Look in the drawers and cupboards of the average cook’s kitchen and you’ll find a plethora of tools designed for food preparation. Some of them are useful; many sit unused. Some were purchased on a whim; some were acquired through necessity. However they got there, and whether they are ever used, these tools are the set that this cook has available to use—his or her “weapons of choice.” In a small way, the tool set available to a cook, along with the cook’s experience, defines the dishes that individual cook can prepare.
A few of the tools in my kitchen date back to my days of cooking Chinese food, but most have become part of my armamentarium since I developed my interest in French cooking. Some of them I acquired with particular uses or dishes in mind, but many of them I purchased after using similar ones in restaurant kitchens in France.
The earliest French book I’ve found that provides a list of recommended kitchen tools is Le Livre de cuisine (1867) by Jules Gouffé. This also may be the first French cookery book that has a recipe section specifically intended for the home cook, and perhaps that is why the author felt a need to describe the minimum set of tools required for food preparation in the home. In the 135 or so years since this book was published, only a few other books have provided a list of tools required for the minimally equipped kitchen.
The following list is my take on the tools required by a cook for the preparation of French food. The list is divided into four sections: very useful tools, somewhat useful tools, seldom used tools, and rarely used tools. The very useful tools are those that I cannot live, or at least cook, without. Without them, I would find most cooking tasks difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. The somewhat useful tools are those that I can live without for many dishes but that I still use on a regular basis. The seldom used tools are tools used infrequently but which, when needed, are very useful. The rarely used tools are ones that I bought for reasons I often no longer remember and probably would not replace if they were lost. The list includes only hand tools—no electric appliances, no saucepans, etc.