Sometimes a standard-issue piece of restaurant equipment just won’t cut it. Sometimes only a one-of-a-kind or top-of-the-line tool can get the job done. Whether decades old or laboratory grade, these chefs have found unique culinary gadgets that deliver results—and are pretty fun to use, too.
Separatory Funnel at Dram & Grain
The separatory funnel that bartender Lukas Smith introduced to Dram & Grain looks like it belongs in a laboratory rather than at a bar. The teardrop-shaped glass funnel is designed to separate liquids of different densities—perfect for clarifying juices and fat-washing spirits (infusing them with oils). Traditionally, perfumers use this tool, but Smith bought one (on Amazon) to avoid having to chill filter spirits after fat-washing them, which is thought to remove the delicate flavors. The funnel leaves the subtle aromas while filtering out the oil itself.
Bamboo Steamer at Indique
After a recent trip to Kerala, India, chef K.N. Vinod returned with a blissfully simple piece of equipment that can steam ground rice in just four minutes. The bamboo steamer is a cylindrical piece of bamboo with a small piece of coconut shell on either end. Puttu, a cylindrical steamed rice dish, is prepared by layering powdered rice and a mixture of coconut and cumin seeds in the steamer, placing it over a pot of boiling water, and waiting. It’s typically served with ripe plantains or chickpea curry for breakfast, but it can also accompany curry of any kind.
Corn Grinder at Espita Mezcaleria
Chef Alexis Samayoa went to great lengths to secure a stone corn grinder to mash fresh masa at Espita Mezcaleria. “I want to be ahead of the game before anybody else does it,” he says. “There’s not too many places that actually buy their own corn.” He purchased the machine from Mexico, had it shipped to New York, and then drove a U-Haul truck to pick it up and bring it back to D.C. The restaurant goes through about 70 to 80 pounds of dried Oaxacan corn per day to produce fresh, intensely flavored tortillas, chips, sopes, and tlayudas (large, crispy tortillas).
Antique Manual Slicer at Bidwell
Take a seat at the chef’s counter at Bidwell, and you’ll see the Berkel manual slicer shaving thin cuts of assorted charcuterie. The manual hand crank rotates the blade at a much slower pace than an electric slicer, creating less friction and heat, which helps to keep the fat intact for delicate cuts. Chef/owner John Mooney tracked down the incredibly rare 1929 model for its sturdy construction and historical value. “I like things that have roots and a story. I think it contributes to the identity of our food program,” he says.
Paint Sprayer at Le Diplomate
When it’s time to add the finishing touch to a delicate dessert, pastry chef Fabrice Bendano doesn’t rely on restaurant-grade airbrush tools, which are often fickle and flimsy. Instead, he pulls out a paint sprayer. “Home Depot is the best friend of a pastry chef,” he says. Not only is the paint sprayer better able to handle thick liquids like chocolate, but it’s also more efficient for working on large batches of desserts.
Antique Mantecatore Verticale at Dolci Gelati
As one of the only companies in the U.S. using a type of gelato maker known as a mantecatore verticale, pastry chef Gianluigi Dellaccio is especially proud of his Cattabriga model made in Italy in 1923. Dellaccio found the machine in a used equipment store in Florida and restored it to working condition. He now uses it to seamlessly blend variegato flavors—those with add-ins— without having to incorporate the additional ingredients by hand after the freezing process. “I make the stracciatella the way that it used to be made,” he says.
Indique and Dolci Gelati photos by Mariah Hayes. Other photos courtesy the restaurants.