Top 10 Chef’s Kitchen Items
1. Chef’s Knives
Arguably the most important food preparation tool is a sharp, quality chef’s knife. Expensive, high end models are indisputably superior, but it is possible to get a good set at a reasonable price. In your quest for the perfect knifes, first evaluate how much you cook and what kind of cooking you do. If you never cook fish, and only buy de-boned meat, then a boning knife probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. Definitely select a standard chef’s knife, though. This features a long blade that tapers down to a fine tip. It’s a jack-of-all-trades, perfect for slicing, dicing, chopping and carving. Other practical choices are a 6-inch utility knife and a paring knife with a 3-4 inch blade. Make sure you choose knives with stainless steel blades. Molded or riveted handles made from forged steel will last forever, so are worth spending a bit of extra money on. Also invest in a serrated knife for chopping bread, a wooden block to store your bounty in and a honing steel to keep your blades sharp.
2. A Variety of Cutting Boards
When preparing his eclectic and inspired dishes, Wilkinson prefers using a thick, wooden chopping block, especially for fruit and vegetables. However, it’s also a wise idea to invest in a few plastic boards for cutting raw meat or garlic and onions. “There are also Japanese yellow hard rubber boards that are great and out last any wooden board,” says Wilkinson.
3. Cast Iron Pans
There’s more to cast iron cookware than meets the eye, and those who try these old fashioned dynamos never go back. Cast iron is a formidable heat conductor and always cooks evenly and consistently. It’s also a natural way to cook without using a great deal of oil, because a well seasoned cast iron pan is virtually stick resistant and puts Teflon to shame. Cast iron also goes from stove to oven without a hitch, will never warp and will last you a lifetime. “Cast iron pans are perfect for all around use,” says Wilkinson.
4. Heavy Bottomed Pans
Sturdy, good quality pots and pans can make all the difference when it comes to your gastronomic skills. “Heavy bottomed pans provide better heat distribution, and less sticking and burning,” says Wilkinson. “They should also be oven proof, so don’t buy pans with plastic handles.” Choose heavy gauge pans that feel weighty in your hands. When you rap on their bottoms, you should hear a dull thud. Copper bottomed pans are an excellent option, but remember that copper conducts heat much faster than steel, and thus you will need to keep your cooking temperatures a bit lower to avoid scorching. Also make sure the handles of your pots are well riveted and the lids fit securely. Finally, evaluate the type of cooking you do when deciding what types of pans you will buy. If you never cook pasta, a large pasta pot doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if you often stir-fry, you may want to invest in a large frying pan with high sides and a snug lid.
“You’ll need a few pairs of short tongs for all around use,” says Wilkinson. “They should be made of thick steel so they don't bend under a load. You’ll also need one pair of long tongs for hot applications, such as cooking on the barbecue.” Perhaps one of the most underestimated cooking utensils out there, tongs are absolutely essential in any well appointed kitchen. They can be used for turning meat and fish on an outdoor grill or frying pan and also provide a good method of turning greens as they cook, serving pasta or even tossing mixed greens. Look for tongs with self-locking devices that will stay closed when stored.
6. Y- Shaped Peeler
Other than washing up, peeling is probably the most unpleasant kitchen job - but a good peeler can make disrobing potatoes, carrots and other vegetables much easier. “A y-shaped peeler is my choice, for ease of use and for speed, productivity and efficiency,” says Wilkinson. Gentle peelers are also available for soft skinned vegetables such as peppers, so if you often cook delicate dishes, seek this specialty item out as well.
A mandolin can be a chef’s best friend. This incredibly efficient slicing device makes julienne or crinkle cuts a snap and cuts finicky slicing time in half. “Mandolins cut perfectly uniform pieces very quickly and efficiently,” says Wilkinson. “You can usually find Japanese plastic mandolins for only $30.” Choose your mandolin according to the amount of storage space you have in your kitchen. They come in all sizes, but a smaller one is a better choice if you’re a bit pressed for room. Always be cautious when using the mandolin - pay attention to the sharp blade!
8. Mixer and Attachments
“My mixer has a meat grinder, sausage maker, cheese and grater,” says Wilkinson. “But mixers are used mainly for baking, so if you’re not into that, save yourself the expense.” If you do love to create decadent baked goods, do treat yourself to a stand or hand mixer, which can do everything from whip fluffy cream to knead heavy bread dough. Stand mixers with single beaters are known for their efficiency, but do cost a little extra. For standard mixing jobs, a hand mixer will do just as well.
9. Food Processor
Food processors combine several functions in a single appliance and make cooking for a large family much easier. If you tend to entertain a lot, a food processor will decrease the time you spend in the kitchen preparing, and increase the time you spend mixing and mingling. A good food processor has slicing, shredding and chopping components and most come with options for extras such as mini bowls and feed chutes plus several speeds and pulsing functions. If you’re interested in making your own nutritious juices and purees, look for a food processor with a juicing function as well. Make sure all the parts are dishwasher safe.
10. Charcoal Barbecue
This is one large item a genuine chef simply can’t live without. “It’s about the flavour,” says Wilkinson. “A charcoal barbecue just makes a huge difference in taste.” The flavour a charcoal barbecue imparts actually comes from the oils and cooking juices that fall on the hot coals during cooking and cause the smoke. For added depth of flavour, charcoal barbecues can be used with smoke flavourings and soaked wood chips. Choose a grill made of high grade steel with a porcelain enamel coating. Cooking and charcoal grates should be nickel plated or stainless steel, both of which are rust resistant and easy to clean. Always choose a grill made by a company with a good reputation, and read warranties carefully.