Gadgets that can make time-consuming or tricky cooking tasks easier do more than inspire gratitude: They create obsessions. To identify some of the tools, I tracked down three equipment fanatics who have made the quest for great gadgets part of their professional life: Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, which recently launched an ambitious kitchenware site; Justin Schwartz, the director of editorial content for the about-to-launch Lechters.com kitchenware site; and Monika Schnacke, the president of Frieling USA, a kitchen-tool importer and manufacturer.
Jeff Bezos E-Commerce Visionary
Are you a gadget guy?
JB: Definitely. I carry a little camera with me everywhere and take pictures so I can reconstruct my life. I have a watch that corrects itself by radio signal 36 times a day. I would claim there are useful gadgets...and then there are things like my watch.
What are your favorite kitchen tools?
JB: First, the commercial-quality Orange X juicer ($160). Some things get better if you add electricity, and some things get worse. The Orange X would get worse. It's well balanced, with a big handle centered in the front that you pull down hard to extract the most juice with the least effort. It has no complicated parts that are hard to clean. Second, the Oxo salad spinner ($25). You know how your usual salad spinner has a string that pulls out like a yo-yo? Well, the Oxo has a soft, cushioned, nonstick rubber knob that's easy to pump up and down. Third, the Maverick Remote Check meat thermometer ($40). It comes with a probe that you slide into the meat and a pager that you clip to your belt. When your meat reaches the internal temperature you want, the pager buzzes. It's a great piece of equipment to own if you don't want to hang around and stare at food while it cooks.
What kitchen tool would you give as a gift?
JB: Rival's White Mountain hand-crank ice cream maker ($160). There is something very powerful about giving something from the 19th century. Making ice cream by hand is also a fun group activity. Here's a tip: If a few of you are taking turns cranking, go first. The handle gets harder to turn as the ice cream thickens.
What is the strangest-looking kitchen tool you own?
JB: Metrokane's Rabbit corkscrew ($80).
It looks mammalian. It opens a bottle in five seconds. It's amazingly simple to use, and I love simple.
Justin Schwartz Web Site Editor
What's your favorite kitchen gadget?
JS: My Stanton chocolate chipper ($7), which looks like a lethal fork. I buy high-quality chocolate in big chunks and use the chipper to cut it up. I also love my Amco measuring cups ($15 a set), which have 2/3 and 3/4-cup sizes. Then there's my Bourgeat nonstick baking mat ($20), which works like baking parchment but lasts for a thousand uses.
What's the most underappreciated tool in your kitchen?
JS: My Foley food mill ($30). I didn't use it until last year, when I got into Creole cooking after a trip to New Orleans. After sampling a tomato-based sauce at the Praline Connection, I realized a food mill provides the perfect texture—not too chunky or too liquefied.
What gadget would you give as a gift?
JS: Cuisinart's Quick Prep immersion blender ($44). So many soup recipes tell you to use a regular blender. They say, "Pour the boiling soup into a blender, then back into the pot." You can get burned! An immersion blender lets you puree soups right in the pot.
What kitchen machines did you grow up with?
JS: My mother bought a Lewyt blender for $9 in April 1969 (she keeps notes on her kitchen purchases), a month after I was born, and still uses it. It's built like a tank.
Monika Schnacke Kitchenware Company President
Are you a gadget addict?
MS: I love tools that save time; I love Oxo's lemon zester ($6.50). But I resent gadgets that cause rather than solve problems, like salad shooters—those slicer-and-dicers advertised on TV. It's faster and easier to chop vegetables with a chef's knife.
What are your favorite kitchen tools?
MS: I'd kill anyone who tried to take away my Emsa Perfect Beaker ($8), which my company imports. It has six different standards of measurement on its side, including teaspoons, cups, ounces and milliliters. Its conical shape lets you measure a small amount of an ingredient with great accuracy. I also love my Capresso Ultima coffee and espresso maker ($300). You don't need to tamp down the coffee grinds; it's fully automated, and you can make one or two cups at the same time. It has a perfectly functioning milk frother that also provides hot water for tea.
What kitchen tools would you give as a gift?
MS: The Zyliss cheese grater ($14). It's efficient, doesn't make a mess and is easy to clean. For a pricier present, Le Creuset's Screwpull Lever wine-bottle opener ($160) is superb. You push the two wing-shaped handles together; it basically does the job itself.
How many gadgets do you have in your kitchen drawers?
MS: About 80, although only about 20 percent get regular use. I just weeded out a lot. I had three garlic presses; now I have one.