Last Wednesday's NYT Dining section led with "Must Have? Think Again," a misguided, ill-informed indictment of specialized cookware and kitchen gadgets. Friends and associates of the writer William "Biff" Grimes paint themselves as victims of insidious tools and appliances that threaten to undermine their "pro" status.
The screed kicks off with a four-column wide photo of Dan Aykroyd's Saturday Night Live "Bass-O-Matic '76" skit. Think it through Biff — Dan Aykroyd's Julia Child impersonation was hysterically funny but does that mean Julia was overrated, under talented, useless? Dan Aykroyd's pitchman for a preposterous appliance was also, as we say today, LMFAO funny. But that doesn't mean every kitchen gadget is bunk, which appears to be Grime's take-away.
Not every device is a winner, but there are numerous highly useful gadgets home cooks happily use regularly, many of which are denigrated in the piece. As he didn't respond to my letter, allow me to share it here:
March 22, 2012
Dear Mr. Grimes,
I imagine the water cooler you share with Bittman serves up cool drafts of Less Less Less – oh, sorry, you guys are undoubtedly tap devotees, as am I, though Croton Reserve doesn’t seem to have the same effect on me.
Still your dismissal of single-purpose gadgets and cookware is really too much.
Pasta Drying Rack – seriously? You want to dry your fettuccine on the back of a chair? If Ms. Smith doesn’t make pasta often (which doesn’t make a good argument for her being an authority on the matter) her happiness with flour-dusted furniture is her business. For people who care about producing a high-quality product, a wooden drying rack (which folds up for minimal storage) does a superior job drying the pasta evenly. If saving $10 on the rack after the $60 or so entry-level pasta roller purchase is important, Ronzoni is a probably a better option.
Thinking people everywhere realize a Fish Poacher is designed and better suited for the oven, not straddling two stove-top cooking elements.
Pressure Cookers – What makes Sara Moulton's opinion the last word? Premier pressure cooker author Lorna Sass’s most recent book is rated at 4 ½ stars based on 7,460 reviews. Ms. Moulton’s latest tome, while well regarded, inspired 16 customer to weigh in… The Good Housekeeping Research Institute staff (professionally trained and nationally accredited) has this to say: “Most new models have a host of safety features that make them virtually impossible to burst open. Plus, they’re hard to beat if you’re looking for a serious weeknight time saver. They can shave hours off of cooking times and let you enjoy hearty, braised and stewed dishes in as little as 30 minutes.” [It has subsequently come to my attention that Nathan Myhrvold calls the pressure cooker "magical," the device they turned to most often in creating the 2,438 page masterpiece Modernist Cuisine.]
But let’s talk every day. A Double-Bladed Asparagus Peeler does the job in half the time and prevents the stalks from breaking – putting all the pressure on one side often snaps the asparagus into uneven lengths.
Oddly, you didn’t dismiss the Microplane grater which is superfluous if you have a Box Grater – except a box grater is more versatile. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Microplane, but if you’re all about cutting away the clutter this could on your diss list.
What else can’t be beat? A Ceramic Ginger Grater is also great for onions. A Grapefruit Knife makes all kind of sense. You need the right tool for the right job. Yes, a Cornichon Slicer is a bit twee but it makes beautiful strawberry fans too. Spaetzle Maker – nothing like it.
To paraphrase your minimalist colleague, “Cooking is the application of heat to food.” There are many New York Times readers who love to cook and are already familiar with this bit of wisdom.
Feel free to send Biff your favorite gadgets: email@example.com