Michael Cimarusti of L.A.'s Providence cooks with Bakelite tools from the '30s and '40s.
Spoon Cook Book by Alain Ducasse This compendium of recipes from Ducasse's Spoon restaurants around the world, published in 2004, draws on ingredients from Japan to Mauritius.
El Bulli, 20032004 by Ferran Adrià "I should take Spanish classes so I can read it," says Sam Mason, pastry chef at Manhattan's WD-50. "But the pictures are ridiculously great." Worth the $210.
Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn A definitive new tome on salting, smoking and curing.
"I'm inspired by artists who use a limited palette, like painter Piet Mondrian and the White Stripes, two musicians who create an incredible sound."
—Graham Elliot Bowles, Chicago's Avenues
CHEF'S FAVORITE KITCHEN TOOLS
Fantasy Serving Pieces
Audible meals "With seafood dishes, how about delivering an iPod that plays the sound of ocean waves?" says Richard Blais of One.midtown Kitchen in Atlanta.
Always frothy Josiah Citrin of Mélisse in Santa Monica, California, would create a tureen with a built-in blender to keep soups airy.
4 Japanese Knives
1. Misono Misono's superthin blades are great for fine dicing.
2. MAC MAC's Chef series is more affordable than many Japanese knives.
3. Masamoto A favorite among chefs who work with lots of fish, like Ken Oringer of Clio in Boston.
4. Kershaw Shun The "D-shaped" handle—thicker in the middle—provides an excellent grip.
3 Great Pans
1. All-Clad Felicia Willett of Felicia Suzanne's in Memphis likes their durability.
2. Le Creuset "They're wonderful for braising," says Cory Schreiber of Wildwood in Portland, Oregon.
3. Old-Fashioned Cast-Iron Tom Douglas of Seattle's Dahlia Lounge uses his grandmother's pan.
Top $10 Gadgets
1. Peelers A wide, sturdy handle and a flexible blade make plastic peelers the most useful small kitchen gadget.
2. Citrus Reamers Easy to grip and maneuver, reamers are favored over juicers.
3. Egg Toppers Alessandro Stratta of Alex in Las Vegas loves this stainless steel tool, which removes the tops of soft-boiled eggs for an elegant presentation.
4. Paring Knives These refute the idea that the bigger the knife, the better, says Laurent Manrique of Aqua in San Francisco.
MOST INSPIRING INGREDIENTS
5 Coveted Ingredients
Prized culatello prosciutto from Armandino Batali's SALUMI in Seattle, a favorite of Bruce Logue of Vivace in Carlsbad, California ($35 per lb; 877-223-0813).
Hard-to-find Oaxacan chiles from THE CHILE GUY in Bernalillo, New Mexico, a staple of Robert Del Grande's Cafe Annie in Houston ($15 to $25 per lb; thechileguy.com).
Normandy ducks from STONE CHURCH FARM in Rifton, New York, adored by Michael White of Fiamma Osteria in Manhattan ($6 per lb; 212-717-8100).
Sake-cured caviar from BLIS CAVIAR in Ann Arbor, Michigan, prized by Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of Keyah Grande in Pagosa Springs, Colorado ($13 for 1 oz; mikuniwildharvest.com).
Heritage chickens from FICKLE CREEK FARM in Efland, North Carolina, a must for Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill (sold locally, from $3 per lb; 919-304-6287).
At Moto in Chicago, Homaro Cantu creates faux marshmallows with methylcellulose, which solidifies when warmed and liquefies when cooled.
Using this thickener made out of seaweed, Sean Brock of McCrady's in Charleston, South Carolina, creates round balls to hold heirloom-corn soup.
Paul Liebrandt of Gilt in New York City uses this tapioca derivative to make fine foie gras powder.
MUST-HAVES FOR THE PANTRY
What's your favorite baking chocolate? "I've experimented with other chocolates to break my Valrhona habit, but I keep coming back."
—Nicole Krasinski, Rubicon in San Francisco
5 Favorite Peppers
Cayenne Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan uses cayenne in almost every sauce: "A touch, so it makes flavors fuller without adding heat."
Aleppo Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate in Chicago uses this subtly hot and tangy Syrian pepper in a vinaigrette for arugula salads.
Sichuan With the ban lifted last year, the United States is finally getting authentic, pungent Sichuan peppercorns from China. Anita Lo of New York City's Annisa likes their fragrance and complexity.
Red Chile This hot pepper has a slow burn. "We use it in all our salumi [cured meats]," says Dan Latham of L&M's Kitchen & Salumeria in Oxford, Mississippi.
Piment d'Espelette Gavin Kaysen of El Bizcocho in San Diego accents Dover sole with the sweet-spicy Basque pepper.
Most Underused Spice
Chefs overwhelmingly singled out cardamom. Tory Miller of L'Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin, sneaks it in while brining pork: "It adds a floral note without being overpowering."
Most Versatile Spice
"Black pepper goes with practically everything," says Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington, DC. Karen Barker, pastry chef of Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina, likes using it in desserts.
Top Cooking Essentials
1. Olive Oil Chefs might argue over which country makes the best (Italy, France, Spain, Greece), but olive oil is their top must-have.
2. Vinegar Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco likes the flavor of extra-vecchio (aged for a minimum of 25 years) balsamic vinegar.
3. Salt Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez of Seattle's Harvest Vine uses 60 types, like a fleur de sel found near his château in Navarrenx, France.
GREAT VALUE RESTAURANTS
What kind of fast-food place would you open? "My wife and I joke that if we don't make it in New York City, we'll drive a BBQ truck along the Côte d'Azur in France and serve brisket."
—Laurent Gras, Bistro du Vent, New York City
Soup "Since it rains all the time around here, I'd open up a soup place with choices like fresh spinach with pickled morels," says Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen in Portland, Oregon.
Sandwiches Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City would make Italian sandwiches; Todd Gray of Equinox in Washington, DC, would serve hot Reubens.
Burgers Chad Robertson of Bar Tartine in San Francisco would offer homemade ketchup and freshly baked hamburger buns at his imaginary joint, Liz Burger.
Best $10 Meals
Potbelly Sandwich Works This sandwich chain got its start in an antiques store in Chicago. Now there are 110 locations in eight states. Chef Vikram Garg of IndeBleu hangs out in the 7th Street store in Washington, DC (726 7th St. NW; 202-478-0070).
Yuca's, Los Angeles Pastry chef Annie Clemmons of Cyrus in Healdsburg, California, loves the carnitas (pork) tacos at this tiny taco shack in a liquor-store parking lot. "They're 10-napkin tacos because they're so juicy and rich," she says (2056 Hillhurst Ave.; 323-662-1214).
Red Pearl Restaurant, Homewood, Alabama Chris Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama, orders the salt-roasted shrimp at this 60-seat restaurant in the back of a family-owned Asian grocery store (243 W. Valley Ave.; 205-945-9558).
Baguette Box, Seattle "Out of control," says Daisley Gordon of Seattle's Campagne about his favorite sandwich: deep-fried chicken marinated in rice wine (1203 Pine St.; 206-332-0220).
Favorite Dish of '05
Zak Pelaccio's salad of crispy pork belly and pickled watermelon at Malaysian joint Fatty Crab in New York City. "It's a cool combination of everything that's great about food."
—Brian Hill, Francine Bistro, Camden, Maine