Culinary Tools for Capturing and Separating Ingredients


While making dinner the other night, my significant other mentioned a random tidbit of intrigue, about how Peruvian farmers are using large sheets of mesh strung up on hillsides to harvest water. As the morning mist drifts over the arid landscape, moisture condenses on the netting and drips down into pipes that carry the water into containers where it can be used to irrigate crops or even as drinking water.

bottom of black fabric mesh with droplet of water about to fall

Photo: Getty Images courtesy of BBC.com

This inventive and yet super simple act of separating and capturing inspired me to look at other ways we filter or simply divide two ingredients and the tools we use to do so.

yellow vintage gravy boat on left with fat sorter in black on right

Left: Mid-Century Cardinal China Gravy Boat Oil Separator \ Right: Likid Fat / Lean Sauce Boat by Revol

As a food designer, I have always been fascinated by tools, especially those found in the kitchen…what they do, what they solve, and how they work. So, when thinking about the process of isolating one component, I immediately thought of my mother’s saucier gras/maigre, that divided the family roast’s jus into fatty and lean. This simple yet ingenious design works with density. One side of the pourer has an enclosed spout that starts at the bottom of the boat allowing the heavier liquid a clear path out. Whereas the more typical spout on opposite end pours out the lighter liquid.

antique wooden farm sifter

Monumental Antique Wooden Farm Sifter \ Photo courtesy 1stdibs

Then sifting came to mind as another way we separate and filter. From ancient bamboo strainers to Jacob Bromwell’s patented flour sifter, sifters make sure an ingredient is consistent in texture and without unwanted clumps of particles.

vintage stainless steel sifter on wooden table

Bromwell Sifter \ Photo courtesy Etsy

vintage chinois sieve stand

Vintage Chinois \ Photo courtesy Etsy

And let’s not forget the chinois, as ubiquitous to French cooking as a copper pot. Memories of watching my grandmother patiently working stewed berries into the most delicious confiture are permanently attached to this piece of equipment. But if jamming isn’t your thing, this sieve/strainer can also be hacked into a steamer.

two silicone strainers in blue/grey color

Frieling Multi-Function Silicone Pot Insert via Food52

Currently on the market, you can find modern silicone collapsible strainer/steamers, like the one above by Frieling. Or counter-worthy artisan-crafted ceramic colanders from companies like Connected Goods, below. But my 3rd or 4th hand, banged up aluminum chinois from the Port de Vanves flea market in Paris is still my go-to decades later. By combining strength, lightness, and resistance to corrosion, its simple aluminum design stands the test of time.

organic perforated stone colander

Stoneware Colander & Berry Bowl via Connected Goods

Don’t get me wrong, I believe products have room for improvement, iterations, and reimagining. And as a product designer, I’m inspired to do this. But we must always keep in mind the long-term ramifications future generations will face due to the marketing illusion of new = better and disposable = easier.

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TJ Girard is a sought-after food designer and creative consultant, celebrated for staging theatrical, interactive food + beverage experiences. She now resides in California where her creativity is solar powered! TJ writes the Design Milk column called Taste.



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