By Chef Richard Blais, Restaurateur, Cookbook Author, and Winner of Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars
It’s no secret that I like to experiment in the kitchen. I love using contemporary food science and modern tools to deconstruct our favorite foods and present them in surprising ways, so they’re at once familiar and totally new. In addition to fresh produce and quality proteins, my kitchen is stocked with substances that sound as if they belong in a science lab—like methylcellulose and liquid nitrogen—so I can manipulate food on a molecular level to create new experiences for my restaurant guests. But even though I often use unconventional, advanced cooking techniques, there’s something I have in common with every home chef: plastics are indispensable in my kitchen.
Here are a few of the plastic kitchen tools I can’t live without:
- Silicone plastic baking mat: I rely heavily on my silicone plastic baking mat to create new and inventive foods. Since the food slides right off the nonstick plastic surface, it’s great for working with sticky or gooey substances—so I can be as creative as I want. These mats are great for baked goods too. The silicone plastic is heat-resistant, so you can bake it right along with your cookies. These mats also can help you make healthier food by reducing the need for butter or oil.
- Silicone plastic flexi-molds: Silicone plastic flexi-molds are also great for baking, because they allow me to create foods in a variety of intriguing shapes—plus, the silicone stands up to the heat of the oven. Because the flexible silicone plastic has a nonstick surface, the baked goods slide right out of the mold when done, without breaking apart. It’s never been easier to create professional-quality baked goods at home.
- Airtight plastic bags for sous vide: Sous vide is a modern cooking technique in which food is cooked for up to 72 hours, but at a much lower temperature than is usually used for cooking. I’m a big fan of this technique because it results in extremely tender, juicy meats, as well as vegetables that remain crisp, even when thoroughly cooked. Sous vide relies on plastics: prior to cooking, the food is placed in a heat-resistant, airtight plastic bag, which seals in juices and aromas that would otherwise be lost during the cooking process.
- Squeeze bottles: Plastic squeeze bottles are absolutely indispensable in my kitchen for portion control and plating. In my style of cooking, I work with some unique food textures, and I depend on plastics to manipulate and control them. Think of how much you depend on plastic squeeze bottles to dispense condiments like ketchup and mustard—that precise control is the same reason I love squeeze bottles. (The substances I work with are just a little more unusual!)
- Pipettes: A pipette is a flexible plastic dropper with a long, narrow stem that allows you to squeeze out a very tiny amount of a liquid. It’s great for plating, because you can precisely control the amount of sauce you dispense, so it lets you make creative designs. It’s also fun to serve sauces in pipettes, so diners can decide how much to squeeze onto their dishes—or even directly into their mouths!
I try to appeal to all the senses in my cooking, so I pay as much attention to making my food look amazing on a plate as I do to creating delicious flavors and interesting textures. The point is that the versatility of plastics helps bring out my versatility as a chef, so I depend on my plastic tools every day, for every meal. And you don’t have to be a pro to take advantage of plastics in the kitchen: many of the same tools I use can help make cooking easier, safer, and more convenient for you and your family as well. (The plastics, that is. The liquid nitrogen is another story …)