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The food processor at 40

Food processor know-how

“Process hard or dry ingredients first, then soft or wet ingredients [e.g., chop onions, then add eggs and mayonnaise for egg salad],” cookbook author Norene Gilletz says.

Use an on-off pulse technique and check often to avoid overprocessing.

Watch out for heat from friction. For delicate dishes like seafood mousses, chill all the parts in the freezer before processing, says Giles Schnierle, chef-turned-cheese-purveyor.

Whirl some soapy water in your processor for quicker clean-up.

Leah A. Zeldes

In 1971, a device that would revolutionize home cooking was unveiled in Paris.

It would be nearly a decade before it really caught on, but for serious cooks, the food processor has become an indispensable kitchen appliance for all kinds of shredding, chopping and mixing jobs.

The original, dubbed Le Magimix by its inventor, Pierre Verdun, was a scaled-down version of the Robot-Coupe, a machine he’d developed for commercial kitchens.

Verdun, a culinary salesman, had noted how much time chefs spent laboriously chopping and slicing vegetables. In 1963, he introduced a device that took the drudgery out of that work. One machine did slicing, mixing, chopping, grating, blending and more, completing in minutes jobs that took hours by hand.

An American physicist named Carl Sontheimer spotted Verdun’s home model and retooled it for the American market. In 1973, he launched it at the National Housewares Show in Chicago as the Cuisinart.

To promote it, Cuisinart hired food writers such as James Beard and demonstrated it to prominent writers including Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and Jacques Pepin. (Carl Jerome, a one-time instructor at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, collaborated on a Cuisinart cookbook with Beard.)

“I learned a lot of tricks from Abby Mandel. She was the guru of food processors,” recalls Paulette Gardner of Northbrook. Gardner, 69, sold the devices during the 1980s at her Niles cookware store.

The late Mandel, who started Chicago’s Green City Market, wrote several food processor cookbooks and a recipe column for this newspaper. She also was a demonstrator and representative for Cuisinart.

The machine was so different, home cooks really needed guidance on how to incorporate it into their cooking routines.

“When I bought my first food processor in 1975, I spent the first month making puree of dinner!” says Norene Gilletz, whose The New Food Processor Bible, 30th Anniversary Edition (Whitecap Books, $29.95) hits stands this week. The book is the latest revision of her best-selling 1980 manual, The Pleasures of Your Food Processor, which taught a generation how to use the device.

With some 600 recipes, this newest edition (alas, no longer in the yellow-covered ring binder) adds revised directions for the newest generation of food processors.

“I had to rewrite the book to make sure the instructions worked with the new models,” says Gilletz, pointing out that modern machines now have locks that keep the blade from falling into the soup, are less leaky and often offer different-sized bowls.

She also added dairy-free, gluten-free and vegetarian recipes .

Gilletz is Jewish, so her recipes are kosher and her book includes many traditional Jewish recipes, made easier in the food processor.

For example, kichlach, a type of cookie that requires 20 minutes of beating by old-fashioned methods, can be mixed up in two minutes in a food processor.

“I’m lazy. I like to be efficient in the kitchen,” says Gilletz, a Toronto-based food writer and cooking instructor.

Gardner and nearly every cook I talked to about food processors mentioned potato latkes as one of the recipes they use the appliance for. Some traditionalists claim that for authenticity, “You need to get a little skin in there,” grating potatoes and onions by hand, Gilletz says.

Food processor fans scoff.

“I’ve got good knife skills,” Gardner says, “but you cannot shred a lot of cabbage or grate a lot of cheese without a lot of effort unless you use a food processor.”

She uses the machine for such tasks as slicing onions for soup, blending salad dressings and even making peanut butter. It is also handy for making crumb toppings and mixing dough, she says.

“It’s a great convenience. It speeds up everything,” says Marcelle Lyn-Waitsman of West Rogers Park, another avid baker. She makes graham cracker crusts in her food processor — “It gets it down to a fine powder” — and mixes cheesecake filling in it. “It makes it nice and smooth,” she says.

Lyn-Waitsman, 53, also makes coleslaw, not only shredding the cabbage but preparing homemade mayonnaise in the processor.

“You can make some wicked-ass things that would take you a long time any other way,” enthuses Giles Schnierle of Beverly, a onetime chef and caterer, now a wholesaler of fine cheeses. “Pates, mousselines, it does that incomparably.

“There are things I wouldn’t make without one,” says Schnierle, 63, who remembers when preparing such dishes required the long, tedious process of rubbing the ingredients through a sieve with a pestle.

A food processor makes them almost effortless.

“It really changed everything,” Gilletz says.

Leah A. Zeldes is a local freelance writer.

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