Fascinated as we are by the tools great artists and artisans use to produce their work, we asked chefs at some of Brooklyn's best restaurants to tell us about the items they rely on every day. In some cases they're similar to the items you probably reach for regularly at home—a knife that fits in your hand just so, or a sturdy, tight-lidded pot—but we'll go ahead and assume you don't have a giant wheel of Pecorino Romano or a perfectly weathered manual can opener from Japan. Not yet, anyway.
Talde; 369 7th Avenue, Park Slope
Pork Slope; 247 5th Avenue, Park Slope
Thistle Hill Tavern; 441 7th Avenue, Park Slope
Paul Liebrandt made his name at his acclaimed Tribeca restaurant Corton, he is about to make the move to Brooklyn where he will open his eagerly anticipated restaurant The Elm in Williamsburg this summer. Liebrandt's food is renowned for being innovative and intricate; he is an artist as much as a chef. And, in fact, his list of kitchen essentials (presented below in, he says, "no particular order") start off with the most basic and most necessary tools of any artist: his eyes and hands. Here are Liebrandt's must-haves:
An extremely well-maintained Japanese knife—I especially like a Misono.
Fleur de sel—I use it to season nearly everything, it is the salt of all salts.
Extremely good salted butter—I always look for a high-quality butter that is high in fat content and high salt content.
Very good lighting—if you can’t see what you’re doing, you will never know how your food turns out. We like to use LED lights to avoid shadows.
An offset spatula
Harmony in the kitchen—this one is not something you can buy or teach. It’s something you have to nurture. If you are happy, you cook good food. If you cook good food your guests are happy, and that is the ultimate goal.
A black iron cook pot—we use all different sizes, and I couldn’t live without them.
The Elm; 160 North 12th Street, Williamsburg
Mile End might have had humble beginnings—it began as a "rooftop experiment" by Noah Bernamoff, his wife Rae, and their friend Max Levine—but the end result has been nothing short of glorious. Mile End serves the kind of platonic ideal of Jewish deli food that you feel like ought to be available all over Brooklyn, but isn't. So what exactly is the secret? What is the one essential item that Bernamoff needs in his kitchen? As it turns out, Bernamoff says, it's "an iPod dock. I derive a lot of joy from listening to music, especially in a kitchen where everyone is focused and hard-working." Who knew that was all it took?
Mile End; 97A Hoyt Street, Boerum Hill
Alex Raij and Eder Montero
Ask any Brooklyn food lover—from Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs of Food52 to Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby of Smorgasburg—what their favorite Brooklyn restaurants are and La Vara always seems to be the first name to come to mind. Not much more than a year old, the Cobble Hill restaurant has made a name for itself with its delectable Spanish cuisine. So it's no surprise that when we talked to Alex Raij and Eder Montero, the essentials they need to run the kitchen include the perfect manual can opener for prying off the lid of conservas, a staple of any tapas menu. If only the trick to serving food as perfect as what you find at La Vara was as simple as opening a can.
La Vara; 268 Clinton Street, Cobble Hill
Located in Gowanus, on an industrial stretch of Third Avenue, the Pines offers diners a chance to escape the rough hewn landscape of the neighborhood and marvel at exquisitely plated food that is a treat for all the senses. Under chef Angelo Romano, the Pines offers food that is always surprising, but, most importantly, incredibly delicious. Each plate is a work of art and when Romano shared some of the tools he needs to make that happen—a microplane, plating tweezers, shears, knives—it became all the more apparent how much attention is paid to every little detail of each plate of food that leaves the kitchen.
The Pines; 284 3rd Avenue, Gowanus
Zahra Tangorra, Amelia Hall
This rustic Italian restaurant/grocery store/perfect place to eat and shop and just enjoy life. And that exuberance for every aspect of cooking and, well, living is evident in the list of kitchen essentials that chef Zahra Tangorra and pastry chef Amelia Hall devised.
Emiliomitti Pasta Maker: We turn out a LOT of tagliatelle for dinner every night and this machine makes the process very efficient. Our model is a bit unnecessary for home use, but there are really great affordable home models (you can even get a motor attachment!). Don’t be scrrrrd of pasta making at home, it’s very simple when you get going. If you’re looking to get started we offer a pasta class once a month.
Locatelli Romano Cheese: Every chef has their favorite finishing ingredients. At Brucie, we use Locatelli Romano both for finishing and as a component in a few dishes. In the Pecorino world, Locatelli is King. Salty, nutty, amaze. Everything has its place, so sometimes Parmigiano Reggiano is called for, but Pecorino is our go-to hard cheese.
Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Ovens: These are great heavy-duty Cast-Iron pots. They can really take a beating and last forever. We bake our house-made country bread in them... and they’re also great for knocking your husband over the head when he comes home too late from being out with his gumar.
Hobart/KitchenAid: We do things in seriously high-volume so we use an industrial Hobart 80-quart mixer to mix pasta dough, meatballs, etc. We use it for grinding meat for our house-made sausage. This thing weighs about 1000 lbs and it took 4-300lb men to get it down to our basement. It’s a monster! As a home cook you can do every thing the Hobart does (and more!) with the home version, a Kitchen-Aid mixer, and it’ll be way easier to carry.
Dance Moves: WE GOT ANTS IN OUR PANTS AND WE JUST WANNA DANCE. We’ve been working on our Night Moves, we’re Dancing With Ourselves. There’s no way to better reconnect with your restaurant friends (front and back of house) than a good end-of-service boogie-oogie-ooo. After all, we just cooked for people and showed them a great time and we just want to celebrate. We’ll even throw in a choreographed break-down here and there.
Goofiness: At Brucie, the food is the most important thing. It’s taken very seriously by all the cooks. We value our beautiful ingredients and traditional old-world cooking methods. But we also know how to have a blast. Scott Stapp impressions, practical jokes (nothing TOO mean), the occasional belting out of The Circle of Life. The good times that we have permeate into the front-of house staff and the dining room. Everyone feels in on the joke and that’s part of the fun at Brucie.
Smoked, Pickley, and Roasted Things (Season’s Best): To change up our menu every day with only the available produce of the season we look to Smoking, Pickling and Roasting to enhance the flavors of what’s for dinner. Brucie’s sous-chef, Jennie, is always finding an interesting thing to smoke or pickle (smoked celery! pickled cheeseburgers (jk lol!)!) and roasting will turn the lowliest parsnip into a sweet bite.
George: George is essential. George makes the sun rise and the stars shine. He makes boiling pasta into an amazing slapstick routine and slicing bread into a samurai exercise. Having a fantastic cooking buddy makes the long shifts shorter and intense dinner services less painful. George is our rock. He listens to our problems and helps us solve them. He is always ready to party. He is CAPTAIN HEAT and our line cook extraordinaire!
Brucie; 234 Court Street, Carroll Gardens