The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2014

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Page 36 of 132

36  /  the tasting panel  /  october 2014 TOOLS OF THE TRADE A t the tender age of 35, Ben Lee has cooked under Masaharu Morimoto at Morimoto, Jean- Marie LaCroix at LaCroix at the Rittenhouse, Marc Vetri at Osteria and Michael White at Marea. His experience also includes time spent at Ristorante Loro in Bergamo, Italy. He's a master of pasta. And as a pastaiolo with an eclectic background, he found the solution to a kitchen problem—in the world of medical supplies. Or at least, medical supplies found in kitchen supply shops. Merrill Shindler: I thought chefs used wood forks to stir and test the pasta? Ben Lee: Actually, it's a meat fork that's the most popular tool among the pastaiolos. With a meat fork, they can stir the pasta, twirl the pasta, twist the pasta and taste the pasta. So, what's the problem? A meat fork will separate the pasta, but it also breaks the pasta. So, some pasta chefs started using long surgical tweezers, the same length as a meat fork. Because these are tweezers, you can pinch off a piece of the pasta to see if it's ready, if it's properly al dente. And if emergency surgery has to be done in the dining room, you already have tweezers ready to go? They're not meant for surgery. You buy them at kitchen supply stores. They're designed to have no sharp edges. So, they don't damage the pasta— that's very important. In his book Heat, Bill Buford described using tongs for pasta—in part because he liked to scoop up the liquid with the pasta. Certain chefs do like using the tongs—long skinny tongs in particular. But I don't think pasta is tough enough for tongs. You have to be really gentle. Especially when you're making 400 covers a night—you have to work fast, but very carefully. Do you have a favorite set of tweezers? I've used the same tweezers for seven years now. I carry them with me like knives. I treat them with respect. A chef respects his ingredients, and his tools. Marc Vetri is famous for a pasta fork he's used for decades—same fork, year after year. Your background is Korean—why don't you use chopsticks? I could easily use chopsticks. But it's too easy to lose one. And you can't do the job with just one chopstick. When I worked with Morimoto in Philly—my first restaurant job—the staff loved the fact that I used chopsticks. I found a pair of long, metal French-made ones—basically a Western ver- sion of chopsticks. I could have worked in a ramen shop with them. Instead, here I am using them for pappardelle and paccheri. Ben Lee by Merrill Shindler (A Voce Madison, NYC) and His Tweezers PHOTO COURTESY OF A VOCE The Problem: How to both separate and test the doneness of pasta with the same tool? The Solution: Long, thin surgical tweezers. The Problem Solver: Ben Lee, Executive Chef, A Voce Madison, New York City.

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