In the final installment of our four-part series on fire station cooking, Chef Tom Beckman looks at what you need, and don't need, to outfit your kitchen with cooking equipment. I'm grateful to Chef Beckman for the time he set aside for this project.
Is it worth the money for restaurant-grade appliances for a fire station?
I have to be honest, I'd say no, overall. If you are in a high-volume kitchen that moves a lot of food through, yeah, you are going to use that heavy-duty stove; you are going to use all six burners every single day, all the time.
About Chef Tom Beckman
Chef Tom Beckman has been a culinary educator for the last 15 years at Le Cordon Bleu Chicago. He mainly teaches baking and pastry but has been known to grill, braise and sauté. He began his career in the early 1990s at a series of Chicago hotels, most notably the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. He has been pastry cook, pastry chef, private chef and consultant to food and equipment manufacturers over the last 20 years. He loves working with students of all ages and is either in a kitchen or on the street riding his bike. Chef Tom has been doing a podcast for 6 years where he covers a wide variety of topics of food.
You have people who want to have 12 burners in their house and they use one at a time to make popcorn or something. A firehouse will probably not have the volume that would warrant a stove like that.
Quality-wise, they vary quite a bit. The Wolf, Viking, Garland, they're good, but they are not really necessary.
For refrigerators, you really don't need all that Sub-Zero fancy stuff. I look for durability and cleanability. If your equipment is really hard to get in those nooks and crannies, we say that's not cleanable. Obviously, you could clean it by disassembling it and getting in there with a toothbrush. But if you want somebody to clean something after every single use, then you've got to make it such that it can be easily disassembled or it can be cleaned in place.
If I were buying a refrigerator today, I'd want to find one that has no nooks and crannies, no hidden compartments or whatever. I want it to just keep stuff cold.
Do you recommend convection ovens?
We have both convection and still ovens at school. Being a baker, I like a still oven, which means there's no fan (circulating the hot air). A still oven will cook a little slower than a convection oven. But, I like that slow, dry heat. I tend to roast and bake that way.
Other folks really like the convection oven because the circulation of air actually cooks things quicker. The reason I don't like it is because you can make a beautiful rare roast in a convection oven, but I don't want rare baked goods. They are fast and people seem to like them.
What advice do you have for small appliances?
What I use mostly is a KitchenAid mixer, I have the small one and it has been working great for 20 years. It is a workhorse. I use it for baked goods, sausage, pasta, potatoes, or anything you can imagine; you can make salad dressing in it if you wanted to.
I like a slow cooker. I've got a cheap West Bend or something that cost me $15. It is great for doing real cheap cuts of meat. You put it in with a little bit of water and seasoning and 12 hours later you've got a beautiful piece of meat.
Spend some money on a good food processor. It doesn't have to be fancy; all it does is chop and grate and so on. The thing is workhorse and it is superiorly cleanable. There are no nooks and crannies; it is easy to clean and it is right back on the shelf.
I like equipment that I can use on my countertop, clean up and put right back in my pantry. I don't have a lot of space on my countertop.
What items should every department have in its utensil drawer?
I like rubber spatulas for a lot of things. I use the kind that looks like a spoon. I use wooden spoons for stirring or getting things moving if you are sautéing. I use a pasta fork quite a bit. I use metal spatulas if I'm spreading something. Got to have a slotted spoon if you are going to drain something.
I use a reamer; it is the same as a juicer but a hand-held version. You put it in lemons and limes and get good juice out of that.
Another one that just occurred to me is a micro planer. It is kind of like a grater used to grate cheese, but super fine. If you want orange jest in your dish, you just grate that out and you don't have to chop it. It is like a file, but food-grade, and there are holes in it.
I have a lot of tongs, they are very handy to use.
There's something called a fish turner that is a flat, metal spatula for getting underneath food, like flipping burgers.
Are wood spoons safe?
