The 10 Kitchen Essentials of a French Chef

Maurice Le Coq is the unconventional chef you’ll encounter in V M Karren’s new book, The Plucked Hen. His obsessive attitude about his culinary creations, his choice of ingredients, and sense of public presence are truly unique, and he pays particular attention to quality. A chef like that would employ only the finest tools of the trade to create his masterpieces.

What exactly would a distinguished French chef use to create the-best-of-the-best in haute cuisine? Here are a few items that are indispensable in the French kitchen–both professional and domestic–to ensure success in the hands of an experienced cook.

For stewing, one would simply have to use a ‘Dutch oven’ by Le Creuset or Staub. Of course, the term ‘Dutch oven’ is a bit out of place because it is an American term used to describe the iron pans that were originally traded to American colonists on Dutch merchant ships. These iron pots, which the Dutch also traded across Europe, found a stable home in France in the 1920s when traditional dishes such as Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin were being concocted in new diners. It was actually a pair of Belgians who began enamelling the iron pots, but they founded as Le Creuset in France at just the right time, and the tradition stuck.

To see that every vegetable and fruit would be perfectly sliced, Chef Le Coq and his assistants would employ their trusty De Buyer mandoline, or an apple slicer by Matfer Bourgeat, simplifying and shortening the cooking process, where more delicate knife work was not needed. These artisan craftsman, like the chefs they serve, have perfected their tools over time. What began as family entrepreneurs with good ideas have developed into world leaders in the modern kitchen.

Our chef would most likely be carmelizing his onions in a Cristel Fry Pan, sprinkling in some chantarelles and sage. His kitchen would be lined with Mauviel copper pans in all sizes (hence the book’s front cover) to handle his sauces, blanche his tomatoes, and simmer his soups.

In order to bake his tarts, breads, charlottes, and cakes, he would most likely use Emile Henry earthenware or Gobel baking molds, trimming the pastry with more Matfer Bourgeat tools.

He’d gently slice the chickens, potatoes, and strawberries with Opinel knives, and then send each platter with a waiter through the kitchen doors. The waiter would be equipped with his Peugeot pepper mill to season the guest’s dinner on the spot. And then the show would begin!

Here’s how one critic reacted to Chef Le Coq’s culinary genius:

“As I sank my teeth into the meat, every section of my brain lit up, sparking, and blinking with every turn of this heavenly manna in my mouth. By the memory of a fleeting subconscious desire I was transported to my own personal nirvana, unrivaled in description by any verse of holy scripture. My eyelids sprung open involuntarily, unable to hold back the rush of epiphany flowing from the mind’s eye out, into a brave, new reality.  

“The carrots, the onions, the mushrooms, the bacon, the meat, the sauce were all devoured in a few, short minutes, the gluttony of my id on shameless display.” (—from The Plucked Hen by V M Karren)

If you, too, are a chef, or lover of French food, you’d be well advised to give these tools of the trade a try. The investment will be worth it. Connoisseurs suggest that buying the perfect stewing pan is like buying an automobile: it’s shiny, comes in colors to match your style, and will never let you down.

The Plucked Hen’ by V M Karren is our current read for the month of June. Click on the cover to read (and virtually taste) a sample.

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