By Daniel Neman St. Louis Post-Dispatch
For people who love to cook, it’s like Disneyland.
We walk through the aisles, eyes agog, mouths agape. As with children, our hands reach out to all the shiny objects on the shelves. “I want,” we say. “I want.”
For chefs, restaurant supply companies are part of the job, where they go to pick up the kitchen equipment, plates and assorted whatnots that they need for work. It’s fast, available, convenient and above all, cheap.
Those same attributes are what make the stores Christmas to the home cook. There, spread out in front of you, is a wondrous array of delights, all shining and sparkly and well within your budget.
The pots and pans you might buy at a typical kitchen store are sturdier and hardier than you will find at a restaurant supply company, and they are certainly more attractive. But why buy a gorgeous, heavy fry pan at one of those high-end mall stores for $150 when you can pick up a perfectly serviceable pan at a restaurant supply store for $12.95?
And it’s not just serviceable, it is literally what the pros use. Chefs in working kitchens who cook food all day long use these same pans. The best food you’ve had at the best restaurant in town was cooked on a pan that costs less than 13 bucks – though, admittedly, the top-of-the-line pans go for a little more than that. Maybe $20.
It is true that restaurants use their pans so much they wear them out. A cheap nonstick pan in a restaurant might only last six months, but that is with near-constant use. At home, if you use it a lot, you might get five years out of it. But so what? It costs $12.95. In 25 years, you’ve spent only 65 bucks, less than half of what a more prestigious brand would cost you.
I recently bought my brother a cook’s knife for his birthday. It might be a weird birthday gift, but he needed a good knife that stays sharp, and besides, I’m a bit of a knife geek. So I went to a restaurant supply company and picked him up an 8-inch Dexter Sani-Safe cook’s knife. It only cost — well, I don’t want to say how little it cost, because there is a possibility he could read this column. But let’s just say it was cheap enough that I bought myself one at the same time.
Together, they cost less than a third of my next favorite knife, a Zwilling J.A. Henckels chef’s knife that is heavier than most but that fits my hand the best.
If you’re looking to stock up on your saucepans, you can pick up a 1 1/2-quart model for just $9.95. If you’d like a baking sheet (technically, it’s a half baking sheet – you won’t be able to fit a full size sheet in your oven, unless you have a BlueStar), you can buy one for $5.50. You might as well buy two. And if you plan to make a lot of frozen drinks, you can get a professional Waring blender for less than $75.
Admittedly, some of the offerings at a restaurant supply company actually cost more than you would spend on a similar item elsewhere, particularly if you like to bake, because the pros need a higher quality than the home cook. A springform pan at one company, for instance, costs a hefty $31.50, about twice what a decent version for residential use will set you back.
But the ones you use at home are relatively flimsy because they are never going to get too much use. A professional baker cranking out cheesecakes every day is going to need the sturdier version.
Most restaurant supply companies are happy to sell to the general public, though some (including Restaurant Depot and B&J Peerless) deal only with restaurants.
To answer the burning question that some of you serious cooks have, yes, restaurant supply companies do sell commercial stoves. But they will try to talk you out of buying one for your house. Commercial ranges are less insulated than residential ones, and they get much, much hotter. If you buy one, you will almost certainly lose your homeowner’s insurance. Even if you surround it in heatproof material, there is still a frighteningly good chance you will burn down your house.
Stick with the knives and the pots, the ladles and the strainers, the whisks and the metal mixing bowls. You’ll be glad you did.