LOS ANGELES – A first-rate kitchen doesn't need every appliance, tool and dish to turn out great meals.
Six things could do it, according to Graham Elliot, owner of Chicago's first “bistronomic” restaurant – also called Graham Elliot.
“I always say the best knife is the cheapest knife you can keep sharp,” says the 33-year-old chef and judge of TV's “Masterchef.” “There's no use having an expensive knife that's dull.”
After the knife? “An offset spatula,” Elliot says. “It's almost an artist's tool. You can use it to pull things out of a pan or to decorate things. It's like an extension of your fingers.”
Then? “A great blender. A top-of-the-line one would cost about $400. I use it for everything.” His brand of choice: Vita-Prep. “If you want great spices, you should get a spice grinder, too. But don't use it for coffee.”
More accessible? That's a salt and pepper mill, a must for any cook.
And, finally? “A great saute pan,” Elliot says. “I love one-pot cooking.”
Even though he was the youngest four-star chef in America, Elliot isn't a snob when it comes to cooking. At his restaurant he offers things like Risotto with Cheezits, Lobster Corn Dogs, homemade Twinkies and corn nuts on corn soup.
“I love to road trip,” he explains. “All the time you're stopping by little convenience stores and picking up goodies. I thought it'd be fun and whimsical to include them in dishes.”
While Elliot has been a chef since he was 17, he didn't get into it for the attention it brings. “For me, it's 16-hour days. My knees and back are affected by that. Each year in a restaurant is like a dog year. For me, it feels like I've been in it for 80 years.”
A handful of years ago, he says, it would have seemed like he was selling out if he had agreed to do a TV show. Now, he realizes it's part of the business. “Now, cooking is a form of entertainment. Ten years ago, that wasn't an option. Now, if you don't have that, you're not succeeding.”
An easy dish that dazzles? Start with an egg and add things like grilled asparagus and cheese. “It takes four minutes to make the dish and you can feel like you're traveling in time. You're making something they did in Italy 200, 300 years ago.”
Ingredients? “Less is more,” Elliot says. “If you've got a plate with 10 things on it, take five off.”
And if you want to be a celebrity chef, find a gimmick. Elliot's is his wardrobe of glasses. “If you watch, you'll see I'm wearing black, red, white glasses. It's a huge way to have people look at me because I don't have enough attention.”