Chef’s Tasting Spoons: Essential or Eww?

A new culinary school stirred up a tempest in a spoon's bowl this week. The San Francisco Cooking School (SFCS) is launching recreational classes soon, and a full-scale culinary program this January. Last week they sent out a media packet that included the spoon you see here (CHOW photographer Chris Rochelle propped it up on a pumpkin pie he happened to be shooting). That spoon—a Gray Kunz, which Saveur praised in 2011—caused a stir.

It came in a box that said this:

Ask 100 chefs what they use for a tasting spoon and you’ll get 50 different answers. The other 50 will say Gray Kunz. You’ll find the Gray Kunz tasting spoon in the pockets of chefs worldwide, as well as the SFCS student kit.

Well, well. One local chef jumped on Twitter to set the record straight. “The new SF Cooking School refers to the Kunz spoon as a tasting spoon? Wrong,” Robbie Lewis tweeted. “It's not for tasting, nor kept in your pocket. Teach better.” San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer blogged about how sketchy he finds the whole concept of a tasting spoon. “I like the idea of tasting along the way—it’s what gives great chefs the culinary edge—but I’m not too sure about keeping the spoon in your pocket. How do you sanitize it between tastes?”

Some recipients had obviously taken this spoon thing very, very seriously.

I asked the SFCS director, Jodi Liano, about the unexpected spoon controversy. Did she really expect her students to whip their Gray Kunzes out of the arm pockets on their chef’s coats and jab them into pans to taste for salt?

“The idea is that a spoon can be a chef’s friend,” Liano said, “to tell when something is seasoned properly. That’s something I really want to ingrain with my students: to taste and fix and taste again.” Liano wasn’t about to be pinned to any faux-controversy over the hygiene of employing a single spoon. “You might use plastic spoons—the overarching idea is that there’s a spoon involved,” she said. “It all comes down to tasting.”

I reached Chef Gray Kunz by phone in Manhattan. Kunz said he designed the spoon in the 1990s while at Lespinasse, as a basting and plating spoon, a tool for drizzling, say, gastrique. “It’s part of the tool kit when a chef sets up a station,” Kunz said, “for spooning and saucing. Chefs love it.” Well, he would say that.

Bill Corbett definitely loves his. The pastry chef at Absinthe in San Francisco says he has a huge attachment to his spoons, which include a Gray Kunz. Corbett says savory chefs tend to use it for basting, and for pastry chefs, it might be their favorite spoon for shaping quenelles. But that’s a highly personal decision.

“Spoons are a touchy subject,” Corbett explains. “You don’t touch another cook’s spoon—it’s like an extension of someone’s hand.” In his kitchen, each cook has a pan of clean spoons for tasting and a pan to ditch dirty ones. And the spoons themselves? Cheap stainless steel, purchased by the bundle. Corbett used to use plastic for tasting, but now thinks they’re a waste of money and landfill—they’ve been banned.

Also banned: double-dipping into saucepans. That should make Michael Bauer feel at ease, at least about eating at Absinthe—even if every cook on the line has a shiny Gray Kunz spoon in his or her jacket pocket.

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