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June 16, 2009

There are a few phrases that chefs really don’t want to hear on their shift. ‘The environmental officer/drugs squad/Michael Winner has just walked through the door’ are near the top but, more likely to have them sweating under their whites, are the words ‘The boss wants to see you. Take your knives.’

Since chefs carry their own knives from job to job, this is a not so subtle warning that they are about to be handed their P45 and escorted from the building before they try to wreak revenge. It is interesting that for a professional chef, the only tools that matter so much that they buy their own are their knives. Compared to the kitchens of keen amateur cooks, pro kitchens are generally fairly gadget free.

Obviously, there are exceptions. Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen at the Fat Duck has more than enough technology to send a man to the moon. However, the kit used in the majority of kitchens would not seem completely alien to a time-travelling chef who had just dropped in from the 19th century.

In his fantastic cook and tell memoirs, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain swears that when it comes down to it, all a chef really needs is one decent knife. Go into your home kitchen now and, even if your cooking never gets beyond slinging a ready meal in the microwave, I’ll bet you have at least half a dozen kitchen knives sitting in a draw.

Amateur cooks don’t buy kitchen gadgets so that they can cook better. They buy them to demonstrate their foodie credentials and as a decoy to hide their lack of kitchen skills behind. I should know. A quick rummage through the kitchen has just revealed a twee lemon slice squeezer in the shape of a fish; a ginger grater and, this tops the lot, a cheese safe. What they all have in common is that they are completely over specialised.

All this was prompted by a recent visit to John Lewis’ kitchen department, the spiritual home of unnecessary cooking gadgets. As if in a dream, I found myself at the checkout with an egg topper in my hand. That’s right: an egg topper. A gadget designed to chop the tops off boiled eggs. Fortunately, I snapped out of it and returned the device to its shelf before I tumbled into the abyss of egg topper madness. What’s the daftest kitchen gadget you have in your drawers?

An egg-topper: not strictly necessary
An egg-topper: not strictly necessary

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