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Flavors: Gadgets, Tools and Equipment for Cooking Success

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Stella Fong
Marguerite Jodry, owner of the new kitchen and cookware store “Zest” in downtown Billings, opened her new business on September 1.

The COVID Pandemic brought many of us back into the kitchen. We cooked, and we cooked some more. Some of us even took on baking for the first time. As the holidays round the corner into our lives, we may sprinkle passion and love into our food, but realistically we need the tools that will bring us feasting success.

Zest, the recently opened kitchen and cookware store in downtown Billings overflows with tools that make cooking more efficient, more accurate, and more fun. On September 1, amidst the pandemic and in a time when most shopping is done online, Marguerite Jodry launched her new business.

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Stella Fong
Zest Kitchen and Cookware store in downtown Billings – around the corner from the Produce Depot, Le Fournil and Big Dipper Ice Cream and across the street from iconic Brockel’s Chocolate – undertakes a culinary endeavor in our community.

Jodry relocated from Seattle to work on an organic vegetable farm in Bridger. After that job ended, Jodry took about four years to rethink what her next pursuit would be. As someone with an “entrepreneurial spirit”, she searched for a business “that was needed in Billings and I was very dedicated to downtown, I had no thought in my mind of opening a business anywhere else so as I asked what downtown Billings needed and a common answer was ‘We really miss having kitchen store,’ and as I explored the market opportunity it came clear that this was something that played well with my family’s passions and was a real need for our community.”

Even with the pandemic, “We felt that despite the risks, it was still a good time for us to open and a good time to offer something that was truly needed in our community.” Also, in a physical store with actual human interaction, Jodry said, “I can actually have a conversation with a person” who comes into the store and needs information about a piece of cookware. “We want to have those interactions in person, and right now, we want to have them safely, and we feel we are able to do that.”
For the holidays, Jodry recommends purchasing a Microplane, but only “If you already squared away with the actual cookware, I’m talking about your roasting pan, and maybe a good crock pot, a good nonstick pan or cast iron. Then what you need to focus on are those next little things that make the process of cooking so much easier. Most people don’t consider a good knife a gadget, but with that being said, it is the most important tool in your kitchen especially around the holidays where you’re going to be prepping a lot of things from scratch.”

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Stella Fong
Melanie Fabrizius prizes her three crock pots that she uses for easy everyday cooking and for entertaining.

Jodry believed the home cook will find a Microplane very useful. The tool is a grater that originated from the smoothing tool used by woodworkers. Now modified for kitchen use, it is an indispensable tool according to Jodry. She keeps the tool in a container near her work area. “I cook with, a lot of citrus zest, so it comes in handy for that, and there’s nothing like fresh grated Parmesan on top of your pasta. If, over the holidays, you’re making a cheesy potato dish, zest some Parmesan over the top, pop it back in the oven to get that nice crispy cheese topping on it. It will be delicious.”

For accuracy, Jodry suggested using an instant-read thermometer. A thermometer confirms the exactness of an oven’s temperature. It is the best indicator for the doneness of meats and fish. Especially during the holidays, Jodry believes thermometers will help in choreographing the cooking of the feast. She said, “We have a good selection of digital instant read thermometers as well as thermometer timers, which actually give you an alarm when your meat reaches a certain temperature.” With the temperature probe in the cooking food, you can “forget it, it beeps, and I take it out of the oven when it says it’s done, which makes my life a lot easier.”
The next item Jodry talked about was the Dutch Oven. This enameled cast iron pot is that sturdy piece of equipment that is the kitchen workhorse for baking a roast or a loaf of sourdough bread, deep frying, or braising. With a lid that seals tightly, it seals in heat while cooking. The pot can be used on the stovetop for browning, and then put into the oven to finish any cooking. Once the Dutch oven is warmed, it retains heat for a long time.

Finally, Jodry shared some current items that are trending in the cooking world – the smoke gun and the sous vide stick. The gun generates smoke that can be clouded atop a cocktail or used to quickly incorporate smoke flavor to vegetables and meats.

Once limited to pros, the sous vide cooking method has entered home kitchens. At the most fundamental level, sous vide cooking is the process of sealing food in an airtight container, usually a vacuum sealed bag, and then cooking it in a temperature-controlled water bath. The word sous vide means “under-vacuum” in French. After the food is cooked at a constant temperature, it is often finished off on a hot pan or grill. The “stick” is the heating element that maintains the constant temperature.

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Stella Fong
Carmelita Dominguez shows off her valued kitchen tools in several selfies – knives, rice cooker and a thermometer.

As part of this article I posed the question on social media of what cooks could not live without while cooking in the kitchen. A chef’s knife and the cast iron skillet were the most popular responses. A blender and food processor were the other needed items by some cooks.

YPR’s station manager Ken Siebert and I reviewed the responses. We decided to talk to Melanie Fabrizius who gave the answer, “Don’t judge me, but my CROCK-POT.” With the advent of the Insta-Pot and its multiple cooking options, the crock pot has been moved aside, but Fabrizius uses hers faithfully. In fact, she owns three crock pots.

Carmelita Dominguez provided several answers. “Knife. Cooking thermometer. Induction cooktop, and a rice cooker. I’m Filipino – how would I survive?” Her favorite knife is the Santoku style knife with hollow ridges or ribs along the blade. The hollow spaces keep food from sticking during slicing. Dominguez’s knife is comfortable for her hands, admitting she is a “medium sized person” so only needs a medium-sized knife. Her induction cooktop allows for fast temperature adjustments while cooking and quick cleanup. Finally, she believes a rice cooker can cook perfect rice – sticky and not too firm.

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Stella Fong

Carrie La Seur also commented, “Rice cooker. Without which we would starve.” “My Panasonic rice cooker, which is at least 45 years old and my immersion blender,” was Vince Long’s response. I admit to having a bias towards the rice cooker as in my household, we still use my husband’s 30-plus-year-old cooker from his college days. I still love a crust from cooking rice in a pot but for expediency, I mostly use an automatic cooker these days.

From Suzanne McKiernan and Janet Rivera, they valued their takeout menus while Dan Berry said, “The one thing I can’t do without in the kitchen (or pretty much anywhere) is Mrs. B.” Ginnie Mathias Burgess answered similarly, “My husband does most of the cooking, so for me, it’s a corkscrew and Haley’s corker.”

Finally, the invaluable items I use in my kitchen include my knives, a pair of scissors - for cutting herbs and trimming parchment, and a scale for weighing out my baking ingredients. A thermometer always comes in handy. I keep a container of tasting spoons by my work areas to be used for making sure my seasoning is correct, and for stirring or mixing if needed. I use a heavy nonstick pan and wood spatulas literally every day. Though I have many pieces of whiz-bang fancy equipment and gadgets, I find the basic tools are what get me through my daily cooking.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.