Angles matter. Whether cutting garlic cloves to release the most flavor, testing the doneness of steamed cauliflower, or simply choosing a spatula -- it’s all about esthetics & practicality.
Tony Hendra, Charleston Academy's Dean of Wit, likes to thinly slice his garlic because "the large combined surface area of the garlic means it releases its flavor faster and more fully when it hits the oil. Also crispy sautéed garlic slices are one of the great toppings for pasta, fish, and veggies (e.g. haricots verts.) In fact they're up there with 'amandine' or crispy sautéed almond slices. Sometimes I mix them to make my own special amandine.
I rarely mince unless I'm in high heels. I only chop wood and suey."
We often use the term "Goodfellas thin" in reference to the famous scene in which lead character Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) describes how mob boss Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) prepared dinner while they were doing time: “In prison, dinner was always a big thing. We had a pasta course, then we had a meat or a fish. Paulie was doing a year for contempt and had a wonderful system for garlic. He used a razor and sliced it so thin it would liquify in the pan with a little oil. It’s a very good system.”
When testing the readiness of steamed vegetables, people often use the tip of a knife. The Dean has learned that sometimes a knife tip is wrong for the gig. Using the tines of a fork with cauliflower is better. Three or four prongs provide greater surface area for poking and give a more accurate decision of doneness.
Finally, the almighty spatula. The angle of the spatula makes the utensil more, or less, useful. In the photo, the top spatula, by Oneida, will enable the cook to slide food from the pan without having to tilt a screaming hot object.
In the kitchen, you're only as good as your tools. And remember, it's never the oven's fault...