Tools of the Trade
By Renee Farrell
ICC Student/Professional Culinary Arts
On the first day of our culinary education we were issued with a huge bag of tools and gadgets boldly emblazoned with the ICC logo. Brimming with excitement we tore through them and started to learn to tools of the trade, those trusted items we will use over and over again for years to come.
As culinary students, there’s a certain pride we gain from understanding the difference between a boning versus a fileting knife, or how to use a channel knife and trussing needle. We start to feel the departure from amateur towards professional and it’s exciting. The enthusiasm begins to swirl and it’s all about the tools. Or is it?
The most common school of thought falls under the category of: a fancy toolkit does not a chef make. This may have an association bias, as no one wants to surrender an ounce of their talent to a piece of metal. It also shows grit and substance to believe that a bad tradesman blames his tools. However, there will always be tools that make life easier, and others that you feel the urge to throw at the wall.
Our head chef has a pretty mean looking toolbox full of items you can tell have been tried and tested, and the contents honed to his specific style. The surprising part is his most beloved tool is a small mesh strainer with a broken handle that is perfect to scoop things out of hot boiling water or fat. Seriously, a five dollar broken strainer! Another highly skilled Chef who is part of the Spanish Culinary Arts program at ICC told me he buys his knives and equipment from Ikea. Ikea! He may have told me this to prove his point: that it’s all about skill and your tools are merely instruments available to give you a hand. There is something very organic about this theory and the key tenet is demonstrated by rockstar chefs from the most revered eras of classic cuisine. After watching Jacques Pepin debone an entire chicken with his bare hands, stuff it with leaks, onions and thyme so that it resembled an intact, perfect chicken… well, I have to say I agree.
And this is all fine and dandy, but it may only be 99% true for us mere mortals. Tools do play an important part in the life of a professional. To prove my point, go to a Sur La Table on any given Saturday morning and you’ll see chefs perusing the cutlery section with the elevated enthusiasm of comic book enthusiasts at Comic Con. Cutlery obsessions are akin to technology obsessions, there is always something new and exciting available – ergonomic handles, Japanese vs European blades, peelers that will change your life and don’t even get me started on sharpening stones.
But they are just that. Tools. So at this early phase of our culinary ventures we put ourselves in the hands of our beloved German knives and taillage until our fingers hurt. Maybe those ergonomic handles are worth it after all.
This blog post was originally published by the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. Explore your culinary education where the legacy lives on.