December 2008 Issue
Whether you’re putting out a holiday feast or just dinner for two, having the right kitchen tool for the job is a must. Here, a few of our favorite Ohio-made things.
Last year Ohio Magazine launched an ongoing feature we call “In the Kitchen With...” The series takes our readers into the home kitchens of the state’s best chefs, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen tools these experts prefer when they’re on their home turf.
And while we’ve discovered that no two chefs think alike, one point on which these kitchen gurus can always agree is that investing in the right equipment, even if it costs a bit more, makes time spent in the kitchen a lot more enjoyable.
For that reason, we decided to compile a list of chef’s picks for Ohio-made cooking essentials. From a $20 paring knife handcrafted by the Warther Knife Factory to a $649 Deluxe Vita-Mix 5200, read on for the hot line on all the best kitchen tools made here in the Buckeye State.
Lehman’s Reading 78 Apple Peeler, $129.95
If fall in your kitchen means apple pies, apple turnovers and jars and jars of applesauce, this tool might be your white knight. Just ask Peter Sterk, owner of Just Pies in Columbus. For the first 10 years of his 30-year pie-making career, Sterk and his crew peeled countless bushels of pie apples with this hand-cranked apple peeler from Lehman’s in Kidron.
“There it is,” he says, patting the machine like an old friend. Surrounded by Sterk’s modern appliances, the cast-iron peeler seems straight out of Little House on the Prairie
. But watch a perfectly coiled apple peel fall to the floor in less than five seconds and you’ll understand why its design hasn’t changed since its 1878 origins in a Reading, Pennsylvania, machine shop. Lehman’s liked it so much it purchased the company.
Using the peeler is simple: just spear the stem end of the apple with the prongs and crank the handle. The machine anticipates how many turns it needs, and ejects the apple once it’s peeled (Lehman’s Web site has a video demonstration). “Ours held up really well, despite the abuse,” Sterk says. “We always had three or four of them around and we would rotate out parts when we wore them out.”
Still, as turbo as it makes the peeling process, there are a few glitches. “Older and softer apples have a tendency to fall off pretty easily,” Sterk says. “There’s not much you can do about it, except put the apples on as centered as possible.”
Though demand forced Just Pies to switch to prepeeled apples years ago, Sterk hasn’t lost his touch. Sliding a Gala onto the three-pronged end, he gives the handle a quick whirl, skinning the fruit in about three seconds.
“Practice,” he grins.
Warther Cutlery 3-inch paring knife, $20; 9-inch French chef knife, $69.50
“The first thing I do when I pick up a knife is find the balance point,” says Michael Petruso, executive sous chef at Eddie Merlot’s restaurant in Columbus, steadying the base of the gleaming 9-inch blade on his index finger. “From there I grip the blade with my thumb and index finger and wrap my hand around the handle to see how the knife feels in my hand.”
For Petruso and Eddie Merlot’s executive chef Geoff Kelly, quality knives are must haves, and both have an innate sense of what they’re looking for in this basic kitchen tool. After working over a few onions, potatoes and other vegetables, it was clear that these kitchen knives from the Warther Knife Factory in Dover met their criteria.
Warther has been making its high-carbon steel knives for 106 years. Marketing director Kyle Moreland says no automated machinery is used, and each knife receives nine hand grindings and polishings, which helps it maintain a sharp edge longer than stainless-steel knives.
Kelly and Petruso agree that the chef’s knife would work well for filleting fish, chopping vegetables and slicing the nearly 120 pounds of onions they use to make the restaurant’s weekly supply of onion soup.
“I like the finish,” adds Kelly, eyeing Warther’s trademark concentric circle pattern on the blade’s surface, which keeps the knife looking newer longer. “And the thin blade makes it easy to make finer cuts,” he adds, slicing the flesh off a tomato peel to turn it into a rosette. “I like how the blade extends into the handle, too,” says Petruso. “It’s all one piece of metal, instead of two pieces forged together, so it’s stronger, and the handle (made from Vermont birch) is really solid.”
While these knives get two thumbs up from Kelly and Petruso, both are ambivalent about filling their knife bags with the rest of the company’s line. “A chef and pairing knife are all you really need,” says Petruso. “Anything beyond that is just chefs being kids.”
Hartstone Pottery Stoneware Baking Stones, $26–$35
Stoneware is a hard ceramic ware that, as many of us have discovered during the past decade, outshines any metal cookie sheet for crisping up a pizza in your oven. This stoneware line from Hartstone Pottery in Zanesville first came to our attention via one of the in-store chefs at the Andersons General Store in Worthington, who says she uses Hartstone’s pizza stone to bake everything from chocolate chip cookies to mini beef Wellingtons. We conducted a few tests of our own with the muffin pan, and were most impressed by the lack of clean-up involved with these naturally stick-resistant pans.
The beauty of these baking stones lies in their utility. The material excels at heat distribution, so uneven heating is never a problem, and unlike other stones whose porous surfaces make soap an enemy, Hartstone’s is “fully vitrified” (nonporous), says Tessie Wilson, director of customer service and administration, so the entire line can go from the freezer, to the oven or microwave, then straight into the dishwasher. We also like that the pieces are handmade — Wilson says the company makes its own clay and molds and hand forms each item, a process that takes about 12 hours per piece. The line includes cookie sheets and other bakeware, but the pizza stone is our favorite for form and function.
This uber blender has no shortage of chef endorsements, including one from famed Cleveland chef Michael Symon, and has become a household name since the Cleveland-based company hit the market more than 85 years ago. “It’s never been a question of does it work, so much as is it worth the money [for home cooks],” says Chef Candy Argondizza, the lead chef coordinator for the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan.
While the hefty price tag has some budget-conscious cooks concluding that it’s an overpriced want (prices start at $450; $300 for refurbished machines), not a need, nearly all of the 15 Ohio chefs we surveyed have one in their home. Joe Skeen, the kitchen manager for a catering company in Columbus, joked that not owning one would be like cutting grass with a lawn mower at work, then going home and switching to scissors.
As regular users of the Super 5200 model, we can attest to its workhorse status. A Vita-Mix does everything from grind up meats to make ice cream, to turn whole grains into flour to puree fruit — skins and all — into creamy smoothies. During soup season, we couldn’t live without it.
If you’d like to test drive a machine, the company is a regular at home shows around the state (consult Vita-Mix’s Web site for a schedule). But with this much evidence confirming its worthiness, maybe the best question to ask yourself is, “Will I use it?”
KitchenAid Stand Mixer, $199 and up
Another Ohio-made product that needs no introduction, the KitchenAid stand mixer, which turns 90 next year, has become just as popular with professional chefs as home cooks. The Greenville-made appliance converts to a pasta maker, sausage stuffer, food grinder, juicer and even ice cream maker via its optional attachments.
But its history is as interesting as its versatility. The first stand mixer hit the market in 1919 (weighing in at a whopping 65 pounds — and it was sold door to door), and all modern attachments can be used with this original model. Petal pink, sunny yellow and island green were among the mixer’s first batch of trademark trendy colors; today consumers can choose from more than 20 hues including green apple and boysenberry.
We think it’s impressive that something made in Ohio has changed the way people cook for so many years (early users included Henry Ford and Ginger Rogers). And while the company has grown to international proportions, we hear it still maintains its small-town sense of customer service. “My 87-year-old grandfather (who is also a chef) does all of his own baking at home,” says Petruso. “He’s had his KitchenAid forever, and when parts wear out, he keeps sending it back, and they keep fixing it,” he says.