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1 4 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t 1 4 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t TOOLS OF THE TRADE The Problem: Taking accurate and fast tempera- tures in a fast paced culinary environment. The Solution: The Thermapen Mk4 from Thermoworks. The Problem Solver: Chef Erik Niel of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee. THERE ARE CHEFS WHO TEST for the doneness of a piece of meat with the judicious touch of a finger, sensing rare, medium and well almost instinctively from years of experience. There are chefs who are never without their Taylor Thermometers, sheathed in a thin plas- tic holder, seated in their pockets next to their pens and pencils. And then, there's Chef Erik Niel of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats in Chattanoo- ga, Tennessee, who cannot live without the high-tech wonder of the Thermapen Mk4 from Thermoworks—an elegantly modernistic food thermometer that gives instantaneous readings—and comes in white, grey, yellow, green, blue, black, orange, fire engine red, pink and (Chef Niel's color of choice) purple. It also comes with graphic flames on the case, just in case you feel the need to color-coordinate your grill and your meat thermometer. That Chef Niel is enamored with his Thermapen is just a tad . . . surprising. He's a country lad, born and raised on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, in Mandeville, Louisiana, where he grew up fishing and duck hunting with his dad and brother. He sounds more like Huck Finn than José Andrés. But even though his first experiences cooking were self- taught, using fruits of his hunting and fishing, he went on to learn the basics at Johnson & Wales in Vail, Colorado. His career took him to Chattanooga, where he discovered the Thermapen, which he says is almost his favorite kitchen tool (behind his knives, of course). Merrill Shindler: How did you discover the Thermapen? Erik Niel: I had an old pastry chef who used it [and] said it really helped with cakes and breads. So I started playing with it and found I couldn't live without it. It's become a standard piece of equipment in my arsenal. I've introduced it to a lot of chefs. MS: Not to be naïve, but isn't a thermometer a thermometer? EN: Yes and no. Analog is how we were taught. But analog thermom- eters are slow, and you've got to wait for them to check the temp. It's how I was taught. But the Thermapen is amazing. It's instantaneous. It speeds up my cooking process—makes it more exact. MS: Did you have to unlearn the old way? EN: For about a minute. There's no learning curve here. It's amazingly versatile. I can check the temperature of the ingredients inside a sourdough bowl; I can make sure my caramel isn't burning; I can make perfect ice cream, rather than ice cream that goes soft right away. I can check soup in a second. MS: Is it the sort of thing health inspectors might use? EN: They use infrared thermometers that read the temp at the surface. This reads the temperature at any point, all the way through. It's one of my favorite kitchen toys. MS: Any others? EN: Well, I do love my Nenox Knives. I've had them forever. I will have them forever. I take them everywhere. I bought a special tool bag at Home Depot for them. Chefs always love their knives. MS: And their spoons . . . EN: Seriously! I have a spoon I found at a garage sale. It has a wooden handle. I don't know who made it, but its weight and feel is perfect. It's an extension of my hand. I have a line chef who uses a gold version of the Grey Kunz Spoon. We love what we love. But you've got to be ready for what's new. Chef Erik Niel of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee. ■cr Thermapen Mk4 from Thermoworks. Taking the Heat CHEF ERIK NIEL GOES HIGH-TECH IN HIS KITCHEN WITH THE THERMAPEN by Merrill Shindler / illustration by Diane Henschel PHOTO: BETH KIRBY (POLISHED PIG MEDI

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