Shhh: A Top Chef’s 89¢ Secret to Cook Like a Pro

By Perri O. Blumberg from original
Photo courtesy of Greg Powers

I recently spoke with Mike Isabella, the proud New Jersey native and Top Chef All-Stars Runner-Up who’s currently owner of two Washington, D.C. restaurants–Graffiato and Bandolero. After we talked about his exciting career, I posed a simple question: “What’s the one trick that’s changed your life in the kitchen?”

Without missing a beat, he replied “A cake tester!” Given my limited culinary-savvy, I asked him if he baked a lot. Nope, but here’s why he can’t live without it: “It costs about 89¢. They’re like little needles with plastic tabs on the top of them and you can use it when baking just about anything. You pierce it right into meat and fish (so it gets into the middle of the protein), wait a few seconds and take it out. Put it underneath your bottom lip or on your wrist. and if it’s cold,  you know your fish or meat still needs to cook, and if it’s warm, you know it’s cooked through. A lot of times, you’ll see a piece of meat is nice and brown on the outside, but then when you pull it out, it’s cold in the middle! Walk around at any fine dining restaurant and you’ll see a lot of the big chefs running around with little plastic needles poking out of their pocket. That’s why!”

P.S. Mike,89¢? Pfft, we found ‘em here for 65¢.