Whether you're looking to refurbish your kitchen with gleaming ranges or just up the ante with a new toy, there's no better time than the holidays to splurge a little with your (or better yet, your investors') hard-earned cash on some large-format kitchen toys. This guide can help you decide what you need, or what you simply must have. Some are classic caveman contraptions with new twists; others are closer to a modernist chef's dream device. While none of these tools are exactly stocking stuffers—unless you have a massive parachute-sized sack tacked to your hearth—they do make nice investment gifts to recharge your kitchen and make the holiday dining crush, and 2013, just a little bit easier.
Sear, baby, sear. A number of new yakitori spots (including Mathias Merges' Yusho) have taken hold over the past year, which makes these grilling gadgets a necessity for chefs looking to ride that meaty wave. And one of the best in the business is the new Jade Robata Yakitori grill. With a raised infrared grilling surface that can reach over 1000°F, the grill is able to put out perfectly seared masterpieces, and one you can show off in an open kitchen for maximum dramatic effect. The grill is available in 48-, 60-, and 72-inch versions, with a bevy of customizable options for those who prefer a few more bells and whistles.
Searing small bites is all well and good, but what if you want a (gently) raging inferno to cook your steaks, holiday turkeys, and even pizza? The "wheel grill" by J&R is the best bet (unless you feel like custom-making one like Spain's Victor Arguinzoniz). With front and top fuel loading, an adjustable cooking surface, and removable ash carts, the wheel grill is accessibility meets power Crank the wheel to the highest level to smoke meats, or to the lowest level to get amazing protein caramelization. These grills are fast becoming a hot product among both established restaurants and up-and-comers. Chefs at Speedy Romeo, Gramercy Tavern, and Mas (la grilliade) have all made these grills the focal point of their dining rooms.
It's no wonder Steelite won the Innovator Award at this year's International Chefs Congress—they tend to stay in creative step with their customers. And their newest line of dinnerware, the Craft Collection, reflects the shift away from white tablecloth dining to rustic, comfort-driven cuisine. The hand-crafted simplicity, inspired by generations of potters, is the ideal compliment to farm-to-table cooking. And the intentional imperfection of the plates—a warped edge here, a drip of glaze there—highlight the human touch, and lend yet more nuance to artistic platings from chefs like Jordan Kahn, for whom every plating represents an individual, impossible-to-replicate experience. The 43-piece range comes in blue, green, brown, and terracotta hues, and is protected by the usual Steelite lifetime edge-chip warranty.
Sometimes it's not the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. One of Vitamix's newest blenders is slowly but surely picking up steam among bartenders and baristas. The Quiet One, four times quieter than any other commercial blender, is magnetically sealed and suspended over elastic polymer to reduce the vibrations and dim conversation-killing rattle. The newly redesigned blade makes for faster blending, and the different levels let ambitious mixologists (or perhaps arm-weary ones like PDT's Jim Meehan) simulate the fine bubbles from dry shakes without the constant shaking.
If there's one thing that chaps a bartender's hide, it's a spotty glass in the midst of busy service. But that's one problem Hobart is looking to do away with. Sure to be one of the bartender's best friend (or maybe the bar back's) in years to come, the LXeR and LXePR line of warewashers have cool rinse and PuriRinse cycles—that means less steam and less chemical residue, for a cleaner glass. Bonus points: the undercounter models are small enough to fit most bars, and energy efficient.
George Costanza could tell you: nobody likes shrinkage. And the new heat-delivery system in the Vectaire Convection Oven by Montague retains moisture and prevents food shrinkage like no other. The model eschews the traditional "snorkel" approach in favor of a muffled oven design—in which flue gasses wrap around the oven's surfaces, rather than flow throughout—to ensure moister food and better caramelization. That means no cold spots in the oven, even baking, and a 35 percent decrease in cooking time.
At this year's International Chefs Congress we saw a fair bit of pastry and sausage, both of which need chilled work spaces. Enter Unified Brands and their Flexi Chill Prep Table, which has an FX-series base for precise temperature drawers. The model allows chefs to modify the drawer temp anywhere from 40°F to -5° F, and has plenty of space for prepping all those pesky chocolate creations and delicious pork tasso.
You know the scenario. You've been there many times before. You have hundreds of pounds of produce that needs chopping, and you're afraid of leakage. That's where Waring's 16-cup Commercial Food Processor comes into play. With its LiquiLock seal and the feed chute, product is diced quickly and cleanly. Like a giant multi-purpose Swiss army knife, the food processor can also whip liquids to aerate them into foams, whipped creams, and butters. With all those glorious appendages, slicing 1,000 pounds of cucumbers or chopping 900 quarts of meat in an hour becomes a can-do, no-leak type of situation.
It's hard to improve upon perfection. And it's pretty darned hard to create spumas, foams, and mousses (speedily) without the iSi Gourmet Whipper. Pastry chefs have been using the whipper for years, and now even mixologists (like Naomi Schimek and Dave Arnold, both of whom have applied the texture and body of foam to their drinks) have gotten in on the aeration action. With the different dispenser nozzles and the option to boost the contents with CO2, the whipper can be used for both delicate foams and creamy mousses, hot or cold, creamy or carbonated.
A cook is only as good as he is consistent. And when it comes to keeping meat moist or vegetables perfectly heated, there are few tools more consistent than the Winston CVAP Cook & Hold Micro Oven. Its digital food thermostat protects from overcooking and keeps the temperature uniform, the magnetic door latches and perimeter door gaskets keep things consistent, and when the cook cycle is complete it automatically switches over to "hold mode" to keep the dish at precise, just-cooked temperatures. Not just for roasting, the Cook & Hold has steaming, poaching, braising, baking, and low-temperature cooking settings. The CVap's temperature control is so precise that it also boasts an option for bag-less sous vide cooking.