Suppose you were a young adult just establishing your own place. Suppose further that someone offered to completely fund the outfitting of your entire kitchen. What would you buy? Assuming major appliances are already in place, here are my suggestions:
Service for 4 or 8, depending on your needs. Dishes, glassware, flatware, wine glasses, coffee cups and steak knives.
Two spatulas, two turners, two serving spoons and two tongs. A ladle. A whisk. A countertop container to keep these handy near the stovetop. A can opener, a bottle opener and a corkscrew. A couple of trivets. A colander. Three or four assorted-sized mixing bowls. A couple of cutting boards. A vegetable peeler. A box grater. A salt server from which to pinch kosher salt. A set of measuring spoons. A couple of large serving plates and bowls. A dish rack with a drain.
A dozen kitchen towels.
A chef’s knife and a paring knife–two of each if there’s more than one cook. A large serrated knife. Kitchen shears.
Heavy aluminum or stainless steel cookware with lids: a 12-inch skillet, a 2-quart saucepan and a 6-quart pot. One 10-inch nonstick skillet. One 12-inch cast-iron skillet. One 6-quart enameled, cast-iron Dutch oven. Two heavy half-sheet baking sheets with wire cooling racks. A Pyrex lasagne pan, brownie pan and pie plate. Glass measuring cups, 2- and 4-cup sizes. A set of graduated prep bowls for Zen-like mise en place.
A water pitcher with a filter. A food processor. An electric kettle. A rice maker. A slow cooker. A coffee maker in the style of your preference. A coffee grinder. A restaurant-style sugar pourer. Two glass bottles with pour-spouts for cooking oil. A pepper mill. A toaster. A butter dish or bell.
Things you probably do not need. A blender. A mixer. A garlic press. A pizza wheel. An electric grill, griddle or panini press. A large set of assorted pots and pans–or any cookware with plastic handles that aren’t oven-safe. Potholders of any kind. Cheese slicers, apple corers. A big block of assorted knives.
Less is more. That innocent little mellon baller may look beguiling, but do not succumb! Think hard before you let it into your kitchen and your life, lest one day you wake up and realize you can’t find anything, let alone cook, in your overcrowded kitchen. It can happen. I’ve seen it before and it’s not pretty.
A note about plasticware for the storage of leftovers, etc. I’m in favor of a small number of pieces. Maybe a couple small ones for taking to work for lunch, a couple of mid-size containers and a couple of large ones. The number and variety of these pieces should be kept to a minimum. If you don’t heed this warning, you’ll forever after be sifting through a pile of lids to find the one that matches the container in your hand. Nothing will disturb your Zen-like peace of mind faster. In actual practice I buy those light-gauge, semi-disposable ones from the supermarket. You can wash and reuse them many, many times, but if you happen to lose one at work it’s no big deal. I know this isn’t necessarily the most environmentally-friendly solution, so your mileage may vary.