I don’t use gadgets much…

Balinese Mandoline

Vietnamese Mandoline

I don’t use gadgets much, but a recent article in the Observer Food Magazine gave me pause for thought, as if we needed any more free time at present. Jay Rayner was writing of cooking in lockdown, and how he felt the need to use precisely the right tool for a specific job, even if that was the tattiest of four wooden spoons, or a frying pan with a handle so loose as to be a health hazard.That inspired me to inspect the contents of the two equipment drawers below the hob. Now these contain the harvest of twenty five years of cohabitation. I’m sure I’ve seen a few similar things on the Antiques Roadshow, but many are new. I’ve never been quite the same since Nisbets the kitchen suppliers opened a store in Edinburgh. A dangerous place, one that sucks you in more efficiently than the Corryvreckan whirlpool.

I counted 118 items. With the exception of the stick blender we’re not counting electrical stuff;  and obviously not knives which are stored in wooden blocks. A journey of discovery. Do we need 7 wooden spoons? Of course – and that’s not including the one that Heston’s team gave me for my birthday at The Fat Duck, which will take pride of place somewhere if I ever retrieve it from the goodie bag. But seven peelers? Well, I can explain, officer. There are one or two specialists, like the serrated one that’s great for ripe mangoes. But mostly they are down to the feud between Lesley and me. She prefers a Y peeler: I like the traditional Barnsley model because the former are rubbish for peeling odd shaped tatties or removing their eyes. So I keep trying new ones to see if I’ll be converted. Nope, I’m staying true to the original faith.

Food Thermometer

Food Probe – can anyone explain the science to me?

Then there are every day things like the measuring spoons, the garlic press and the tin opener. But why we have two further tin openers in the drawer below I have no idea. And other stuff is plain ridiculous. Eight, yes eight, stoppers for wine bottles to try to keep leftover wine fresh. As my brother-in-law sensibly asked, what is leftover wine? There is some recently acquired esoterica (if that’s not a word, it should be). There’s a thing from Vietnam that’s a sort of hand held mandoline. Used once – the jury’s out. Or the temperature probe. Ha! That makes me feel like a real pro. The only trouble is that the professionals know what temperature food is supposed to be and I don’t. Hey ho. But the oddest item in drawer one is one of the most unusual and most useful. A funny wee plastic thing from Lakeland, it has no peer when it comes to removing seeds and membrane from chillies, the other side being brilliant for hulling strawberries.

Chilli Seedd Remover

For chillies and strawberries – beyond brilliant

It’s when we get to the lower drawer that things start to get a bit silly. Antique stuff that I don’t think was mine. A Moulinex style thing for grating cheese. Won’t take you more than 15 minutes to clean it properly post use. A device for slicing hard boiled eggs – no more comment required. (My pal David tells me he once tried to use his Granny’s to slice a tomato, with disastrous consequences both for the machine and the tomato.) Coming up to date I begin to find evidence of my dafter purchases. An oyster knife, used on one occasion: a fish shaped fish scaler in virgin condition. Up above I have two good pairs of kitchen tongs, plus a set for pasta. Why then a further three pairs below? One looks suspiciously like a pair of forceps – I suppose foodies are writing lots about home deliveries just now. And I’m sure I wasn’t the one who acquired this long handled coil of metal that you apparently use for separating eggs. If anyone else has one, let me know if it works.


Pliers for chicken tendons. Any takers?

But I save the best till last. A shiny new pair of small pliers, purchased specifically for a recipe to make tandoori chicken “lollipops”. It involves removing the tendons from chicken drumsticks. They are most efficacious, but once you realise that some drumsticks have four tendons while others seem to have fourteen, it’s a recipe you tend not to return to. No reasonable offer refused.

Do you have any favourite pieces of kitchen equipment? (No, I don’t want to know about sharp knives.) Or any completely stupid purchases? Leave your comments below.


  1. Liz on 20th May 2020 at 9:23 pm

    Maybe almost in the sharp knives category – but I do adore using a NEW micro plane grater. I love my rubber spatula for scraping out every bit from bowls. Oh yes – I couldn’t be without Bake-o-glide liner for roasting tins so we get all the crispy bits.

    • Tom Johnston on 21st May 2020 at 9:08 am

      You’ve just reminded me that a new, decent sized zester is on the list for when Nisbets reopen. But a Bake-o-Glide liner? New one on me. With a name like that it has to be American.

  2. Ruth Murray on 21st May 2020 at 9:11 am

    Thoroughly enjoyed this article, Tom. My fetish for kitchen equipment is only eclipsed by my love of stationery. I recognise so many of these “useful” things from my own collection. You have motivated me to go and have a look to see what treasures I have forgotten.
    PS. I have a hard boiled egg slicer and one that cuts them into six wedges!

    • Tom Johnston on 21st May 2020 at 9:45 am

      Thanks, Ruth. I look forward to learning of the other treasures you unearth.

  3. Mark Baird on 23rd May 2020 at 9:51 am

    Enjoyed the article Tom. I’m not much for gadgets but one I’ve been using for the past couple of years is a mince separator. Your past reaction to this was “why not just use a spoon?”…..but I still like it. (Tried to include a photo but can’t find how to!)

    • Tom Johnston on 23rd May 2020 at 9:56 am

      I vaguely remember the discussion. For obvious reasons, many of our lunch memories are vague. Not sure you can post photos in the comments section. Why don’t you email me a photo and I’ll find a way of sharing it. Remind me what you’re separating from what.

  4. Sudi Pigott on 16th August 2020 at 7:00 pm

    I WANT your chicken lollipop pliers Tom. They would be perfect for the guess the object round of my quiz!! Sudi

    • Tom Johnston on 19th August 2020 at 11:27 am

      Everyone would guess the object quickly enough, but you might stump them with its use.

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