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Earlier this year, we surveyed chefs about the veggie prep tools they can’t live without during the summer months. Their answers were all about peeling, chopping, and slicing veggies to best showcase their flavor (they got us very excited for a summery zoodle dish). This fall, we put out the ask again: Once the weather gets chillier and the vegetables get squashier, what prep tools do chefs reach for most often?
There were some repeat answers (note to self: Buy a box grater already!), but with veggies getting hardier and thicker, the chefs made it clear that a quality chopping implement is definitely crucial. Here are the seven tools chefs love for fall veg — how many do you have?
Circle cutters are ubiquitous in the restaurant industry, but they’re (tragically) not a staple in most home kitchens. Essentially a plumped-up set of biscuit cutters, these sharp-edged tools come in an array of sizes, allowing you to cut out perfect rounds of veggies — or anything else you’re stamping out, like cookies or pie dough. They’re a favorite of Rich Strub, the chef and co-owner at Eden: “I use them to cut the centers out of squashes after I slice them. They leave cleaner edges than using a spoon to scrape out the fibrous strands and seeds that are at the core of squashes like delicata.”
Cleavers look intimidating, but they’re surprisingly user-friendly. Veg cleavers in particular are ideal for cutting through thick-skinned squashes. They have minimal “drag,” and keep a sharp edge, making them safe and efficient. This tool is so popular that two of our chef sources immediately sang its praises.
Maya Kaimal, chief culinary and creative officer at Maya Kaimal Foods, says, “When I need to chop up butternut squash or potatoes for roasting, I always reach for my beloved vegetable cleaver because its squared-off blade makes beautiful, clean, square cuts. It’s also fabulous for julienning or mincing ginger — and I go through A LOT of ginger!” And Dennis Hale, sous chef at Cafe Rule & Wine Bar, loves the efficiency of his cleaver: “Over and over in the fall, I find myself getting out my cleaver to easily cut through thick-skinned squash like pumpkins and hard fall root veggies. Its size and weight make the job of cutting, dicing, and slicing these fall vegetables much easier.”
This tool might not get top billing in most kitchens, as fancier appliances, like food processors, have grating attachments. But a simple box grater is easy to use, and much simpler to clean. And, they’re a favorite of Eric Ripert, the chef and co-owner at Le Bernardin and author of the new cookbook Vegetable Simple: “I like box graters because they have different applications and are very versatile. I rely on the box grater to easily pull together flavorful and vibrant dishes like a grated carrot salad and coleslaw with apple. Box graters are also very key when it comes to texture. For example, when I make zucchini pancakes, the grater helps incorporate the zucchini into the batter while ensuring the mixture remains light.”
We can’t say enough about this awesome tool, so we’ll let Qi Ai, the chef de cuisine at Travelle at the Langham, sing its praises: “A mandoline slicer is one of my favorite veggie tools — especially in the fall season. I can easily and precisely slice many types of colorful squash, root vegetables such as potatoes, and even fruits such as pears. One dish that truly shines by using this tool is ratatouille. Its beautiful presentation and warm aroma will definitely be a crowd-pleaser.”
Still not sure about that cleaver? Chefs also love santoku knives for the more tender fall ingredients. Take a cue from Tomohiro Urata, co-executive chef at Mifune, and find a blade that’s thin and ultra-sharp. “For vegetables, I use the Santoku Knife 18cm Damascus by Syosaku. The great thing is the thin blade’s weight is well-balanced with the handle of the knife. It cuts smoothly without burdening the ingredients — especially when chopping herbs and delicate greens, as it cuts without crushing them.”
It’s soup season, baby! A quality blender is obviously clutch all year long, but it becomes indispensable when the temperatures drop. You could follow this recipe for butternut squash soup, or just do what Tara Johnson, the regional chef and manager at Tender Greens, does: “I cook the butternut squash in broth and just blend it up. Sometimes, I’ll put the purée back in the pot if I want to add cream or more broth.” Simple and perfect.
Even more streamlined is a hand-held blender, also known as an immersion blender. If you don’t have the storage space for a full-sized model, an immersion blender is a lifesaver (or, at least, a soup saver). “This blender is powerful, fast, and makes for super-easy cleanup. No need to wash a whole countertop blender and all its components; instead you just pop off the stick from the base and pop in the dishwasher,” says Martin Murch, the chef and managing member at Good Eats Group.
Grilling is for summer, right? Sure! But according to Joel Penn, chef and partner at Vinetta, fall is when your grill can really shine. “It may seem a bit unconventional, but I love taking heartier fall veggies like hard squashes and sweet potatoes outside to the grill. Living in Atlanta, sometimes it’s so brutally hot in the summer that hanging outside with a hot grill is unthinkable. So when fall rolls around, it’s my grill’s time to shine. I have a Big Green Egg and a cast iron Lodge hibachi-style grill — both of which get pretty heavy use.”
Do you have a go-to tool for prepping or cooking fall veggies? Let us know in the comments!