I know what you’re asking. “Who?” Alton Brown is actually a host of a show on Food Network, Good Eats. (Actually, I should say former show, since it was recently announced that Alton did not renew his contract with Food Network for the show.) I liked his show because it appealed to my geeky engineering side. I suspect many people in video game sound design are like me in that we enjoy the artistic outlet from the creative nature of our work, but we also think like an engineer when it comes to problem solving and technical implementation. So, while reading up a bit more on the history of the show, I discovered that AB had written a book before his show launched, called Gear for your Kitchen.
So why, on my automotive blog, am I talking about a cooking book? Well, in the introduction of the blog, is a pair of great tips for life that I definitely think everyone should consider.
The first deals with organizing and prioritizing equipment you already have.
Clear one large drawer, a cabinet or shelf, and a portion of your pot rack if you have one. If you don’t have a proper storage system for your knives, get one. Then, every time you use a tool (including pots and pans, all hand tools, and knives) put it away in one of those cleared areas. If you run out of room make more but under no circumstances allow the used and unused to mingle. Live and cook like this for sixty days.
After sixty days, pull out everything that hasn’t been used and evaluate. Specialty tools such as waffle irons, ice cream makers, party gear, and seasonal stuff like canning gear should be labeled with a piece of masking tape marked with the date and re-stored. Everything else goes. Sell it, donate it, give it to a friend but get it out of there, and fast. If you find that sentimental attachment prevents the dumping of certain artifacts, fine. Aunt Margaret’s rotary ice crusher can go live with the other family memorabilia or better still, another family member who isn’t interested in kitchen evolution. Is this a painful process? A little. I hated to see the salmon steamer go. But I’ve found since that on the rare occasion when I do steam a salmon, heavy-duty foil does the job just fine. I also said “sayonara” to a duck press, several tart pans, and a beautiful French gratin that had been used once then abandoned because it was too hard to clean.
The items you marked with tape are on six-month probation. If any remain unused after that time, banish them. So, if you really like your ice cream maker, or pasta maker, or ricer, you have to use it or lose it. I make fresh pasta at least twice a year if for no other reason but that I don’t want to give up the pasta maker.
The next step is to weed out redundancies among those items that survived the first elimination round. Pick up every single tool and ask it these questions:
* What do you do?
* Do I have another tool that could do your job as well if not better?
If the answer is yes — banish it. Once the second round of eliminations is done, you must ask the remaining tools the following:
* Are you well constructed and designed for the job for which you are intended?
If the answer is yes, then the item stays; if it’s no, you dump the rubbish and go shopping for something better.
Now, while AB is obviously talking about cooks and their cooking gear, I feel like this methodology should also apply to sound production professionals and the spaces in which they work. AB first offers some great tips for deciding how to evaluate the equipment that we already have, and then how to decipher needs for gear we need to acquire, in order to make sure we are getting the absolute best for our buck. He is advising taking a good, deep look at the stuff we use and thinking about why it’s important. I’m sure we’ve all come across a person who hoards microphones or acquires every plugin under the sun. Ultimately, though, it’s about the product we make, not the tools we use to make it.
Continuing, he writes:
Although you don’t have to buy the shiniest, latest version of every cooking tool (in fact, I recommend that you don’t). Your gear should be designed to best perform the tasks that will be required of them for as long as you think you’ll need them. In this light, spending a few hundred bucks or more on a chef’s knife is not unreasonable. Nor is spending a few minutes to thoughtfully evaluate something as inexpensive and mundane as a vegetable peeler.
Besides saving money and space,
the process outlined above will force you to think, evaluate, and develop. As your arsenal diminishes, your reliance on other items increases. I find it almost impossible to function without the drywall tape tool that I use as a bench scraper. I break out in hives if I misplace my spring-loaded tongs — that’s why I have three pairs of them, which I now have room for because I ditched the garlic press and the zester. At present time, I own fewer tools, and fewer pots and pans than I have ever had. But they are all top quality and, in some cases, quite expensive.
After you’ve done a thorough spring cleaning of your existing kitchen toolbox, make it a habit to ask yourself why you need the tool before purchasing. It should either perform a task that no tool currently in your collection can, or do it so much better that it deserves a place in the lineup.
Although each of the tools listed here must be considered on its own merits, there are some general tool paradigms I hold to be true.
1. The fewer parts the better. Not only do fewer parts mean less breakage, it means less joints for dirt, grime, and food to lodge in. In the case of identical part counts I look at the specific design. If a tool must have numerous parts — say, a food mill or pasta machine– choose those that disassemble for easy cleaning. Pasta may not be that much of a danger when it comes to food sanitation, but what about a can opener? If you can’t clean it easily, it’s a problem waiting to happen.
2. Tools must be comfortable to use. Quality won’t matter a whit if the target tool doesn’t interface with the rest of the system, meaning you. Never buy a tool that you cannot handle, feel, play with, and if possible, use in the store. (I know of a few stores that provide “test-drive stations” with various foodstuffs available for testing purposes — a very good idea.) Again, repeat after me: a great tool that doesn’t fit my hand isn’t a great tool. Okay, glad we got that cleared up.
3. Do some research. This book will help evaluate tools –I hope–but the best places to turn for specific brand and model recommendations as well as specific comparisons are word of mouth and periodicals such as Consumer Reports and Cooks Illustrated, which don’t accept advertising. I don’t always agree with them, but their aim is true.
4 .Don’t fall for marketing ploys no matter how traditional their reasoning may be. Do not give credence to sales people who hit you over the head with words you don’t understand or foggy concepts. If they say their widget is better because it has XXX, then don’t buy into the rap unless they can explain to you what that means.
Example: Knife experts love to wax poetic about “full tang” design, which means that one solid piece of metal was used from one end of the knife to the other. If I’m getting ready to go into battle I would most certainly want my sword to be full tang, but if the most violent task I’m about to encounter in the kitchen is cutting through a chicken, I can think of about six characteristics of a knife that are more important.
While quite a bit of that is kitchen-laden speak, it should be rather easy to see the parallels to sound production equipment. Less broken gear means less downtime, and the easier to maintain the less time we spend doing maintenance and the more we spend making money. Tools that work intuitively and comfortably are going to be more likely to be used, and the work done with that tool will be done more efficiently. He also reminds us that the “best tool” might not be the “best tool” for us, which is especially apparent in vehicle production — we can’t just take our favorite large diaphragm condenser microphone and stick it near the car and expect a good sound. Point 4 goes along with trade magazines and their reviews, but in such a technology-laden industry it’s also a reminder that it’s important for us as engineers to keep knowledgeable and current with developing technologies.
These life-simplification techniques can apply to many other parts of our lives, too. Think about your clothes closet and how much neater it would be if you only had the clothes you wear in it, for example.
Anyway, just wanted to share this tidbit of good advice with the world. The rest of the book is good for anyone trying to figure out their kitchen needs, too.