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What Chefs Know Best 2005

When F&W wanted to find the best kitchen knife, the choicest cut of beef and the coolest food Web site, we went to the experts: chefs. We polled more than 70 of them across the country, and here's what these opinionated cooks had to say.

Produced by Kate Krader
Reported by Ratha Tep, Jen Murphy, Christine Quinlan, Jennifer Honovic and Ann Pepi

top knives

High-End

Misono The sharp, elegant Japanese-made blades are superthin and great for precision slicing and very fine dicing ($143 for a chef's knife; Korin Japanese Trading Corp.; 800-626-2172 or korin.com).

Wüsthof The nearly 200-year-old German company produces strong blades that are excellent for extensive chopping and cutting hard ingredients ($90 for a chef's knife; 800-289-9878 or wusthof.com).

MAC This Japanese company makes knives with ergonomically shaped handles that hold a good grip; the thin blades are razor-sharp ($110 for a chef's knife; 888-622-5643 or macknife.com).

Budget

R. H. Forschner Produced by Swiss Victorinox, these durable knives are extremely easy to sharpen (about $40 for a chef's knife; 800-442-2706 or swissarmy.com).

favorite cocktail

A tie between vodka martinis and margaritas on the rocks.

select steaks

(1) Rib Eye Sometimes called Delmonico, this well-marbled prime steak is exceptionally tender. (2) Top Loin Also known by regional names, like New York strip, this cut has less fat than rib eye and more flavor than filet mignon. "Top loin is so flavorful. It's a steak lover's steak," says Andrew Weissman of La Rêve in San Antonio. (3) Flat Iron This increasingly popular steak is cut from the shoulder; it's lean but still extremely tender and juicy.

What French chef do American cooks most idolize? Alain Ducasse.
"He has a crystal-clear understanding of flavors—his are stunningly simple. He blows me away."
—Chris Hastings, Hot & Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, AL

best shops

1 Korin Many chefs said Manhattan's legendary store is the only place to go for a good Japanese knife (800-626-2172).

2 JB Prince Specialty items at New York City's Prince range from tabletop fryers to ice-carving tools (800-473-0577).

3 Surfas You can buy anything from a stove to an olive pitter in this vast store in Culver City, CA (310-559-4770).

4 Sur la Table The national chain has great little gadgets and a good cookbook selection (surlatable.com).

pork belly reigns...

...but as Andrea Curto-Randazzo of Miami's Talula says, "What part of the pig isn't good?" Here's the percentage of chefs who favored each cut.

2% Tail
4% Back
2% Ribs
2% Rind
6% Shoulder
4% Head
2% Snout
7% Jowl
2% Hock
6% Trotter
7% Shank
38% Belly
5% Bacon
2% Intestines
4% Leg
7% Whole Pig

sushi hot spots

Nobu, New York City
Nobu Matsuhisa's Tribeca outpost is the top choice among chefs nationwide for its absolutely superb and inspired sushi.

Sushi of Gari, New York City
Masatoshi "Gari" Sugio's sushi may be controversial—he incorporates unexpected ingredients like Tabasco—but chefs love it.

Matsuhisa, Los Angeles
As it nears its 20th anniversary, the restaurant that started Nobu's worldwide empire is still wildly popular.

iron chef

If chefs we polled could choose their ingredient, they'd pick eggs.

picks of the pans

1 All-Clad Brand
These versatile pans distribute heat evenly. "They're as good for sautéing as for braising," says Todd Gray of Washington, D.C.'s Equinox.

2 Cast Iron
Black cast-iron pans "hold their heat superwell and pick up the seasonings you cook with—basically they take on your personality," says Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove in La Jolla, CA.

3 Blue Steel
Heat-treating steel strengthens the metal and turns it blue; these inexpensive pans sell for about $40.

favorite bistros

Balthazar, New York City
The great menu and late closing time at Balthazar make it the most popular bistro among chefs, like Hubert Keller of San Francisco's Fleur de Lys. "It's crowded, everyone knows it, and I still love it."

Bouchon, Yountville, CA
This Adam Tihany-designed place offers sublime steak frites and lemon tart. It's a destination for Michael Mina of Michael Mina in San Francisco. "Everything there is my favorite dish," he says.

home stoves

1 Viking
Chefs choose the Mississippi-made stove for its durability. "I've had mine for many, many years—it's the work horse," says Terrance Brennan of Manhattan's Picholine (vikingrange.com).

2 Wolf
This stove has a great heat range, from low to blistering hot for searing. "The only thing I'd change about my Wolf is I'd get one twice as big," says Kevin Rathbun of Atlanta's Rathbun's (subzero.com).

