The Real Chef Central

Here’s the thing about celebrity chefs: they’re big liars. Even though many of them are out shilling for one kitchenware maker or another (or, like Rocco DiSpirito, any product at all), they really don’t use the stuff at work. Take a look around any professional kitchen. There in the steam, heat and fury, you won’t find gleaming, multi-thousand-dollar sets of All-Clad pans. There are no fussy-to-wash, color-coordinated La Crueset pots. Regardless of what the marketing says, chefs rarely use civilian tools in their kitchens. Instead, they use nearly indestructible professional cookware that’ll take a beating and live to tell the tale. It’s designed with function first, it’s easy to wash, and is cheap enough to buy by the score. The fact is, the best food in the nation is made in humble, often dinged-up, restaurant supply pots and pans.

You don’t need to go down to the Bowery for this well-made, well-designed stuff. Tucked into semi-industrial Abendroth Avenue (behind Port Chester’s Main Street), you’ll find Harris Restaurant Supply, Inc.  While the vast majority of Harris’s business comes from restaurant accounts, the wholesale showroom is open to the public and offers a realer take on what stores like Williams-Sonoma and Chef Central only ape. Harris is for pros, by pros. Sadly, Harris’s business hours reflect their primary trade, so you’ll have to make an effort to catch them open. The showroom operates from 9am-4pm, Monday through Friday and 9am-2pm on Saturday.

Don’t expect dramatic lighting, carpeted aisles, or stunning merchandise displays. Harris’s equipment and tableware is stacked on utilitarian racks or piled into bins, some of it’s dusty and there are no apron-garbed salesmen lurking around to help. You won’t find Mario Batali’s eponymous cookware in these dimly lit aisles, nor Rachel Ray’s, nor Rick Bayless’s– but you will find a 40 quart stockpot for $82.99, a real bargain compared to Chef Central’s $370, 16-quart All-Clad stockpot. Why do you need a 40-quart stockpot? Just try simmering a half year’s worth of chicken stock, or brining a Thanksgiving turkey, or steaming 8 lobsters in a 16-quart stockpot, and you’ll see why.

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While you can find tons of human-scaled pots, baking pans and kitchen tools at Harris, we find that there are a few times of year when we need a huge bowl. Harris’s 30-quart stainless bowl is perfect for tossing salad for 20, icing beer and wine, or making stuffing for a crowd. At $33.25, it’s also reasonably priced, plus, you can bathe a baby in it in a pinch.

Want your plates to have the spin-art look of Bobby Flay’s? Pick up a few plastic squeeze bottles for a song. Want your cupcakes to look food-porn fabulous? Try generously sized, cheap, disposable pastry bags. Tired of greasing pans? Get some re-usable silicone pads or our personal favorite, flat-packed parchment paper. Unlike the rolled paper available in the supermarket, this won’t curl up when you try to place it on the pan. Plus—you won’t need to wash the pan afterward, just discard the paper.

We’ve found even more pro tools to love in these aisles, like massive Lexans (like industrial Tupperware) to keep our smelly, Costco-sized pet kibble from stinking up our pantry. When we have large dinner parties, we clear dirty dishes into a plastic bus box. This keeps our sink clear for dessert, tea and coffee and makes rinsing plates and re-loading the dishwasher easy. We use color-coded poly cutting boards, so we don’t cross-contaminate our poultry and vegetables, and we also love quarter sheet pans. These small, stainless baking sheets are perfect for broiling a single steak, and fit easily into our dishwasher and tall, narrow freezer. We use them to spread out and freeze fresh, seasonal blueberries.

A word about looks. The equipment at Harris is designed for function and looks it. Yet isn’t that the trend? Only 20 years ago, professional stoves and stainless steel surfaces were oddities in domestic kitchens–now both are practically the norm. We like the industrial look of these sturdy bowls, pots and pans, and there is a beauty to pure functionality. Plus, we’re really, really cheap at EATER, which tends to influence our love of Harris.

Harris Restaurant Supply, Inc.
25 Abendroth Ave, Port Chester
(914) 937-0404;
Store Hours: M-F 9am-4pm, Sat. 9am-2pm

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Are All Kosher Wines Bad?

We first tasted Manischewitz Concord grape kosher wine at a Seder and were stunned—to our palates, it tasted exactly like grape-flavored Dimetapp cough syrup. Our hostess, an accomplished cook who also taught cooking classes, served a lovely Passover meal, yet she made excuses for the wine and pushed non-Kosher wines instead. But we, hoping to be pious on that day, went for the Kosher—it is the last time we made that choice. With Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur coming up, we thought we’d investigate the Kosher wine problem.

