Chef Gras Shows the Tools of His Trade: The Kitchen Lab

Chef Laurent Gras’s Chicago restaurant, L20, turns two this month. He invited us into his kitchen for a look at the unorthodox tools he uses to create his elegant seafood-based cuisine.

Chef Gras Shows the Tools of His Trade: The Kitchen Lab
Photographs by Tim Klein Photographs by Tim Klein


Gras uses his industrial-grade gadget for dishes such as shaved tuna, which he serves seasoned with only a touch of salt atop his version of tuna tartare. “It’s extremely light and cold,” he says. “It doesn’t taste frozen — it just melts in your mouth.” Similar models from Swan run from $1,200 to $2,000.



Usually found in chemistry labs, the Silverson L5M shear mixer ($4,985) is used at L20 to emulsify sauces. Gras had been using a Vita-Prep blender, but he wasn’t happy with the texture of the sauces. With the L5M, he says, “the tongue can’t feel any graininess in a sauce.”


Gras says that one of the toughest tools to find in the U.S. is one of the simplest: a good peeler. He picked up this Zwilling for about 12 euros in Barcelona. “It’s better quality than you find in the States,” he says. “Maybe the peeler is the last thing people want to put money into. The ones here are very cheap.”


The SPI Swiss blunt-tip tweezers ($22 to $38) that Gras uses for plating were meant for medical purposes. He calls them “our chopsticks.”


Developed by two Spanish chefs working with researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, the Gastrovac ($6,000) allows food to be fully cooked at lower-than-normal temperatures. Gras uses his only for sauces and bouillon. “It keeps flavors fresher,” he says. “For a fish soup, for example, we can keep the vegetables at a less-cooked stage, so it retains the brightness of the tomato and fennel.”


Gras, who has more than 100 knives, waited a year for this hamokiri ($4,000), from the Japanese firm Nenohi, to be handmade by a master craftsman. It has just one purpose: to slice hamo (daggertooth pike conger), a bony eel-like fish popular in Japan in the summer. “It has so many bones you can’t pull them out,” says Gras. Expect to see poached or grilled hamo on L20’s menu from May to September.


Yes, that’s a normal No. 2 pencil and normal toy-store marbles. Gras glues them together to make a “stamp” that is used to cut patterns in starch. Syrup is then poured into the starch mold to make bonbons.

About the author

Jeff Chu writes on international affairs, social issues, and design for Fast Company. His first book, Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, was published by HarperCollins in April 2013.