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Chefs share their favorite tools

There are two things in my kitchen that I simply cannot live without: my silicone baking mats and my iron skillet. An odd pairing, I admit, but central to the core of how I cook.

I first started using Silpats years ago when I was working as a pastry chef. At the time, these silicone baking mats were new gizmos in the bakeshop, and they dramatically changed our way of doing things. For starters, since Silpats line sheet and half-sheet pans for baking, they replace parchment paper in many instances, which saves on waste and, consequently, money.

You can bake anything on them and nothing sticks. A mere wipe of a cloth and they’re clean. OK, wash if you’re germophobic, then air dry — but lots of soap is actually bad for their slick surface. For formed cookies — cookies that are piped and then formed into shapes when taken from the oven and still hot (often called gaufrettes by pastry chefs) — they are a whiz. The batter grabs the silicone surface and stays put, and then pops off immediately with just a nudge from an offset spatula. Caramelized sugar, which would normally stick to everything, never sticks to silicone — perfect for those drizzled dragees you were planning for the decor on your dessert.

Other companies besides Silpat make silicone mats and baking pans, and I adore them too: Sticky homemade marshmallows pop out of a silicone pan with no mess at all, and I love to bake cupcakes in silicone molds (then you can put the cakes in colorful papers that you love). Silpat also makes another mat, called Roul’Pat, that is perfect for rolling out doughs, since the mat sticks to the counter on one side but not the dough on the other.

At the other end of the kitchen, I doubt I would continue cooking without a cast-iron skillet. Sure, I’d love to line my shelves with copper — it’s a better conductor of heat, and let’s face it, looks très gorgeous, but it’s also über pricey.

Besides, cast iron conducts heat evenly and can withstand high temperatures; I threw away my wok when I got my 12-inch skillet. Nothing is better for pan-frying. Chicken and chicken fried steak are hoppin’ good, and my smaller skillet is perfect for baking corn bread.

It takes a little work in the beginning, because the pans have to be scrubbed then seasoned with oil (or fat), but it’s worth it: Ever had pancakes made on a cast- iron skillet? French toast? Both will have wonderful soft centers and crisp edges. Looking for the perfect sunny side up egg? Cast iron is the way to get one. Plus, iron actually leaches from the pan if you’re looking for a boost to your daily dose. (If your food is sticking, the pan is not seasoned properly. Don’t blame the pan.)

I asked some Atlanta chefs to share the tools they couldn’t live without.

• Doug Turbush of Bluepointe: “I wouldn’t want to live without my solid granite mortar and pestle from Thailand because it’s vital for making all things curry and all things Thai.”

• Michael Harnage of Toulouse: “My Robot Coupe — it’s pushing 16 years and it just keeps on going! I can’t live without it because it’s the most reliable tool I’ve ever had. It slices food just right, better than any of the other newer food processors.”

• Jesse Perez of Nava: “My pick would be a spice grinder because it gives me the ability to break down dried chiles and spices to create new and exciting blends.”

• Richard Blais of Flip Burger Boutique: “Superheroes have weapons. Mine is a sauce spoon. There are many spoons, but this one is mine. You can throw away the nitrogen. Smash the circulators and Pacojets. At the end of the day, I need a tool to taste with. One that touches the food and, well, I guess touches me. It’s the most sensual of tools. And when I pack extremely light, that’s all I carry.”

• Shaun Doty of Shaun’s: “My bamboo Japanese steamer purchased at the International Farmers Market. It’s perfect for steaming vegetables and fish. The only problem is it’s cheap and catches on fire easily, so I’m constantly buying a new one.”

• Pano Karatassos of Kyma: “I love cake testers. I use them for everything sweet to savory. I use them to tell the internal temperature of all kinds of items such as crab cakes, phyllo pies, meats and fish.”

• Justin Smolev of Dressed Salads with Style: “The mezzaluna, of course — the tool and basis of chopping at Dressed. The mezzaluna rolls through greens, herbs and vegetables in such a way as to not bruise the product.”

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