Farewell to chef Gray Kunz, the mind behind everyone’s favorite kitchen tool

Illustration for article titled Farewell to chef Gray Kunz, the mind behind everyone’s favorite kitchen tool
Photo: Chen Xiaomei/South China Morning Post (Getty Images)

I was standing in line at a supermarket this morning when I learned that Gray Kunz had died at age 65 from causes not yet announced, and in my shock and sadness my mind was drawn to what is perhaps his most lasting legacy: the eponymous Kunz Spoon.

Gray Kunz was a legend of the fine dining world. Born in Singapore but raised in Switzerland, Kunz established himself during the 1990s at his famed NYC French restaurant Lespinasse, which held a four-star review from the New York Times (their top score) during Ruth Reichl’s tenure as restaurant critic. Lespinasse also became known for nurturing a string of chefs who would go on to their own fame and glory, including Rocco DiSpirito, Floyd Cardoz, Andrew Carmellini, and Corey Lee. When I wrote about the kitchen supply store JB Prince, I learned that Gray Kunz and the notoriously oven-like kitchen at Lespinasse were the reason induction-compatible cookware was first introduced into the United States.

What’s so fascinating about Kunz’s white tablecloth legacy, though, is that he is perhaps best known for a spoon, easily purchased online for just under 12 bucks.

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The first time I noticed a Kunz Spoon in the wild, it was sitting in a bowl of dip at the Rappahannock Oyster Bar at The Wharf in Washington D.C. When I said, “Hey, Kunz Spoon!” to the person behind the bar, I got a laugh and a knowing nod. Suddenly, like a switch had been flipped in my brain, I started seeing the spoon every time I ate out. It was in aprons, in chefs’ coats, placed in serving dishes. If I glanced over at the kitchen to see what was happening at the pass (the place where plates of food are inspected and touched up prior to being sent into the dining room), someone was saucing with a Kunz Spoon. If a chef was basting a piece of meat or fish with oil or butter, they were using a Kunz Spoon. If someone was making quenelles (those oblong, turd-like blobs of ice cream that professional chefs are so inexplicably horny for), they were using a pair of Kunz Spoons to do it.

It was only when I started polling the chefs I know that I began to fully appreciate the appeal of the Kunz Spoon. The basic model is nine inches long, shorter than many other kitchen spoons, and made from heavy, ding-resistant stainless steel. The feel of the thing is nice, solid but not weighty, and while the bowl is polished the handle is matte, meaning it doesn’t show fingerprints. The spoon’s total capacity is exactly 2.5 tablespoons, which I’ve been told is pretty much exactly the amount of sauce you want when you’re plating something in a restaurant.

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Because I’m a home cook who does not individually plate my friends’ food when they come over for dinner, my initial interest in the spoon was more casual than a deep love. I bought one mostly because I felt like the only person who didn’t own one, and when I came home with it, my wife said to me, “You paid twelve dollars for a spoon?” I did not have an intelligent response.

My friends who have tattoos all say that the more you have, the more you want, and it turns out that’s also true about Kunz Spoons. One day I found myself buying the next size down, an iteration that’s perfect for fishing olives or capers out of a narrow jar. Next came the slotted version, and before I knew it I was standing in line at JB Prince purchasing a limited-edition Damascus version.

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It turns out that having a dedicated spoon for tasting as you cook—a durable one that doesn’t smudge and is basically the perfect length—is kind of amazing, and if one spoon is great, half a dozen are even better. As much as I love my Kunz Spoons, I can only imagine how much they’re valued by those who spend their days under the microscope in a high-performance kitchen. And there’s something wonderful about the fact that, for all of Gray Kunz’s accomplishments, for all the chefs he taught, for all that he brought to the world of fine dining, his most lasting, tangible contribution might be this simple spoon that makes a difficult job just a little bit easier.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

winglessvictory
WinglessVictory

While I wouldn’t buy these (or spend $12 on a metal spoon) I kinda do understand this. I purchased a few pieces of silverware in a bag from a thrift store many years ago, and they are PERFECTLY weighted, with PERFECTLY sized handles, with PERFECT length fork tines and PERFECTLY sized spoon bowls. Recently, I mentioned this to my husband and while he doesn’t cook at all and generally has no appreciation for cookware aesthetics, it suddenly occurred to him that when he fishes a fork or spoon out of our silverware drawer, *those* are the ones he looks for. I wish I could find more, but googling them I come up with nothing.

It’s the same with knives. I have a good selection of chef’s knives, but I usually reach for my Shun because it feels so nice in my hand.