Your question is an oxymoron. I promise you, not only will these devices not benefit you, they will actually hinder you. See What are some good cooking hacks for people that don’t cook? for much more.
It’s somewhat ironic for me to discuss culinary gadgets that are actually helpful, after going on such a long tangent about how so many of them are pretty useless.
There is a great difference between the low-quality “unitaskers”, as Alton Brown calls them, and some nifty kitchen tools used on a daily basis. I am sure many people will chime in on this topic, so I will contribute my opinion on the most unique tools I carry at all times. If I am in the kitchen without these two tools, I feel as naked as I would without a chef jacket: a cake tester and a bench scraper. I use these two tools almost as much as any of my knives.
Though I do not do much baking, a cake tester can be used to penetrate anything at all. With a cake tester, you can feel the internal temperature of whatever it is you are cooking by bringing it to the sensitive top of your upper lip.
A bench scraper is a lifesaver when it comes to cleanliness. I often see cooks use their knives to scrape their cutting boards to clean the area, but those of us who respect our knives don’t damage them with this practice.
When working in a kitchen, one is guaranteed cuts, burns, and bruises in every variation that they come in. The most annoying of them all, in my opinion, is a fresh cut from the mandolin. There is this strange type of “tough guy” rule set that nobody ever tells you but everybody practices in professional kitchens. Utilizing your palm to push that last 1/4 inch of a carrot through without cutting yourself is a skill that takes many slices to get down properly.
There is no need for this nonsense, though. If a person cooks often, chances are the small remaining pieces of certain vegetables will be needed for stock soon. For non-commercial use, they make those guards that plant its spike firmly into the back of the item you are slicing and pretty much eliminates the chance of cutting yourself. There are different types of mandolins and different uses for each of them. For home cooks, my recommendation would be a Japanese mandolin. Here is a picture for reference:
A guard can be purchased separately as well:
I believe this question can have various answers depending on what type of restaurant we are speaking of. You would be amazed at how many items on a menu of some of these “chop shop-turn & burn” restaurants actually outsource. Sometimes it is a matter of logistics and lack of labor to actually make these items from scratch. Most of the time though, it is simply a chef who is too lazy and uninspired to take the time to craft these elements correctly. I have some seem some terrible substitutes and shortcuts used by chefs that sincerely discredit our profession. Pre-breaded “coconut shrimp”, pre-cracked eggs, and a laundry list of dessert items are but a few examples. The list of ingredients that these terrible restaurants use is endless. A very common shortcut I have seen many chefs take is using stock bases as opposed to making real stocks. Stocks are the foundation of great cooking. I would submit to you that if a chef is not making real stocks, he or she’s whole menu is not worth noting. That being said, many restaurants that are on a higher level do take shortcuts as well. Although it is not nearly to the degree of these lesser quality restaurants, there are some common ingredients that are often sourced from large suppliers. Two that come to mind are pasta and various charcuterie items. When I say pasta, I do not mean the “penne ala vodka” you get from Tony’s pizza down in your local shopping center. I am speaking of respectable restaurants serving “homemade” pasta dishes in which they do not even make the pasta. From my perspective, if you are going to serve fresh pasta, then make the pasta yourself or do not serve it at all. It is impossible to replicate hand-made fresh pasta with the equipment used to produce these fresh pasta sheets.
I made fresh pasta dough by hand, rolled it out, and cut it everyday for a year straight for a restaurant I was working at. Pasta dough has a life of it’s own and must constantly be tended to while working with it. It is time consuming but the final product is beautiful. Ravioli’s and all other pasta types are also among these items.
There is a much deeper underlying issue in this question that I believe is worth noting. A serious dilemma is occurring amongst our modern day civilization in which the consequences are coming to light at an alarming rate. The way we are mass producing all types of foods, unnaturally cultivating produce, and mishandling animals intended for consumption is altering us in ways most people could never imagine. I recently read an article by Mikka Luster that does a remarkable job at shedding light to this matter. In it he writes, “We have handed the work of our artisans and crafters, makers, and doers, to Ikea, ConAgra, Kraft Foods, Monsanto, Walmart, and the trucks and trains and boats from faraway lands. Time to take it back.”
The prestigious title of “chef” implies a master craftsman of food. If chefs among the world are not combating this disaster, how can we expect the masses to? It’s “Time to take it back” people.
One of my mentors who I have a considerable amount of respect for had a saying he would often say to me that eminently altered how I approached future endeavors. Although he is no longer with us today, I can still hear his humble yet prominent voice in my head saying:
“Joe, if you want to be great – study the greats. Read everything you can about history’s greats. Read everything you can on modern industrial greats. Observe any common themes that you find amongst them – then emulate them.“
I understand this is some heavy wording when referring to Masterchef Junior. But a similar approach may be taken here that might be the best place to start. “If you want what I have, then do what I do.”
Why not examine the life experience of the current prodigies that have already achieved the goal of your five-year-old?
Here are a few answers and and they all do have a common theme:
As suspected, it does not appear that any of the current contestants were shipped off to a kiddie Le Cordon Bleu.
The common theme we can observe by these answers is that cooking begins in the home. I believe attending some workshops is a great supplement, however, if the child is going to reach the high level he/she desires, I do not believe only attending classes would scratch the surface.
Most of what I am saying can be applied to a five year old just as much as it could be applied to an 85 year old. A five-year-old would benefit best from continuous application and practice of the technical aspects of cooking as opposed to the theoretical aspects.
Though seemingly unrelated, I urge you to keep an open mind to this reference. If you have seen the movie “Coach Carter”, you may remember the scene where he says to his young recruits:
“I cannot teach you the game of basketball until your conditioning is at a level the allows me to do so.”
Learning to cook is not a craft that can be learned from television or textbooks. It is through repetition, attention to detail, and consistency that allows a person to reach a level where they are able to implement the theoretical elements of cooking, simply because they are thoroughly equipped with the technical necessities. If given the task of finding the most fitting solution to this question, I would make them my new little protégé in the kitchen nightly. “All right little man/woman, I need 4 carrots peeled, 10 potatoes peeled, and 4 tomatoes cubed up. What do you say?”
Not only do I believe this to be the best method of training, but as a side bonus you will have the ability to build some of the most beautiful memories a mother and child can have. Some of the most cherished memories I have of my childhood are the countless hours I spent in the kitchen as the “assistant chef” (as my grandmother loved to smile and call me). There are few activities a family could engage in that builds greater bonds than cooking.
A patient parent enlisting their child’s assistance in the kitchen is the optimal method for any child to obtain hands-on training. By doing so, their kitchen awareness and technical abilities will be brought to a level where, perhaps when further culinary experts attempt to mentor them, will allow them to do so.