As mentioned in my last post, my wife S is writing her doctoral thesis on celebrity chefs. As you can imagine, she keeps pretty up to date on the latest comings and goings of these famous foodies. It helps that we’re fans of several of them. We buy their books; watch their TV shows; read about them in magazines and newspapers; and try to recreate some of their better recipes. But the one thing we usually draw the line at is buying their branded merchandise (with, for S, the exception of Nigella’s stuff). Too often, these tools are simply ways to pad these celebrities’ already bulging bank accounts and not the kind of things you’d actually use in the kitchen.
S and I, though, are obsessive kitchen tool shopaholics. Whenever and wherever we are, and especially when we’re travelling, we try to suss out cool kitchen stores. We’re always on the look-out for cool or well-made equiptment that isn’t available in our home town. One of the things we’ve (sadly) realized that we can’t easily find here in Singapore are good quality wooden spoons. You would think that given how essential wooden spoons are in cooking, high quality ones should be easy to find anywhere. Amazingly, they’re not. Too many times, the spoons we’ve found at our local neighborhood department stores or kitchen supply stores are cheap and poorly made. And, as expected, even the ones branded by famous foodies, are less than perfect.
Case in point, S recently bought a wooden spoon endorsed by Donna Hay. While she had high hopes for it, after rinsing it and washing it just once, we discovered that water had seeped through the wood. Suffice it to say that the spoon ended up in the trash.
So we were pretty surprised recently when we checked out the range of wooden spoons and other tools that are being sold under Mario Batali’s The Italian Kitchen brand. I’m a big fan of Batali. When I lived in the West Village in New York City, I loved going to Po and ordering his amazing US$25, 5-course pasta dinner. (These days, when visiting my old hometown, I love eating at Lupa, the cool, casual trattoria on Thompson Street.) Despite my inclination for his food, I have to admit that when I first heard that Batali was launching a line of cookware, I was a tad skeptical. But after taking a really close look at some of his products, I have to say that I am impressed. The wooden tools, made from beechwood, are really well made. The handles have a nice thumb groove, making them really comfortable to hold and use. The spoon especially is nice. The edges are nice and fine, making it easy to scoop things up and the impression is actually deep enough to hold the things you want to scoop. It’s also nice that the branding is very subtle. Batali’s name is engraved in small letters on the back of the spoon’s handle.
Hopefully, this is a good step for other celebrity chefs. The worst thing is to be let down by the people we admire. And selling inferior products to one’s fans just to make a quick buck is hardly respectable. I’m happy I’ve found these tools. I intend to try out some of Batali’s other cookware over the next couple of weeks; I’m very turned on by his panini press and risotto pan. I can only hope they are as well-made and useful as these wooden tools have turned out to be.