Yes, they've done studies and the plastic spoon people will tell you, 'ours are safer.' I've never had anybody get sick from a wood spoon or wood cutting board. I use both all the time, and we're fine. They are approved for food service as well.
Beef Wellington with Madeira Sauce
6 (6 oz.) portions trimmed beef tenderloin
2 tbsp. butter
4 tsp. finely chopped shallots
3/4 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped (3 c.)
2 tbsp. red wine
2 1/2 oz. can goose or chicken liver pate
17 1/4 oz. pkg. Pepperidge Farm puff pastry dough (two 9x10 inch sheets), defrosted
Season meat with salt and pepper. In a heavy fry pan, quickly sear fillets on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Turn heat to low and add butter, shallots, mushrooms and wine to pan. Cook and stir until all liquid is gone and the mixture is very soft. Spread 1 tablespoon pate over the top of each fillet, then spread 1/4 cup of mushroom mixture over pate. Carefully wrap each mushroom topped fillet in pastry, rolling pastry to stretch as needed. Pinch edges to seal. Brush with egg wash. Bake in a 450°F oven for 15 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
In sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil, shallots, peppercorns and tarragon. Sauté until shallots are soft, stirring occasionally. Add Madeira wine and honey and reduce by half. Add veal stock and reduce by half. Whisk in butter and season with salt to taste.
What items should you never buy?
One-use things. That's why I don't like the juicer. If they just do one thing, once in a while, I wouldn't buy them. Look at the ice cream machines. All it does is make ice cream, then you put it away for six months, until you make ice cream again and you remember what a pain in the butt it is to get everything ready.
I can't really think of anything I would say, 'don't ever get.' Maybe you like to make ice cream.
Any advice for buying cutting boards and knives?
Don't skimp. Let's talk cutting boards first. I like the butcher block; those are my favorite. Get a good thick one and one that has a less likelihood of warping or cracking. If you buy really thin ones — yes they are cheaper, lighter and easier to move around — but once they get some water on them they will crack and bend.
With the wood cutting boards, you have to put mineral oil down every few days, let it sit for a minute, then wipe it off. That will take care of a lot of dryness issues.
With the plastic ones, you want those that are scratch-resistant, which is kind of silly, because they will get scratches in them. Those have to be tossed out after a certain amount of time because they are not flat anymore. Once you use your knives on these cutting boards for a while, they get scratches and they harbor bacteria.
That's why I like the wood ones the best. They do get scratched, but there are natural enzymes in the wood that almost heal the wood; over time it will patch up those lighter scratches. If you put a big hole in your cutting board, you've got to get a new one.
Look for National Sanitation Foundation-approved cutting boards. They approve good ones.
As far as knives go, don't go with the super high end. But get a good-quality knife. You'll need a chef's knife, a paring knife, a boning knife, a fork and a steal. Keep it basic.
I wouldn't buy knife sets; buy them separate. A chef's knife can cost $75 to $80, paring knives maybe $25 to $30, and a boning knife anywhere from $30 to $50. You buy less knives, but you keep them sharp and they will stay sharp. You are actually spending less than for the fancy set with all of the stuff.
Those sets can be very nice too and I've had them over the years. But I find that the knives I use the most are my separates.
For storing knives, get those magnetic strips to hang knives. They are really easy on the knives and it is easy to grab the knives. It is a handy thing to have.
What pots and pans will a fire station need?
There is one choice if you can afford it: All-Clad. They are durable, restaurant-quality attractive-looking pans. They clean up very easily, terrific cleanability. That's all I use.
Calphalon was the big thing maybe 10 years ago. They used anodized aluminum or something like that. Well, they fell apart. All-Clad doesn't fall apart.
You might have one or two that are nonstick, but generally we don't use that in the professional kitchen. You know that stuff (nonstick coating) is going to come off eventually. Even All-Clad nonstick will deteriorate over time.
I'm not familiar with the ceramic or other new nonstick surfaces.
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