According to NY Times wine expert Eric Asimov, there’s a whole lot more to making kosher wines than having prayers recited over the process. While kosher foods and non-alcoholic drinks have a relatively easy path from production to table (hell, even Coke is kosher), kosher wines have a tougher road. First, owing to the ceremonial nature of wine, kosher wine must be produced and bottled only by observant Jews. This nearly-impossible condition can be circumvented by flash pasteurization, meaning the wine gets quickly heated, then cooled. At this point, the wine is termed mevushal, and may be handled by anyone and still remain kosher. Obviously, this process is used by nearly all kosher winemakers, and it isn’t great for wine quality.

It gets worse in stricter Israel. According to Asimov’s 2004 NY Times article, “In Israel, kosher laws require vineyards to be left fallow every seven years, a severe economic strain for almost any winery. Of course, not even the most critical winemaking chore can be performed on the Sabbath. And for wines to be called kosher for Passover, additional stringent standards must be met. Only certain strains of yeast can be used in the fermentation, and the wine cannot come into contact with any leavened product.” Turns out it’s tough to make any kosher wine, not to mention good kosher wine.

Overall, wine experts agree—the basic taste of kosher wine suffers in comparison to non-kosher wines, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with Manischewitz. The quality of kosher wines, particularly those coming out of California, is getting better all the time. To see what’s happening this year, we talked to two of our favorite wine stores and asked what they’re recommending most.

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Zachys 16 East Parkkway, Scarsdale (800) 723-0241; While Zachy’s is selling a lot of the usual Californian Baron Herzog merlot ($11.99), they’re also offering a distinctly tonier Giscours Bordeaux, regularly $65, on sale now for $52. Also look for Segal’s Special Reserve Israeli cabernet sauvignon for $17.59 (regularly $21.99) and 2005 Tishbi Israeli pinot noir for $19.99 (regularly $24.99).

Suburban Wines and Liquors, Rte. 118 Downing Drive, Yorktown Heights (914) 962-3100; Baron Herzog is still omnipresent here in people-friendly white zin ($8.99) or chardonnay ($12.99), while Teal Lake’s Australian Shiraz is going for $12.99 per bottle and Noah Tevel’s Israeli cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend is selling for $15.99. Those looking for bigger ticket Israeli wines can opt for either Suburban’s Jerusalem Heights cabernet/merlot for $33 or Isaac Ram’s cabernet sauvignon for $32.99.

Also for the Holidays

There seems to be a revolt against the tyranny of Manischewitz lately. Gefilte fish (the traditional Ashkenazi dish of ground fish, eggs, matzoh meal, and seasoning) is a notorious pain to make. In the past, most home cooks resorted to white and green jars of Manischewitz gefilte fish–to the point that, like the company’s Concord grape wine, the brand became a holiday tradition. But do you really want to serve those gelatinous jarred fish quenelles at your holiday dinner? This year, gourmet shop/catering company Perennial Chef of Bedford Hills is hand-making its gefilte fish for Rosh Hashana. Perennial’s Executive Chef Michael Williams is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and has cooked at Park Avenue Café and Oceana before opening Perennial Chef in April 2006.

The Perennial Chef is also offering a full Rosh Hashana menu, which includes house-made challah; salmon en croute with a choice of sautéed leek or wild mushroom filling; gravlax with red onions; homemade spaetzle with roasted mushrooms; noodle kugel; plus fifty varieties of hors d’oeuvres and house-made macaroons.

Not to be outdone, Bedford’s Myong’s Private Label Gourmet is also offering a complete holiday menu, which includes both potato and noodle kugel, chopped chicken livers, matzoh ball soup, brisket, and a wide variety of sides and veggies.

Or, if you break your fast with smoked fish and bagels, try Mount Kisco Smokehouse for lox, sable and whitefish. As reported by Emily DeNitto in an article last year in the NY Times, this on-site smokehouse knows its way around appetizing. Not only can you find the usual Norwegian farmed smoked salmon, but also wild caught salmon, Scottish salmon, gravlax (which is cured salmon, not smoked), sturgeon, trout and sable. Also look for great herring in wine or cream sauce and bagels from Bedford Bagel.

Our Best of Westchester Party is July 24!

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