11 Packable Tools for the Traveling Chef
Who cooks and eats here: Chef Cameron Stauch; his wife, Ayesha; children, Lyla (11) and Kiran (6); and his family’s cook, Hong
Where: Hanoi, Vietnam
Rent or Own? Rent through the Canadian Embassy
Chef Cameron Stauch has lived and cooked in four very different places: his home, Canada; India; Hong Kong; and here in Hanoi, Vietnam. He’s shared Canadian cuisine with Queen Elizabeth, taught baba ghanouj to curious Indian home cooks, and hunted down curry leaves growing behind an abandoned embassy building in the center of Hanoi. He knows what traveling food-lovers do and don’t need, whether they’re moving abroad and setting up a whole new kitchen, staying in an Airbnb on a short vacation, or even traveling for business.
Here’s Cameron’s kit of 11 packable tools for the wandering chef.
1. A Swiss-style vegetable peeler.
“A quality tool can make a big difference,” says Cameron. “In a rental kitchen, I often discover some essential kitchen tools that are missing or are of poor quality that prevent an easy cooking experience.” Particularly in Asia, where the use of pesticides and herbicides is less controlled, vegetables and fruits should always be peeled, especially if you’re going to eat them raw. A nice sharp and strong peeler makes keeping your food safe much easier.
2. A sturdy can opener.
“If a rental has a can opener, it tends to be a cheap one from the dollar store that may puncture the top of the can,” says Cameron. “But inevitably the turning mechanism is busted.” Bring your own to save that frustration.
If you’re moving abroad or staying in a rental apartment, it’s worth it to bring your own knives. “People don’t take care of their knives and often they are dull,” says Cameron. A quality six-inch chef’s knife and a paring knife will cover most bases and keep your fingers safe.
4. A thin, flexible cutting board.
You can turn any firm, flat space into a food prep area with one of these cutting boards. They’re extremely handy and easy to pack.
5. A server’s wine and bottle opener.
You don’t need this tool until you really, really do. Cameron says: “In my junior year of university I spent a semester abroad in Austria and would often pack a picnic with a bottle of wine for long train rides. I’ve traveled with one ever since the first time we didn’t have one.”
6. A Microplane zester.
This might not be as indispensable as a good knife (or a bottle opener!), but it’s a multi-use tool. According to Cameron: “The fine zest of a lemon, lime, or orange enlivens a salad dressing or marinade. It’s also handy for a quick mince of garlic or ginger.”
Eating out every meal on a work trip or even a vacation can get heavy, unhealthy, and old pretty quickly. “I often see tweets by a food journalist friend who talks about hanging washed salad greens in her hotel’s bathroom,” says Cameron. “After weeks on the road she’s itching for a fresh salad. Packing a collapsible salad spinner is worthwhile if you can’t live without your greens and want to prevent eating a soggy salad.”
“If you’re a serious baker and are planning to be somewhere for a long period, grab a lightweight plastic set to bring along,” says Cameron. “You’ll probably be able to locate some aluminum baking or muffin tins, but from experience it is much harder to find measuring spoons and cups, as some parts of the world use weight measurements for baking and others, such as Asia, don’t have a history of baked sweets in the home.”
If you’re not sure a favorite spice will be available wherever you’re traveling, bring it with you! “A travel spice kit may be worth investing in,” says Cameron. “Another option is to make your own using a weekly pill organizer, although you may want to wrap it tightly in cling film to prevent any powdery mess in your luggage.”
10. A professional knife roll.
This is pretty ingenious. Most of the things above will fit in a professional knife roll, protecting your tools and eliminating steps between you and food. Although, as Cameron reminds us, “Due to strict airport security, it’s best to pack everything in your checked baggage.”
11. Whatever you can’t cook without.
This one’s personal. If you go nuts in the kitchen without a silicone spatula, if you’re a wooden spoon aficionado, or if you’re planning to make something that requires a specific tool, bring it. (Within reason, of course — leave the mortar and pestle at home.) You never know what you will and won’t be able to find wherever you’re going, and you’ll probably be surprised.
As Cameron says, “Whether you’re planning a week at a rented beach house, some time in an Airbnb rental in Europe, or car camping on the edge of the woods, this list may be of assistance in using some of the local, seasonal produce of where you’re visiting and facilitate adding some bright flavors to your cooking.” I can’t say it any better! May your knives be sharp and your flavors be bright wherever your travels take you this summer.
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