefs often get asked about their favorite tools and equipment in the kitchen. Obviously, this can vary quite a bit from one chef to another based on cooking style, training and what one has been exposed to and has grown accustomed to having at their disposal.
I’m somewhat old fashioned in my equipment preferences. If I learned anything at the Greenbrier, it’s that you can accomplish quite a bit with basics like stove top space and ovens. That said, I was also exposed to sous vide cooking at the Greenbrier so every tool has a place in your kitchen.
For major equipment, likes stoves, ovens, and grills, it starts with quality. I’m a firm believer in the saying of “buy once, cry once” which basically means it’s cheaper in the long run to pay for quality the first time you’re buying something. Paying for quality gets you equipment built with higher quality materials, better overall craftsmanship, longer warranties and longer expected service life. Additionally, with quality comes service, and companies making high quality equipment take care of their customers.
We just completed a renovation on our a la carte kitchen earlier this year, and I insisted that our main line come from either Montague, Hestan or Jade. Montague was the final choice. The great thing about these manufacturers is that they can usually build equipment to the exact specifications you need, whether its ovens (convection or not), backsplashes, shelving, a multitude of different burner configurations, belly bars made to fit 1/9th pans, several available widths for grills and range tops, etc. If you are shopping available stock at one of the online restaurant supply stores you can’t match that kind of customization.
One of my favorite pieces of equipment on our line is the steakhouse broiler with a top sear plate. Club members generally love steak and they expect a steakhouse quality product. A standard grill just doesn’t deliver. This purchase was a game changer for us not just in delivering better steaks, but also the versatility that the sear plate offers. We can use the sear plate for scallops or fish, to sauté shrimp, and more. At 36 inches wide with both the broiler and the sear plate, it’s a lot of cooking space in a small footprint which allows quite a bit of volume to be handled from one station.
Broilers like this are also hugely helpful with banquets when needing to sear large amounts of proteins for parties. We can throw a whole sheet tray under the broiler rather than having to fiddle around with searing each piece on the flat top, saving a lot of time. It is great for delicate items like fish, too. Simply swapping this piece of equipment in place of the grill on our entrée station has improved quality, speed of service and made the station much more efficient.
Beyond large equipment like stoves, ovens and grills, some of the smaller equipment is also among the most important in the day to day. You can never underestimate the importance of quality cookware. I can’t tell you the difference it makes in having heavy, well-made stainless steel pots and pans compared to their thin, flimsy and poorly constructed aluminum cousins. Having quality steel pans that heat evenly, don’t warp, don’t scorch so easily and are built to stand up to the daily beating of a busy kitchen is so crucial to being successful.
Other examples of daily work horses are the blender and food processor but there are so many counter-top electrics that make our lives so much easier. No kitchen is complete without a Vitamix and some model of a Robot Coupe food processor. If you’ve got the money and the space, get a vertical chopper which is basically a supersized food processor with a capacity of up to about 8 gallons. Another unsung hero—whether you cook sous vide or not—is a vacuum sealer. Being able to extend the shelf life of product, especially expensive proteins, is a huge money saver. A good vacuum sealer costs around $4k, but I feel this is one of the best investments you can make in countertop equipment. I don’t know how I could operate without a vacuum sealer at this point.
The list of countertop equipment goes on—things like immersion blenders, circulators (for sous vide cooking), slicers, mixers, electronic scales, meat grinders, and more all come into play. I use all of these for day to day operations, but another chef may have different needs. The same goes for large equipment. Being in the South, a smoker is a pretty much a requirement with BBQ being a cultural staple, but that may not be the case in other areas of the country.
All in all, equipment is fun to talk about. There are many “I wants” out there. Manufacturers are always raising the bar on what combi-ovens can do, as if these things weren’t impressive enough. There’s been some exciting developments the last few years with large tilt skillets offering pressure cooking ability and Vulcan’s “Versatile Chef Station.” The only downside is space and money tend to be finite, with not enough of either to be able to have everything we want.
That said, we can usually get what we need if we prioritize.