Welcome to Playing Favorites, a new monthly series that puts our most beloved tools and gadgets front and center. Check in each month as our favorite cooks, authors, designers, and experts share what they reach for over and over again. From the dust-buster that misses nothing to the blender that tackles anything and the packing cubes that make travel a cinch, it’s the one time when playing favorites is a good thing.
If you feel like you’ve only heard about Dan “Grossy” Pelosi in the last two years, technically, you wouldn’t be wrong. Pelosi became somewhat of a big deal among millennials and Gen Z-ers on Instagram during the pandemic in large part due to his Italian grandmother energy on Instagram. “I sometimes joke that I was raised in lockdown because I'm Italian-American, and we just stay home and cook all day,” says Pelosi. “We’re obsessed with grocery shopping, stocking the pantry, and wondering about what we’re gonna eat for the next meal…while we’re eating the current meal.”
But all jokes aside, Pelosi says that staying home and cooking was just his way of taking care of himself, and sharing those snippets of life on Instagram felt organic. “I’ve always been an over-sharer, so I would share whatever I was cooking, just kind of without recipes and more behind the scenes, like ‘It’s day three of a global pandemic and I want to fry an egg and make a sandwich,’ type stuff. But helping people get through a dark time was really beautiful and unexpected because I was just living my life,” he says.
Pelosi’s vodka sawce is arguably the recipe that helped him become a household name, but longtime fans know that his crispy lemony potatoes and kale cabbage slaw should also be up there, too. His not-so-secret secret to evenly sliced potatoes and onions? His beloved Benriner mandoline, or as he prefers, Amanda Lynn, a punny drag queen-inspired name. Get it? No? Say it again a bit faster. There you go.
“I love a pun and I love drag queens so I think that naming the mandoline and giving it a fun identity within the kitchen makes it less scary,” he says convincingly, though I’m not entirely convinced that naming deathtraps makes them any less intimidating. But, Pelosi pushes on earnestly. “People think they have to go down devastatingly low to their fingers, but you can actually stop when you feel uncomfortable! Doing three-quarters with the mandoline and then slicing the rest by hand is fine!” Or just do what Pelosi does and eat the rest—just don’t feel the need to buy extra tools like anti-cut gloves or that spikey tool that helps you push food along the mandoline; Pelosi doesn’t own them and has no plans to in the future either.
“Form and function come together with Amanda Lynn,” Pelosi says. The form is the cheerful mint green that blends right into his colorful kitchen; the function is the slim, one-piece design with a lever on the underside to adjust the height of the blade, which has stayed remarkably sharp despite being used so often in the last five years.
While Pelosi usually prefers seeing the rustic, homemade elements that have become a signature in his dishes, he uses a mandoline for dishes that require every element to be cooked evenly—like crispy potatoes—or in the age of Instagram, need to be aesthetically pleasing, such as a cheese board or even orange slices for an upside-down cake.
“You have to pick and choose your battles, so you don’t need to use it all the time. I’m trying to shake out the weird expectations that people have around what it means to be cooking the right or wrong way,” he says. “Because it’s really whatever you want—you made it, you ate it, you did it, congrats! It doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t do correctly along the way. I’m just about helping you get it all done.”