Last night I dined at Picco for the first time, and chef Bruce Hill came out of the kitchen to sit down at our table after we'd finished. His iPhone rang, and he glanced at the photo of Brussels sprouts that popped up and excused himself.
"Hi sweetie," he said quietly. "Mm hm. Mm hm. Just put them in the pan until one side is crispy and then put on the lid to steam them until they're done on the inside. Mm hm. I love you. Bye."
He hung up the phone and smiled sheepishly.
"Sorry," he said. "Since I'm not home during the evenings, I try to set my wife up to eat well while I'm gone, and she had a question about the dumplings I froze for her." (Sweetest. Chef-husband. EVER.)
He put a small, heavy package on the table.
"Here's your press kit," he said.
I stared at the heavy rectangle uncomprehendingly--I thought he was going to be providing me with background materials for a writing project I'm doing for him.
I peeled open the square and burst out laughing when I realized it was the patented Chef's Press he invented last year, about to be released by Williams-Sonoma.
"This is so much better than the press kit I was thinking of!" I exclaimed as I tore the wrapper off the gleaming stainless-steel sheets.
Chef Hill showed us how it worked on my mom's hand. His invention is quite simple--it's a set of three stainless-steel plates with slats cut into them, so they look like jail-bar windows. The middle slat is bent up at a 90-degree angle to form a handle. Each plate weighs 9 oz., and they can be stacked on top of each other to weigh down cuts of meat (or anything that needs to be pressed) of different sizes.
Chefs have been using weights and the backs of spatulas to press items on a grill as long as there have been grills, but solid pieces of metal often make the pressed food soggy. The slats cut into Hill's Chef's Press allow for the food to release excess steam as it cooks quickly.
Hill invented the press because his tiny kitchen at Bix was struggling to keep up with the demand for his famous burgers--turnover on the popular dish just wasn't happening fast enough. Before long, Hill's colleagues were clamoring for presses of their own (they've been being put to good use SF's high-end restaurant kitchens for over a year now).
"Just take it home and test it out on a grilled-cheese sandwich," suggested Hill (possibly sensing my own culinary limitations). "Use two presses."
Today's lunch cooked so quickly I nearly burned it--the country bread I layered with aged Dutch gouda (my parents are notorious cheese-smugglers and I was lucky enough to have a visit from them in January) was pressed flat and evenly, with just the right amount of crunch to it.
This little invention might be enough to start me cooking.