Good Knife(s)

Do yourself a favor.  If you have something with a plastic handle, throw it out.  If you have a knife that doesn’t make you want to go cook something just so you can hold it, please go get a nice knife or four.  I know you think you can cut it as a chef with anything that semi-resembles a chopping device, BUT once you get your hands on a properly balanced, elegantly sharp, beautifully patinated, forged steel knife… magnifique!  You’ll instantly elevate your game, or really want to.  There are some great do-almost-everything knives out there – usually called a ‘chef’s knife’ – that can get your game out of the ‘fast food’ arena.  A good serrated knife would be next and then a paring knife if you’re really building out your kitchen. Almost all cooking (except making cereal) starts with a knife.  And so this is as essential as having top quality ingredients. You didn’t skimp on your couch, your car, your clothes… come on, why would you skimp on feeding yourself with the most essential tool of the trade?

Salt & Pepper

No, not that washed out iodine-laden stuff that comes in a plastic shaker.  Or that grainy ‘pepper’ that looks and tastes like old sawdust.  Real salt.  Real peppercorns.  Salt & pepper are, naturally, the alpha and omega of spices.  You can do so much with the proper application of them.  And as you’re probably aware, pretty much everything you eat has both of these applied.  Why would they be the only two things at every restaurant table in the world?  You can seriously upgrade your cooking by sourcing a variety of salts (Himalayan pink, Maldon’s flaky finishing salt, coarse sea salt, to name a few) and at very least getting a proper pepper grinder with fresh peppercorns.  Your guests and your family will thank you.

A Proper Slotted Spoon

This can be both utilitarian and elegant.  But a slotted spoon is something that you’ll absolutely miss if you don’t have one. Hate burning your mouth trying to taste the rigatoni in a ladle or a solid bottom spoon?  Need a quick stir or to splash some (not too much!) au jus on your steak? Want to easily transfer some baby new potatoes?  

A slotted ‘spoon’ can also have a flat (not rounded) end with which you can use to stir vegetables or deglaze your pan (make sure it’s a wooden one, not metal!) or a variety of other handy things that other utensils can’t cover or are too clumsy to wield.  And best, a beautifully ornate one can be used to serve everything from roast to salad!

Dish Towels.  Not paper towels. 

Have you ever watched a cooking show or been to a restaurant and seen the chef wielding a roll of paper towels?  NO!  There’s a reason.  They’re rather useless, not to mention terrible for the environment. There’s literally no situation on earth where a paper towel can beat even the simplest dish towel.  But dish towels aren’t just for wiping up spills.  They can do a lot like serve as a defacto oven mitt, for quickly wiping off plates, for dabbing your brow as you work the hot grill, for quickly drying your hands as you constantly wash them while cooking, holding onto slippery jars to open them, dabbing any dribbles off your wine bottle from pouring, grabbing a warm pan on the stove… and as real pro chef’s do, use it to denote a hot pan or dish by placing it on top.  

Sure, you can get as fancy as you want here with patterns or ones emblazoned with your family crest.  Whatever.  Just make sure to have a solid mound of them tucked within reach (and at least one on your person at all times) when gliding through your meal prep and stylings. 

Butcher’s Block 

We’re all familiar with cutting boards, the kinda necessary things we use to chop our ingredients on.  But butcher’s blocks – the upscale, heartier, and often ruggedly beautiful version of which is usually called a cutting board – can be a true center piece of your kitchen.  If you want to go all out, and I suggest you should because of the reason I just mentioned, find a nice hand-hewn one from a truly woodsy artisan. Wood art is as old as it comes.  Put a functional, conversation worthy piece right in your kitchen. 

Olive Oil 

Did you know that there are professional olive oil tasters and serious olive oil tasting competitions?  Yes, olive oil has many similarities to wine.  And it’s no coincidence that many, many of the world’s top wine growing regions are also home to some of the best olive oils… and often olive trees are planted adjacent to vineyards. Olives can elicit many different characteristics and flavors, too.  So, as with all these items, do yourself – and your food! – a huge favor and find a nice, distinct well-crafted olive oil to help burnish your cooking.  You don’t have to break the bank here as a good olive oil doesn’t fetch nearly the cost of a good wine.  But it’s nearly as important to your meal.  Trust, Chef Wonderful!  

Coarse Mustard 

If you’ll excuse the analogy, this is really a gateway drug to better ingredients and condiments in general.  Similar to my note about finding a good olive oil to up your meal game, a really good, eccentrically tangy, eye-poppingly spicy, tongue tinglingly coarse mustard (meaning you can see, feel, and taste the actual mustard seeds) will make you think twice about how potentially poorly you’ve been treating your palate with bland condiments and flavors. 

Mason Jars

The do-everything utility soldiers of you, General Chef.  Mason jars are so simple and functional that we take them for granted.  Yet they can upgrade your pantry and you cooking with their multiple functions.  Need a quick homemade vinaigrette?  Drop some ingredients into a mason jar and give a good shake!  Need a place for that extra sauce?  Mason jar!  Need a quick nip of wine while cooking without having to worry about knocking over your nice stemware?  Mason.  A place for the extra uncooked pasta? The possibilities are endless.  Just super handy and very affordable to get a dozen.  And they come in many sizes!


While Microplane is actually a brand name, I’m talking about a high quality grater-zester.  Yes, Microplane has the advantage of recognition in the cooking vernacular – probably because they make the best ones – but this is necessary for everything from grating cheese to putting some zest on your cocktail to shredding veggies to shaving a bit of chocolate onto your dessert!  Why chop when you can ‘plane!  


It should go without saying that music should be in every part of your life but an especially great place is right in your kitchen. Nothing like some mood music to keep the fingers nimble and the toes tapping as you stir, whisk, grill, bake, and chop.  We often don’t have a stereo in our kitchens for a variety of reasons so get yourself some kind of portable music speaker you can use to bluetooth with your phone, at very least.