Buy Nothing New October, Clever Cooks

On knives, kitchen gadgets, & bad boy Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been reading Kitchen Confidential, a reveal-it-all memoir written by bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain. According to him, we clever cooks don’t need a 9-piece knife block:

No con foisted on the general public is so atrocious, so wrongheaded, or so widely believed as the one that tells you you need a full set of specialized cutlery in various sizes. I wish sometimes I could go through the kitchens of amateur cooks everywhere just throwing knives out from their drawers — all those medium-size ‘utility’ knives, those useless serrated things you see advertised on TV, all that hard-to-sharpen stainless-steel garbage, those ineptly designed slicers — not one of the damn things could cut a tomato. (via Kitchen Confidential)

His rant got me thinking about the number of useless, single-purpose-only kitchen gadgets available in the market. Walk into any House, Matchbox, or General Trader, and you’ll find shelves overflowing with timers, egg poachers, egg-white separators, apple dividers, garlic crushers, garlic peelers, single-pasta-serve measures, cherry pitters, melon ballers, potato mashers, corn peelers, julienne peelers, meat tenderisers, herb mincers, pie servers, pizza wheels, shrimp cleaners, nut crackers, turkey basters, jar openers, and strawberry hullers. You might also find specialised kitchen appliances such as rice cookers, ice-cream makers, soup makers, sandwich makers, popcorn makers, bread makers, coffee grinders, electric deep fryers, ice shavers, milk frothers or something completely random like the Clever Cracker and Egg Scrambler:

While most of us are sensible enough not to gather every imaginable type of kitchen gadgetry against our aproned bosoms, we’re probably guilty of owning one or more of the above. For instance, I own an under-utilised egg-yolk separator and a rather useless garlic/ginger grater. I also own a tagine that rarely leaves the box it came in because my frypan does a good enough job when it comes to cooking Moroccan.

Instead of filling our kitchens up with crappy single-purpose-only equipment, we should look towards investing in multipurpose tools. A wok, for instance, can be used for stir frying, shallow frying, poaching and steaming. As an impoverished twenty-something, my friend Grace even used her hard-working wok to cook pasta. And if we’re to take heed of Anthony Bourdain, ‘ONE good chef’s knife, as large as is comfortable for your hand’ should be able to do the job of several specialised knives:

This should cut just about anything you might work with, from a shallot to a watermelon, an onion to a sirloin strip. Like a pro, you should use the tip of the knife for the small stuff, and the area nearer to the heel for the larger. (via Kitchen Confidential)

Other gadgets that you can skimp on include timers (use your microwave or mobile phone’s timer), garlic presses (squash the cloves with the flat of the knife), egg yolk separators (a water bottle will do), potato mashers (use a fork), pizza wheels (use a knife), and soup makers (stop whining, and make it in a pot over the stove like everyone else).

Of course, you shouldn’t feel guilty buying a rice cooker if you eat rice every day or a pizza wheel if it helps you cut through the paratha as well as the pizza. But there’s only so many items that can pile into the kitchen drawers before your ‘good chef’s knife’ goes MIA amongst the detritus.

Cut the crap. Buy what you need, not what you want. You’ll save money and have more room in the kitchen to store that 20kg bag of onions:

This post is part of a Buy Nothing New series for Buy Nothing New Month 2012. Yep. 

5 thoughts on “On knives, kitchen gadgets, & bad boy Anthony Bourdain

  1. We, as you know, have a multitude of ridiculous gadgets in our kitchen, including garlic presses, egg separators, cookie scoops, ice cream makers, stick blenders, electric knives, TWO knife block sets (one is mine, one is the parentals’), a cherry pitter, several pizza wheels, and I have no idea what other crap. But the thing I’m kind of impressed about? Is that we use pretty much all of it. Personally, I would ditch the pizza wheels because they scare me (ditto the electric knife), but I’d keep the rest of it.

    If you REALLY want to see useless kitchen stuff, check out the website for Pampered Chef. It’s a US “host a party a la Tupperware” type of a deal, and they sell some CRAZY devises for very specific purposes!

    1. At least you use it and it works. I’ve got a random garlic/ginger grater thing which sucks so much that I’ve given up on it and am now using a normal cheese grater instead.

  2. Actually, the one piece of kitchen frippery I really want is a Tupperware garlic press. A flatmate a few flatmates ago had one and it was brilliant – when you spend as much time as I do chopping garlic, it makes a tedious job easy. Can’t justify the $40 price tag to grab one off eBay, though … might have to settle for a supermarket nasty.

    The piece of hardware I never thought was useful but that I couldn’t live without is my Breville electric pressure cooker. At $148 delivered it doesn’t seem like a thrifty option, but it turns bargain basement cuts of meat — $8 chuck steak, $6 free range bone-in chicken thighs — into delicious, nutritious meals. With an average cook time of 20 minutes, it saves power at every meal, and the fact that I can prepare a casserole from fridge to plate in about 35 minutes means I’m much less likely to cave in and order takeout.

    1. I don’t think price tag is so much of an issue as long as you get good use of it. We have a magic pot, a food processor, and a slow cooker here (all big-ticket items) and they don’t get used as much as I’d like. A bit of a waste of space and money really, even though they’re both pretty awesome gadgets. I’m just too used to making do with a heavy pot over the stove and a stick blender.

  3. Bit harsh to lump the bread machine in with the other time wasters. We use ours every other day.

    Yes there’s the 3 hour wait for bakery but it does save money. And it’s much simpler than ‘proper bread making’.

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