A kitchen without tools would not produce much, no matter how willing or talented its inhabitants. While most home cooks do just fine without every single accoutrement found in a restaurant kitchen, anyone wanting to put more than the basics on the table will over the course of a lifetime accumulate a sizable collection of spoons and knives and food processors and pots and pans, not to mention a chinois or two.
The drawers and cabinets in my kitchen are fairly well stocked, and I’ve come to have strong relationships with a good number of the tools I use on a regular basis, including a Japanese mandoline and a Dutch oven that is now perfectly conditioned. But my feelings about most of my kitchen stuff are purely utilitarian; I love them because they work and allow me to do what I do easily and efficiently.
A workhorse: I've had this Tre Spade pepper mill since about 1987, and every time I use it I think fondly of Grant and Kathy Heath, who gave it to me as a Christmas gift. There’s a bit of rust on it, and its lid requires tape to stay closed, but I’ll never replace it.
There is, however, one thing that I use all the time that means more to me than merely “utility,” and that is my Tre Spade pepper mill. I use it every day, and along with my knives it is integral to my cooking. But what makes it really special are the man and woman who gave it to me and they way they did so.
The best roasted coffee beans in the world have been coming out of this place since November 1977.
Grant and Kathy Heath are their names, and they roast and sell the best coffee in the world. I mean that. They own a small shop, The Kaffeeklatsch, in Huntsville, Alabama, and I used to work for them. And though I left Huntsville long ago, in 1994, I still order coffee from “The Klatsch” as often as possible. As I said, it is the best in the world – wherever I travel, be it Umbria or Munich or Beirut – I search for the perfect beans, and so far I have found nothing that can compare. I doubt I ever will. Order some and see what I mean.
Kathy and Grant always took time out from their workday to eat lunch; there was a small table in the center of the shop, and that is where they had their meals, usually simple but delicious things they had cooked, like barley soup with kale. They made me do the same, insisted that I take a break to sit down and have my lunch every day. I did.
One day while eating I admired a pepper mill that we used in the shop, and I asked Kathy if I could order one from the supplier; Christmas was coming and I thought it would be a good gift to give myself. She said she would place the order and we went back to work.
About a week later our regular delivery arrived, and as I was unpacking the boxes I looked forward to finding the pepper mill. But it wasn’t there. Kathy came upstairs from the office and told me that it was on backorder and would probably be in stock early in the new year. C’est la vie. I would live to grind another day.
The focal point of The Kaffeeklatsch: The 1929 Jabez Burns roaster, a work of art.
The holiday season was upon us, and we got busier; customers came in for their supply of coffee, and beans by the many pounds flew out the door and were picked up by the UPS man for delivery across the nation. Grant was constantly at his Jabez Burns gas roaster, turning the small batches of green beans into something magical. (Not to go off on a tangent, but that roaster, which was born in 1929, is a beauty. I’ll write more about it, and Grant, later.)
On the evening before we closed for the holidays we were sitting at the table, enjoying beers and talking about dinner plans and which of our relatives were coming for Christmas and what we would be cooking. I had presents for Kathy and Grant, and they gave me a few pounds of coffee. Then Kathy reached behind her, picked up a box wrapped in festive paper, and handed it to me. It was the Tre Spade pepper mill. And, as I wrote, I have used it nearly every day since then. Thanks again, Kathy and Grant.