I was going through some random “not-very-important” kitchen boxes in the basement when I came across a brown box, roughly the size of a (single-sleeve) box of Girl Scout cookies. Valtrompia Bread Tube-Star, it says. Also: The (Name of the Company) and The Kitchen Store that Comes to your Door.
I bought this at a party many years ago. A party I was basically out of options to skip, short of feigning a family funeral or a trip to the hospital for something no one would want to discuss. It’s basically a stainless-steel tube, shaped like a star, with a round removable cap on each end. I bought it as a set of three. Said star-shaped bread tube, a heart-shaped one, and a flower blossom-shaped one. I did not want to attend this party. I just couldn’t get out of it. “You’re studying to be a Chef! You have to come!” Sigh. I had to go. And I had to buy something. I don’t remember what the set of tubes cost, exactly, only that it really put a crimp in my budget that week. I see there’s a “$2” yard-sale sticker on it, where I must have tried to pawn it off on someone else at one time, but obviously, no takers. Even though I paid way more for it myself.
You’ll get cornered into attending one of these parties one day. Be ready. Buy something marginally useful. Don’t go for the gimmicky stuff. Don’t you dare buy that “garlic crusher” — a decent cook doesn’t need anything but the side of his knife to crush garlic, and have you ever tried to clean one of those things, with all the little holes? Nightmare.
How about that fancy-ass gourmet store in the mall? No. That place is strictly for gift-giving or gift-card buying. Surprisingly, (and unlike the home-party chef goods) the quality of their stuff is decent-to excellent, but it’s hella overpriced. This is where you go for a crazy expensive “gingerbread house kit” for your kid’s teacher’s Christmas present. This is where you go for a blown-glass red wine decanter to give as a wedding present to your favorite casual oenophile. Snowflake ice cube trays? Okay, I’ll allow it. But please don’t buy enameled cast iron here — the mark-up is just too much. Ditto anything that will actually touch flame or burner or oven rack. Don’t buy pans or spatulas or strainers or cookie sheets of any type here. If you do, you might as well throw your cash onto your flat glass electric stovetop and see how long it takes it to smolder.
Where should a home cook go for cooking equipment? A restaurant supply store.
Yes! You, too, can visit a restaurant supply store! Most of them are open to the public, so you can walk right in like you’re Emeril, grab a cart, and go to town. (Warning: You will want to go to town SO HARD.) Racks and racks of very reasonably priced stuff await your perusal. It’s not fancy, but it’s restaurant-grade. Restaurant chefs don’t take kindly to things breaking in half after six or seven uses, so these products are pretty much built to last.
Every ambitious home cook needs a chinois, a fine-mesh strainer great for straining sauces and custards. Mall-store price? $119 U.S. Restaurant store price? $25.99. Much the same for sheet pans, cake decorating supplies, and a thousand other things you didn’t even know you needed, so be careful!
Pro tips: I also find Bed, Bath and Beyond has a decent selection of stovetop cookware at a not-too-inflated price. And all my enameled cast iron cookware (literally, one of every style/size, with lids!) was purchased as my Christmas gift five years ago by my long-suffering fiancé, John, at ALDI of all places. It’s not Le Creuset, but I have zero complaints so far about the off-brand. And they are so red and shiny! I had the most fun opening all those boxes on Christmas morning.
You can also find decently-priced kitchenwares online, via Amazon and restaurant supply websites. But do your research; read reviews. Take the shipping cost into account when deciding. And be prepared to send stuff back for a refund if it’s low-quality. Don’t be one of those people who says “Ew, that isn’t remotely the quality I was expecting. I’ll send it back one of these days …” I have a pile of that stuff in another “not-very-important” kitchen box in the basement. Don’t be me.
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou.