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Nine amazing kitchen gadgets from Toronto’s restaurant kitchens

Nine amazing kitchen gadgets from Toronto's restaurant kitchens

We’re all for home-cooked meals and comfort food, but let’s face it: people go to restaurants to order stuff they can’t duplicate at home without the right skill set, equipment or the $625 to buy Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine cookbook. We talked to nine Toronto chefs about their weird, famous or indispensable food-making gizmo.

Here’s a slide show of the results »

Hodo Kwaja’s walnut cake machine

What is it? A large conveyor belt oven that churns out little walnut-shaped cakes with assorted fillings. How does it work? Batter is squeezed into two halves of a walnut-shaped mould, followed by the filling. The halves are brought together and baked while going around the conveyor belt and being dumped into a cooling rack. The entire process takes about four minutes. A different mould is used in the morning to make madeleines. Advantages: Owner Jong Sik Lee says the walnut cake machine cranks out 1,500 cakes in an hour—obviously much faster than the hand-made method that became unpopular as soon as the machine was introduced in Korea 30 years ago. Limitations: Only one kind of filling and mould can be used at once. Get a taste: Six walnut cakes cost $1.50, a box of 32 is $7, and a big box of 66 costs $14.

Hodo Kwaja, 656 Bloor St. W. (at Manning Ave.), 416-538-1208.

Colborne Lane’s liquid nitrogen

What is it? Nitrogen in a liquid state. How does it work? At minus 210 degrees Celsius, liquid nitrogen quickly brings down the temperature of anything it touches, meaning it can freeze anything within minutes. We’ve all seen demonstrations of scientists dropping a banana into a vat of the stuff and then shattering it, but at Colborne Lane, liquid nitrogen is used to make ice creams, sorbets, ice coffees, frozen dressings and squiggly garnishes. Advantages: Liquid nitrogen works faster than a conventional freezer. Also, did we mention how cool it looks? Limitations: Not everything can be zapped with liquid nitrogen (imagine dumping a steak in it), so don’t expect a four-course meal cooked exclusively with the stuff. Also, touching it with wet hands could lead to cold burns. Get a taste: The nitro ice cream ($11) is prepared right at the guests’ tables. During our visit, chef de cuisine Andrew Wilson brought out a decanter of mango purée mixed with a bit of simple syrup and poured it into a metal bowl of bubbling liquid nitrogen. After a minute or two of mixing, we had a summery mango sorbet.

Colborne Lane, 45 Colborne St. (at Church St.), 416-368-9009, colbornelane.com.

Sam James Coffee Bar’s siphon coffee maker

What is it? Although it looks like something bought from a chemist’s haunted yard sale, this old brewing machine dates back to the mid-19th-century. It consists of two glass vessels, a glass tube, a filter and a heat source, such as an open flame. How does it work? A flame boils water in the bottom chamber until the pressure forces it up a tube and into the top chamber, where the fine coffee grounds are. The coffee is then stirred for a minute, and once it’s brewed, the heat is removed from the bottom chamber. The coffee is sucked back down through a filter that traps the grounds and oil from the beans. Advantages: Coffee that tastes unlike any other. It has a deep espresso flavour but the consistency of tea, making it easier on the stomach and rendering sugar and milk unnecessary. Limitations: The time and effort required to make one cup means it’s not the best thing to order during the rush hour. Get a taste: A cup of siphon coffee is $5.31 for a small and $7.96 for a large.

Sam James Coffee Bar, 297 Harbord St. (at Manning Ave.), 647-341-2572, samjamescoffeebar.com.

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Lucien’s caviar dropper

What is it? This contraption turns liquids into individual droplets that have the look and consistency of caviar. How does it work? Chef Scot Woods prepares a mixture of puréed roasted red peppers, carrot, simple syrup, salt, paprika and the crucial ingredient: sodium alginate. The mixture is sucked into a mould with the help of a syringe. He then slowly pushes out drops of the liquid into a container of calcium chloride, which reacts with the sodium alginate to form a film around the droplet, creating little balls of puréed pepper or “caviar.” After a minute or so, the caviar is put into a water bath to get rid of the bitter calcium chloride taste. The caviar will keep its shape for 24 hours. Advantages: It keeps diners wondering how it’s done (unless they read this). Limitations: Woods says that liquids with high acid content, like alcohol or citrus, cannot be made into caviar because the shape won’t hold. Get a taste: The bincho grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, house-made chorizo, pimento, arugula and olive ($15) contains a few drops of the man-made caviar.

Lucien, 36 Wellington St. E. (at Leader Ln.), 416-504-9990, lucienrestaurant.com.

Little Nicky’s automatic doughnut maker

What is it? Remember those big doughnut machines at theme parks and midways? Well, this is the scaled-down, countertop version. How does it work? Owner Renee Bonise flips a switch, and the machine basically does all the work. A nozzle plops out O-shaped dough from the mixing bowl, and the little doughnuts cook while traveling along a conveyor belt immersed in hot oil. After 90 seconds of cooking, the conveyor belt drops the freshly cooked doughnuts into a rotating cooling bowl. Sprinkle on some icing sugar and they’re good to go. Advantages: The machine does small batches, meaning all doughnuts are made to order, guaranteeing that every little O is piping hot and chewy. Limitations: There isn’t really anything wrong with the machine itself; it’s just that seeing the doughnuts get a hot oil bath reminded us that it’s probably best to limit ourselves to one bag. Get a taste: Six doughnuts are $2.75, and a dozen costs $4. Choose from regular icing sugar, chocolate and cinnamon.

Little Nicky’s Coffee, 375 Queen St. W. (at Peter St.), 416-260-0500.

Cowbell’s vacuum sealer and immersion circulator

What is it? Two machines necessary for the sous-vide cooking technique: cooking food in vacuum-sealed bags submerged in hot water. How does it work? Cuts of meat are first sealed in a vacuum pack and then dunked into an immersion chamber filled with water heated to a specific temperature until it’s cooked. Advantages: It’s a very precise cooking method, since the temperature of the water can be set to one-tenth of a degree. The meat also cooks more evenly than it would under standard heating, and the chef can focus on other things in the kitchen while the meat’s taking its bath. Limitations: Sadly, dishes requiring a crispy texture cannot be made this way. Chef Mark Cutrara tried to make duck confit once, but since there’s no way for the moisture in the duck fat to escape, it turned out a flabby mess. One other problem is aesthetics: when cooking a steak, Cutrara will sometimes sear it after the sous-vide process just to get the grill marks. Get a taste: The menu changes constantly, but steak is a good choice.

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Cowbell, 1564 Queen St. W. (at Sorauren Ave.), 416-849-1095, cowbellrestaurant.ca.

Crafted’s cold drip coffee machine

What is it? A coffee maker that produces a slow coffee concentrate using distilled water and ice cubes. A single drop of coffee goes into the pot every two to three seconds. How does it work? Distilled ice cubes and water are placed into the top vessel, where water drips every two seconds into the middle vessel that houses the coffee grounds. The water soaks the grounds and goes through a filter, around a coil and into the coffee pot. Advantages: The harsher oils aren’t brought out, producing a mild, almost chocolaty taste. The coffee also has 60 to 70 per cent less acidity. Limitations: It takes up to eight hours to make one pot, so once it’s gone for the day, it’s gone. One portion is made overnight, and another is made during the day. Get a taste: It’s $4 for six ounces; co-owner Jessie Wilkins recommends drinking it straight up without any sugar or milk.

Crafted by Te Aro, 135 Ossington Ave. (at Argyle St.), te-aro.ca.

C5’s smoking gun

What is it? A hand-held device that gives a deep, smoky flavour to foods that cannot be placed in a conventional smoker. How does it work? Chef Ted Corrado puts cherry wood chips into the tiny compartment at the top of a gun and lights it with a match. A fan at the back of the gun blows the smoke out through the barrel. Advantages: Portability and ability to smoke things like octopus and mayonnaise. Limitations: The smoke lasts for a few seconds, so Corrado has to work fast. Get a taste: C5’s sharing plates ($13-$15 per person) contain the tasty smoked mayonnaise. C5, ROM, 100 Queen’s Park (at Bloor St. W.), 416-586-7928, c5restaurant.ca.

Pizzeria Libretto’s masonry oven

What is it? A 5,000-pound wood-burning oven made in Naples by a third-generation pizza maker. In order for a pizza to be certified Neapolitan, it has to be baked inside this kind of oven. How does it work? The heat from burning firewood placed at the side of the oven is trapped inside, allowing temperatures to reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (Libretto keeps it at a more comfy 850 to 900 degrees). The pizza is loaded into the oven through an opening in the front, rotated a few times, then pulled out after a mere 90 seconds. The oven is so hot that it’s still at 500 degrees the morning after dinner service. Advantages: The smoky taste trumps pizzas made in a gas or electric oven. Limitations: There are a number of factors the cook has to consider when operating the oven: how much wood to put in to maintain the temperature, how often to rotate the pizza to ensure it cooks evenly, and how many pizzas could be put into the oven without bringing the heat down too much (up to three pizzas are cooked at the same time). Get a taste: Pizzas go from $10 for a basic marinara to $17 for the famed duck confit version.

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Pizzeria Libretto, 221 Ossington Ave. (at Dundas St. W.), 416-532-8000, pizzerialibretto.com.

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