3 (Tie) Electrolux + Thermador
Several chefs said these deluxe stoves that they have at home work better than the professional ones in their restaurants (thermador.com and electrolux.com).

best value

"I serve all my soups tableside in $13 Ikea French presses; they stay nice and hot."
—Gabriel Frasca, Spire, Boston

What chef is also the ideal cooking teacher? Thomas Keller.
"He's so detail-oriented and technically sound. His recipes are flawless. I've never forced myself to perfect some of the basics—to get them down to a science. But now I wish I could learn how to create simple, impeccable dishes. Thomas Keller is the guru of that."
—Graham Elliot Bowles, Avenues, Chicago

ideal paris bistro

Classic L'Ami Louis (32 Rue du Vert Bois; 011-33-1-48-87-77-48).

culinary web sites

egullet.com > Chefs like Ethan Stowell at Seattle's Union use it to keep up with all the restaurant gossip.

ebay.com > Hugely popular for buying equipment and funky serving dishes. It's where Milwaukee's Sanford D'Amato found antique chocolate molds for his new bakery, Harlequin.

pochesfish-n-camp.com > Donald Link at New Orleans' Herbsaint gets his tasso and andouille from this Cajun specialty food purveyor.

new ingredients

Trout Roe
Faced with a restricted supply of caviar, chefs like Stuart Brioza at Rubicon in San Francisco are serving inexpensive but tasty trout roes such as steelhead.

Peppadews
These sweet, piquant South African peppers are the size of cherry tomatoes; Bob Iacovone at Restaurant Cuvée in New Orleans stuffs them with goat cheese.

Sassafras
Graham Eliot Bowles at Chicago's Avenues uses this aromatic leaf—a primary flavoring in root beer—to spike his barbecue sauces.

Percebes
Also called goose-necked barnacles, these crustaceans, a favorite of Gabriel Frasca at Boston's Spire, have the alluring taste of mussels.

Hawaiian Fish
Chef Laurent Gras is passionate about firm-fleshed varieties like bonito and escolar as well as delicate and sweet opakapaka, or pink snapper, which are increasingly available on the mainland, thanks to improved shipping.

Vadouvan
This Indian spice mix, which includes curry leaves, fenugreek, mustard seeds and garlic, is complex and pleasantly pungent; Ludovic Lefebvre of Los Angeles's Bastide likes it as a seasoning for Maine lobster.

iPod mania

One standout piece of equipment? Two-thirds of the chefs we polled about music use the iPod to control their restaurant's sound system.

"We have guest iPod nights—customers come in and get cradle time. We usually play my iPod, which has about 8,000 songs. We've memorized them."
—Julie Taras, Little Giant, New York City

"We have a DJ who programs our iPod and plays at the restaurant on Friday nights."
—Kerry Simon, Simon Kitchen & Bar, Las Vegas

big cheeses

#1 Parmesan
Parmigiano-Reggiano's rich, sharp flavor and versatility—in everything from risotto to antipasti—make it popular. "I use it everywhere. I use it like salt," says Rick Tramonto of Chicago's Tru.

#2 Blue
Every chef has a favorite blue cheese, from California's tart Point Reyes Original Blue to Iowa's peppery Maytag Blue to New Zealand's creamy Windsor Blue.

last call

Almost 25% of the chefs we polled about hard liquor don't drink it.

cool tools

Four pieces of equipment that chefs prize, from futuristic to centuries-old.

1 Immersion Blender
This handheld blender emulsifies sauces, aerates foams and adds volume to crème fraîche.

2 Vita-Prep Blender
Because of its high speed, the countertop Vita-Prep can crush ice, grind meat and even mill grain.

3 Cryovac
These machines, which seal food in airtight bags, are essential for sous-vide cooking (poaching in hot-water baths).

4 Mortar + Pestle
One of the oldest kitchen tools is still essential for crushing herbs and spices.

#1 kitchen shoe

Dansko's Professional clogs come in five colors for men and 16 for women (800-326-7564).

top trattoria

Lupa, New York City
Lupa Osteria Romana was overwhelmingly chosen as America's top trattoria by chefs from Atlanta to Las Vegas.

"It's the quintessential trattoria. They do an unbelievable job of marrying chaos with incredibly authentic cuisine. All the pastas are so great, and some of the dishes are just like they make for you in Rome. Except that you've got the energy of being in New York City and they're playing The Clash."
—Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix

Most food-friendly wine? Champagne, brut or rosé.
"It's my default wine—acidic, light, crisp and good with lamb, fish, everything. There are other food-friendly wines, but Champagne is Champagne."
—Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Chicago

favorite salts

1 Fleur de Sel
Its mineral richness makes this French Brittany-coast salt the most popular.

2 Kosher
This inexpensive, widely available coarse-grained salt has a clean taste.

3 Maldon
These flat crystals that look like snowflakes have a mild salty flavor.

4 Sel Gris
Colored by the clay it's harvested from, this salt is moist and large grained.

5 Hawaii Pink
Volcanic minerals turn this salt pink and give it a singular mellow flavor.

Published July 2005
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