It goes without saying that a good pan is essential, and hard-wearing cast iron is the choice for many chefs. The pans retain heat well, transfer from stovetop to oven, and look good on the table. Ross Lusted, chef at The Bridge Room in Sydney, swears by Japanese Oigen Foundry pans. "I use them every day because they're heavy-based and cook with a very even heat," he says. And, properly cared for, they really will last a lifetime, making them well worth the investment.
It's the rare chef who doesn't consider good blades essential. But what about a great knife that can deftly tackle more than one job? When breaking down fish at Franklin in Hobart, Analiese Gregory turns to this single-bevel blade forged from carbon steel in the city of Sakai. "To be able to cut through bones and split the heads in half with the same knife you use to fillet, and know the blade can handle it, is great," she says.
There's more to the superior spat than frosting cakes and smoothing batter into pans. "I use a small offset spatula all day in the kitchen for both sweet and savoury cooking," says Jo Barrett. "Other spatulas are just too big and bulky." At Oakridge in the Yarra Valley, Barrett might put her offset spatula to use flipping pan-roasted Jerusalem artichokes, or testing the set of curds of house-made cheese. Anywhere, in other words, where a delicate touch is required and tongs aren't welcome.
At Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney, chef Paul Carmichael uses his cake tester to assess the doneness of meats, poultry and fish. "It's just an easy and minimally invasive way to check the temperature within a protein," he says. Poke the skewer into the centre of what's cooking for a few seconds, then pull it out and give it a feel. Heck, you can even use them to test cakes.
Whether grating garlic to season house-made Jersey yoghurt, finishing a plate of flash-fried zucchini flowers with a flurry of pecorino, or fine-tuning the flavour of barbecued marron with lemon zest, Jacqui Challinor of Sydney restaurant Nomad makes sure a microplane is always within reach. She recommends a finer grater, not only to cover all bases from whole spices to cured yolks, but also to cover more space on the plate – handy when making it rain with hard cheeses, truffles or bottarga.
Timeliness, accuracy and consistency are attributes worth striving for when cooking, which is why Melbourne restaurateur and chef Andrew McConnell values a mandolin so highly. "You still need knife skills in the kitchen," he says, "but a mandolin makes life a lot better." The interchangeable metal combs are particularly useful for finely shredding harder produce, such as kohlrabi, before adding it to a pickling solution. But the sharp blade is worth it just for quickly yielding uniform slices of vegetables that cook more evenly and make for sexier salads.
How do chefs get a quick julienne without all that precision cutting? "Don't be ashamed about using a bright blue julienne peeler," says Amy Hamilton. It's her weapon of choice at Liberté, in the Great Southern, when it comes to prepping buckets of green papaya salad, but it also works wonders shredding other fruits, vegetables, cheese and even chocolate. "This one creates nice long, rustic strips, which I generally prefer over more time-consuming and formal julienne cuts achieved using a knife or mandolin," she says.
This custom-made chrome-plated stainless steel disc is how Josh Niland ensures silken texture and even, crisp skin on the fish he prepares at Saint Peter in Sydney. He begins by placing the fish skin-side down in a hot pan, then rests the weight on the end of the thickest side and slowly moves it down the fillet as it cooks. "The heat transfers from the pan through the fish and settles on the surface of the steel," he says, "which generates warmth across the fillet and sets the protein very gently." The weight is also handy for killer stovetop toasties and squashed burgers on the barbecue.