The most high-tech, high-priced gadgets don’t cut the mustard, says Tasmanian chef Don Cameron, whose prize possessions are a spatula, a wok, and a mortar and pestle. By Nicole Azzopardi
Self-confessed “ham fist,” Nigella Lawson says she can’t cope without her Mezzaluna for elegant and safe chopping. Renowned British chef Gary Rhodes likes to use his coffee grinder when crushing dried spices, while Aussie entrepreneur Bill Granger goes for his Microplane grater for creating chocolate curls.
Whether it’s the latest gizmos that get you going or good old-fashioned manual labour, a well chosen range of culinary gadgets can be a make-or-break when it comes to producing well executed, beautifully presented food.
Don Cameron of Stillwater, located at the Cataract Gorge in Launceston, considers himself to be fairly old school when it comes to working in his kitchen with his staff of 40. However, the owner and head chef is attached to a few gadgets that have also helped to bring the 60-seat restaurant the AHA/RCA’s Tasmanian Restaurant of the Year in 2005.
“The cake mixer was the first gadget I ever came across,” Cameron says. “When I was a kid, the old Sunbeam was a pretty amazing thing, and it’s still nostalgic for me. Our kitchen is not about whizzbang. Sure, we use blenders and Bamixes, but a lot of our stuff is done by hand, which takes more time and is probably not that cost effective, but boy, it sure makes good food.”
Instead, Cameron opts for simplicity when taking his restaurant from a busy breakfast spot by day to fusion food experience by night, relying on gadgets that help him get closer to the food, rather than leaving the appliances to do the work for him. “All the tools we use here don’t compromise any of our practices, they are easy to clean and have the work done in a flash,” he says.
Relying heavily on the ancient Thai kitchen utensil, Cameron pounds coriander, coconut, Vietnamese mint, garlic, chilli and lemongrass to complement his butter-roasted blue-eye trevalla dish served as one of his signature dishes on Stillwater’s modern menu.
“The mortar and pestle helps to turn the herbs and spices into a beautiful sauce, and when warmed you have this fresh Asian flavour. You can almost throw away the fish and eat the sauce.”
A lime zester is also a prize possession in the Stillwater kitchen. “It’s our left-hand tool,” says Cameron. “They are great little things, and we use ours all day. Our limes go on to a whiting dish, which has a dashi custard and has a lime grilled whiting on it. We also use it for our crayfish, which we serve with a lime beurre blanc.”
Cameron also relies on the Japanese slicing mandolin to reduce time and give dishes the freshest presentation possible. “This product gives great consistency. It’s very sharp, but requires much less elbow grease than doing it by hand,” he says.
“Being in Tasmania, I like to take our customers on a bit of a trip. In the winter, our local clientele come out—it gets dark and cold so we give them Asian salads. We like to have our ginger and herbs done freshly, and we use the mandolin to cut our own vegetable noodles. With the right wine it’s beautiful, and our locals love it.”
A wok is another staple back-of-house item used for stocks, sauce preparation and searing. “It’s heavy duty black steel, and a real old bash-’em-up situation. They last so long,” he says.
The spatula for service may seem obvious, but Cameron says he is never without it. “Keep your finger out of it—lift your food gently,” he advises. “It’s a fabulous way of getting food to the plate without wrecking it. It’s quick and easy.”
The tamis is the last item to make Cameron’s top-five favourite gadget list. Everything from ice cream to pasta sauce is pushed through its super fine mesh. “This helps my purée come out ulta-smooth. It’s about using tools like this to refine a product or making it shine before sending it out.”
Cameron is quick to point out that high-quality food can only be produced with consistent and careful supervision. “It’s a case of doing it by hand—tasting it each day rather than doing it by bulk. One of the hardest things to teach chefs is to not lose touch with the food.
“They’ve got to taste their food every day, and often you can’t hurry things with the latest and greatest electrical goods,” he says. “Gadgets can be great, but you can’t take shortcuts. If you did, you wouldn’t last long.”