When I saw “20 Tools and Technologies That Have Changed the Way We Cook” on Gourmet magazine’s website, I was skeptical. Oh sure, I thought, another one of those “nifty gadgets” stories. There will probably be a fancy wine opener and a garlic press and maybe an Anti-Griddle, but there’s no way it will include a humble gadget like the Microplane.

Except it does: “A relatively recent addition to the roster of indispensable kitchen tools, the Microplane was developed in 1990 for use in woodworking,” say article authors Christy Harrison (who has also written for CHOW) and Corky Pollan. “Four years later, a Canadian woman named Lorraine Lee reached for the tool (brought home by her husband, a hardware-store owner) to zest oranges for a cake, and the Microplane’s culinary life began.”

I’m a lifelong lover of lemon zest, but I used to get my zest fix with one of those zesting tools with the thin metal circles on one side. Those give you substandard zest curls, with a lot of pith on them. And good luck getting zest off a box grater. But the Microplane magically pulls off just the colorful part of the zest, leaving all the bitter white pith. It’s the rare tool that only does a few things well but does them so perfectly that once you use it, you can’t do without it.

Gourmet also nabs a few of my other favorite unsexy tools (the blender, the slow cooker, Tupperware), but it misses one that makes it possible for a novice cook to turn out a perfectly roasted chicken or fine bread: the Thermapen. And what of the heavy-duty stand mixer, which rendered a nation of inexperienced bakers suddenly able to knead?

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