Treasures of the kitchen cabinet
After being so impressed with Kate Klippensteen and Yasuo Konishi’s Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes, I wanted to check out their previous kitchen collaboration “Cool Tools: Cooking Utensils from the Japanese Kitchen.”
This is quite a different book from “Japanese Kitchen Knives.” There, they were collaborating with chef Hiromitsu Nozaki and the book was about one-third knife history and information, one-third knife skills course, and one-third cook book with recipes. “Cool Tools,” on the other hand, is about Japanese cooking implements as works of art, filled with Konishi’s beautiful photographs and Klippensteen’s insightful and appreciative prose.
“Cool Tools” is split into four main sections; The Preparation (covering knives, mortar and pestle, nut toasters, graters, bonito planes, metal pots, strainers and other), The Cooking (covering rice cookers, ceramic pots and hot plates, copper oden pots, bronze tempura pots, oyakudon and tamagoyaki pans, stirrers, spatulas, skimmers, ladels, metal grills, drop lids, chopsticks, colanders and others), The Presentation (different graters and chopsticks, rice scoops, rice tubs, rolling mats and molds) and finally Cleaning Up (brushes, cleaning cloths, odds and ends and style),
Each section gives a description and history of the cooking tools, their various functions and how they are used. The focus is on typical items you would find in any Japanese household, rather than exotic implements with only a specialty function. Probably my favorite section of “Cool Tools” is when Konishi and Klippensteen delve into actual people’s cupboards, and show a series of photographs of the tools as they are in average households.
For example, with the yukihara-nabe, or hammered-metal pan, there is a series of six photographs, showing the yukihara-nabes of a songwriter, aged 23, a mother aged 40, a housewife aged 48, a Japanese language instructor aged 52, a cook aged 45ish, and a bank employee aged 40-something. These series put a human touch on the cooking tools, showing how they are loved and used in daily life in Japan.
“Cool Tools” is definitely more of a specialty book than “Japanese Kitchen Knives.” Whereas that book gave practical cooking tips and recipes, this is more about appreciation of design. If you are serious about your Japanese cooking, however, you will enjoy learning more about the tools that are essential to your art.