Back when I made my living as a cook, there were two kitchen tools that fascinated me. I have never owned either one.

The China Cap (similar, with smaller holes, the Chinois) is a tool I might some day have in my kitchen, especially if I have a hook to hang it from. Both are meant to strain larger pieces out of soups, for example the strings from celery soup so that it is actually palatable, which was my first introduction to a China Cap.

The other tool is the Mandoline, which is responsible for many sliced-off fingertips. It is not a tool I would need unless I had a lot of food to slice uniformly and quickly. I was first introduced to it when I worked the Garde Manger station in the kitchen of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston in the 1980s. The uber chef was missing two or three fingertips himself. I heard it was something to do with pineapples.

When I came in for my shift one evening, along with everything I usually had to get done, there was a special event that needed 120 salads garnished with julienned carrots and turnips. I was at a loss as to how to get those juliennes done in the half hour I had to prepare the salads before dinner service overwhelmed my station. I started in on some carrots with my paring knife. A cook from the Big Boy section of the kitchen came to my section— maybe the event was his show and he needed those salads— and when he saw me laboring over the juliennes he looked at me like I was a total idiot and told me he’d do it. He came back in the blink of an eye with a mountain of juliennes, and I made up the salads. I had no idea what he had used, and he turned and left before I could ask, but I knew no one could have done that by hand. I asked a veteran of the Garde Manger, and she told me it was a Mandoline.