Chef Shirley Chung—the “Top Chef” finalist and owner of Ms. Chi Cafe in Culver City, Los Angeles—knows a thing or two about Chinese-American food. She immigrated to America when she was 17 years old, arriving to the States with a wealth of knowledge about international cuisines, thanks to her grandmother who was employed by The Red Cross.
Newly minted in a country buoyed by its diverse trove of food, Shirley tried her hand at cooking a slew of cuisines, from French and Italian to Mexican and American. But what she was most passionate about was the fusion of Chinese and American fare, and her new restaurant Ms. Chi Cafe showcases her interpretation of that collision. Not only do the dishes illuminate that hybrid of cuisines (think Chinese-spiced pastrami sandwiches and cheeseburger potstickers), but so do the tools she uses in the kitchen.
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During Chowhound’s first episode of “Kitchen Essentials,” Shirley reveals her five favorite kitchen tools—an assortment of gadgets and absolute staples—many of which are anchored by her own personal stories.
This Lodge carbon steel pan is Shirley’s absolute favorite. She holds a certain fondness for this pan—mostly due to the fact that, for her, it replaces a classic wok in the kitchen. “The reason is that when I first came to America, I wanted to cook Chinese food in American kitchens; a wok doesn’t work,” she explains. The bottom of a wok is rounded—and therefore doesn’t fit on many American stoves—so she learned how to cook Chinese food by channeling that wok energy in a carbon steel pan. The two pans are almost identical, but the lightweight carbon steel skillet can be used in any kitchen. Buy Now
For Shirley, tools used in the kitchen don’t simply stem from culinary stores. After all, her absolute favorite tool—tweezer tongs—is actually a medical tool. But Shirley uses this item to cook just about anything—meaning you don’t have to be afraid to look outside the traditional kitchen and home space to find the right tool that works for you. She employs the tongs to pick up meat and flip onions, to swirls ribbons of noodles and transport hunks of steak. “They’re just like chopsticks,” Shirley explains. “[But] you don’t damage anything, you don’t poke anything, because of the nice, round tips.”Buy Now
Shirley is adamant about one thing: “I think every aspiring chef should have [their] own favorite spoon,” she says. “You always plate with a spoon; that’s the proper way.” Shirley’s had her own magic spoon for over 15 years: a long, narrow silver handle with a wide, curved surface, perfect for scooping and gently drizzling sauce.Buy Now
It’s likely most people don’t own as small a rolling pin as the one Shirley touts: a skinny wooden pin that’s no bigger than the length of her forearm. Shirley explains that its tiny size is conducive to rolling out little things, like squat dumpling wrappers and hand-cut noodles—a large rolling pin would be far too big and clunky to do that. According to Shirley, children growing up in China, including herself, are attached to these rolling pins at a young age, learning how to roll dough out with the family.Buy Now
A host of home cooks have started using this sous vide circulator, Shirley has noticed, and she too has become obsessed with the product. In her kitchen’s fast-casual environment, she employs her circulator to sous vide consistently perfect poached eggs and tender salmon, the easiest way for her to ensure uniform doneness and create the highest volume of food without sacrificing taste. She loves it so much that she even keeps a separate circulator at home. Buy Now
For more about Shirley, check out the first episode of Chowhound’s brand new series: “Kitchen Essentials.” The show invites Chowhound viewers into the kitchens of chefs from around the country, unveiling which five tools are simply essential to their work.
Header image by Chowhound.