Frank on food
Some call it art; others call it craft. For some, it’s merely a hobby, albeit a good one. And for others, it’s a serious calling to the professional kitchen and a lifelong commitment to the noble trade of cooking. Make no mistake: The work I do in the culinary world is my trade, pure and simple. Further discussion about art vs. craft, for now, can remain on the back burner. But whether you see cooking as an art or as a craft, your level of success in the kitchen will be better – and more fun – when you use essential tools of the trade. Tools, not gadgets, mind you.

My students at The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College will be the first to tell you: “Chef Chlumsky can’t stand kitchen gadgets.” And it’s true. Most gadgets are generally more trouble than they’re worth: often hard to store or find in a cluttered drawer, difficult to clean, and limited in their use. Take the garlic press. An “essential” tool? Hardly. Sure, it does the job it was intended for, but no self-respecting, serious cook would even think about using a garlic press when a chef’s knife can do the same job in a fraction of the time.

There’s still time for holiday shopping, so here are some recommendations for a few of those essential tools that have become indispensable in my own kitchen. Aside from the obvious, such as a chef’s knife and vegetable peeler, here are the tools that make my kitchen complete.

A salad spinner

Good for washing and drying salad greens, a salad spinner is also great for washing and drying fresh herbs, such as parsley. Best choice is by Oxo, which makes two sizes of salad spinners, each with a convenient hand pump in the center. This company’s little red and white logo sometimes is hard to spot. Look for the Good Grips name, the brand on Oxo’s ergonomic line of kitchen tools. $25 and $30.

An instant-read thermometer

You can spend close to $100 for this tool, but all you need is the one made by Taylor under the TruTemp brand. $6.

A food scale

For years I made do with a conventional scale that only weighed up to 5 pounds and took up a lot of space. I couldn’t be happier than with my new Oxo food scale. This is by far the best and most accurate scale on the market. Large digital readout, compact and easy to store. $50.

A box grater

This tool is truly indispensable and has many uses. Oxo Good Grips once again takes the lead with a wider surface area for grating and a handy plastic collecting cup. $18.

A flat-end wooden spoon

All kitchens should have wooden spoons, and one with a flat end is great for stirring sauces. Also by Oxo Good Grips. $6.

A 12-inch stainless fry pan

This wide-bottomed, straight-sided fry pan is called a sautoir in France – as opposed to a sauteuse, which has rounded, or sloped, sides. With plenty of room to cook as many as eight pieces of chicken at a time, the traditional stainless finish allows food to stick, forming those wonderful brown bits – called fond – which are essential in creating pan sauces. The brand to look for is All-Clad. It’s an investment – usually about $135 – but well worth it. This pan will last a lifetime.

Have a happy holiday!

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander’s restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts. In his 36-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan City, Ind., and in Lake Geneva, Wisc. He has also been executive chef at the Saddle & Cycle Club in Chicago. Frank lives in Forest Park, where he cooks for pleasure.

Shop Local

You can find the items listed by Chef Chlumsky at stores in Forest Park. The indie shop, Flavour Cooking School, has only the fry pan, which is on special for the holidays at $90 with a lid. Bed Bath & Beyond has all the other items.

Flavour Cooking School
7401 Madison, Forest Park

Before Christmas

11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24

Usual hours

11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday

Bed Bath & Beyond
215 Harlem, Forest Park

Before Christmas

8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23
8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24

Usual hours

9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...