I Love My Rare European Chili Paddle Like A Child

Love can exist between a person and an inanimate object, especially when it's an object that brings immense joy into your life. For me, it's my chili paddle. I love my chili paddle like it's the sixth member of my family.

The chili paddle originated in Paris. Five years ago I had the privilege of going there for business. One afternoon my colleagues and I were touring the 1st arrondissement before dinner. There were a few cooks among us, and some location-based mobile searching led us into E. Dehillerin, one of the most charming stores I've ever experienced.

The store's allure compelled me to get something, no matter how trivial. After 20 minutes of shopping I honed in on this wooden thing: not quite a spoon, not quite a spatula, and not quite a scraper. It was unlike anything I'd seen at home. Although it was expensive for a wood spoon (20 U.S. dollars), it was portable. And if they sold it at E. Dehillerin—a place that once had Julia Child and Paul Bocuse among its clientele—it was probably there for a reason. I got it and it alone.

On the flight home I started to have second thoughts. Did I really just spend $20 on a wooden spoon? So I pledged to myself that I would give it a go right away, instead of letting it end up as some bauble at my desk.

Within a week after I got it home, I employed the paddle on its first job: a pot of red chili. Any reservations about its utility quickly disappeared. I started using its flat face to mash the ground beef into the bottom of the Dutch oven while it was browning. As the beef turned less and less red, I used the tapered end to break it into smaller pieces. As I added the broth, I could use that end again to deglaze and scrape the bits of the bottom. Since the paddle was wooden without sharp edges, there was no fear of scratching the enamel on the Dutch oven either (one quick aside: if the chili paddle is the sixth family member, the enamel Dutch oven is the seventh). As the chili thickened, the sturdy-yet-not-heavy paddle made clear paths through the stew. Throughout each step of the process it was easy to clean: a zap under the sink with dish soap and a sponge, and the flatness made it ready to use again in seconds.

Wow. This thing was like a Burke bar for the kitchen. To recap:

  • It can break up ground meat
  • It can mash (and also works great for opening up a clove of garlic)
  • It holds up to thick stews and soups
  • Its flat edges make material easy to scrape off, unlike the crevices of some spoons and spatulas.
  • It's respectful to your cookware
  • It cleans quickly
  • And it feels great to use
  • Immediately I declared it to be the chili paddle, because I really didn't know what to officially call this, and also chili paddle sounded cool in that "chuck wagon cook" kind of way. Please don't think its purpose is just for chili, though. It can stir a silky risotto or a thick banana bread batter. It can mash raw garlic cloves. It can test the softness of mirepoix. With some balancing, it can fish a meatball from a pot of sauce. This thing is a class A workhorse.

    It's not uncommon for me to get excited about tools. When I got a "real" sharp chef's knife from my wife, it was a revelation. The foam "snow pusher" I got for my car from my dad was another thing I raved about. But nothing has captured my affection like this paddle. Any lunch or dinner guest has been and will be subjected to the story of the chili paddle and its greatness every time I use it. Everybody's conclusion seems to be that it's a neat paddle, and not something to book travel to Paris to get.

    Given my affinity for the paddle, care and treatment for it has been top of mind for the last couple years. Despite its sturdiness, it is made of wood, so I have to remember to oil it occasionally (a dry wooden spoon will get brittle). Every time I tap off rice grains during a risotto preparation, I make sure I don't do it too forcefully, or I make sure to rotate so one side doesn't take too much abuse. There's now some faint dimpling on the edges, but nothing yet that compromises the meat of the handle. And I will never let anyone put it in the dishwasher, to the point of stopping the cycle and fetching it out if a mistake happens.

    To hedge against the potential loss of the paddle, it's been a mission of mine to find one or nine backups. This has been a fruitless effort. I cannot find another store that has this exact shape; there are plenty of varietals of wooden spoons, but nothing tapered or thick. Hours of Google image and keyword searching (every permutation of spatula, paddle, wood), as well as both virtual and physical trips to kitchen supply stores yield no exact match. The E. Dehillerin site doesn't list it either. My odds of a Paris return trip in the next decade are low. The last resort is to chisel my own paddle, which at this rate is looking more and more likely to be a 2020 craft project.

    Marie Kondo said that you should only hang onto the things in your life that spark joy. After utilizing it hundreds of times, I can say unequivocally that my chili paddle sparks a crap ton of joy. It's so satisfying to have something like this in your life that does a job well. And although our time on Earth together is limited, there's the remote chance that a replacement will come along. If not, at least we'll have Paris.