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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
7 Dec 2003

Professional chefs differ from their amateur counterparts in many respects but in researching which new set of kitchen pans to buy I came across another major distinction.

While we at home cook in our own kitchens, professionals, with the singular exception of the small band of chef/proprietors, cook in other people's, in the main those of restaurateurs or hoteliers.

And this has an enormous impact on the equipment they use because invariably it is bought by others. Chefs will walk into any kitchen, new or old, already fully equipped and although there are obviously professional preferences, particularly for wonderful looking, wonderfully effective but heavy copper pans they will begin to use equipment that they themselves will not have personally chosen.

Now, after 22 years of burning my hands on hot handles and searching in vain for missing lids, I was in the market for pans which had to meet four vital criteria.

Firstly, the handles had to be heat resistant. Secondly, the lids had to be a perfect fit and equally importantly the bases of the pans had to be thick enough to be able to cope with dishes which required quick sautéing but also would allow the gentle, slow cooking that is vital for producing risotto and stocks. Finally, I wanted them to last.

After considerable research I settled on a stainless steel frying pan, casserole dish (which goes on the gas and in the oven) and a large stock pot (that will be used for parboiling enough roast potatoes for 17 on Christmas morning) out of the Elysée range from Cuisinox at a total cost of £406. Made in France, Cuisinox offers a vast range of pots and pans of all sizes which work on all types of ovens (www.ictc.co.uk for UK sales) and come with a 25-year guarantee.

So far they have met all my criteria. My food may not yet be quite as flavourful - there is a theory which I subscribe too that pans need time to lose their polish and collect flavour and the odd bash - but it's not bad. And I have not burnt my hands.

And what has gone into these pans over the past fortnight has never been more professionally prepared thanks to an electric Nirey KE280 knife sharpener, made in Taiwan and sold by www.knifewizardltd.co.uk at £165 plus p&p plus VAT.

This is not a beautiful machine but far, far more effective than any sharpening block or steel. It works quickly and simply too once you have got the hang of presenting any knife, including Global, to the grooves which sharpen each side.

The knife sharpener so impressed Chris Woodcock that he came out of retirement to market them believing that he would be selling them to restaurants for their chefs to use. But because restaurateurs expect chefs to own and look after their own knives they have not so far shown any interest. Instead, a much more discerning customer has appeared in the shape of the country's butchers who sharpen their knives four or five times a day.

Chefs know their produce and their recipes. But I am far from convinced that this professional knowledge extends to the equipment an amateur kitchen requires.