In recent years, TV cooking shows and food blogs have inspired a nouveau generation of cutting edge chefs. But we’re not talking about the Giadas and Alton Browns of the cooking world — rather, folks like you and me who are interested in whipping up 5-star fare in-house for our friends and family. Making restaurant-quality food has never been easier, as high-quality appliances that were once reserved only for the best of the best are now within the reach of the everyman and woman. If you’ve been looking to amp up your culinary game, we’ve got some great tips to get you on the road to Top Chef-dom, and we’ve rounded up some of the essentials needed for a serious chef’s kitchen. From the forged-steel knives Martha Stewart uses to dice her veggies to a high-tech convection oven that will give way to the flakiest of pie crusts, read on for our top 6 kitchen picks!
A Set of Sharp Knives
You don’t need to purchase one of those pricey wood blocks packed with random knives to call yourself a serious chef, but there are a few knives that anyone serious about cooking must have: a chef’s knife, a slicer, a utility knife, and a parer. So, what do you use each for? A run-down here:
Chef’s knife: The preparation of just about every meal will revolve around your chef’s knife. It is the indispensable multi-tool of the kitchen and is the knife you reach for when it comes to chopping, dicing, mincing, julienning, cutting meat, and disjointing large cuts.
Slicer: A slicing knife is essential for carving meats and poultry, as well as for slicing sandwiches, fruits and vegetables. The knife’s long blade helps to produce thin, uniform slices—much like what you see on plates in 5-star restaurants.
Utility Knife: As implied by its name, a utility knife is ideal for everything from trimming and peeling vegetables and fruits to small chopping and slicing tasks. Every kitchen should have a knife with a 4- to 6-inch blade.
Parer: This small knife features a plain edge blade that’s perfect for peeling and other intricate work like de-veining a shrimp, de-seeding, and cutting small garnishes. Much like a chef’s knife it’s meant to be all-purpose, except smaller.
Forged-steel knives are your best bet for slicing, dicing, and chopping away with ease—they are not only sturdier, but resist bending and can be sharpened more easily. The downside, however, is that they can be quite pricey. But if you consider that you will be using these knives for years and years to come, they’re worth every penny. Wüsthofs’ knives are the top choice of professional chefs the world over—this includes the likes of Martha Stewart, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Emeril Lagasse.
Bamboo Cutting Boards
Even the hardest of maple will be scarred by a chef’s knife, but bamboo boards are constructed to withstand years of abuse. This is a big reason why bamboo cutting boards have gained in such popularity over the years. Bamboo is often dense enough to resist knife scarring and naturally resists water penetration and the subsequent bacteria that results. Bamboo is also one of the most sustainable materials around. Because of its tolerance to an array of environmental conditions, and its fast-growing nature, bamboo can be easily and affordably grown and harvested with little environmental impact.
While bamboo boards are almost maintenance-free and generally resist retaining water, you should never, ever put your cutting board in the dishwasher. Prolonged exposure to heat and water will cause your board to warp and crack, ultimately making it impossible to effectively chop up your food. Cracks are also a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and other microbes. Also note that there are a number of manufacturers that use formaldehyde and glues when processing their bamboo, and these chemicals can leach into your food and gas out over time. Always pay attention to the fine print when purchasing your boards to ensure that only non-toxic treatment methods and organic practices have been used. At Inhabitat we love the gorgeous bamboo cutting boards from Totally Bamboo.
A Professional Blender
While you might be tempted to reach for the $29.99 model, know that not all blenders are created equal. Investing in a high-end blender can dramatically transform the quality of your food and drink. Smoothies, nut milks, soups, dips, and many other recipes can be prepared with little effort, and pro blenders are built to last through some serious abuse—you don’t have to worry about your investment going kaput even if you’ve got it hacking away at ice and other hard to blend items day after day. Professional blenders also take aesthetics into consideration and often feature sleek, streamlined designs made from the best materials, and never from shoddy plastic. And because your blender is likely to live on your countertop, having it as a complement rather than a clash to your kitchen decor is pretty important. Vitamix’s Professional Series 750 Blender 1825 is consistently rated highly by top chefs for both its design and capabilities.
Cookware That’s Made to Last
Unless you are obsessive about everything looking alike, don’t purchase a set of pots and pans. Mixing and matching cookware from different makers is the best way to build an inventory of great cookware to match all of your needs. Different kinds of cooking work best in different kinds of pots, and different makers have excelled at developing cookware in various materials that work best with certain techniques and foods. Another problem with sets is that you’ll often get a bunch of pots or pans that are too small and you’re likely to toss them aside as you trade in for larger pieces bought one off. Our advice is to go to a store and look at the pans first hand. Lift them, handle them, consider the amount of care they need, as well as how they will be used in your kitchen. For example, cast iron pans are fantastic for stir-fried Asian cuisine, while copper pans are great for preparing sauces.
So what do the pros love? Prominent chefs have been known to look toLe Creuset for their cast iron cookware, andCalphalon andAll-Clad for their more “lightweight” pots and pans in other metals.
A Versatile Cooktop Range
Serious cooks are multi-taskers, and a high-quality cooktop range that can take on several pots and pans filled with food without causing fluxes in temperature is a must. Seen here is Fisher & Paykel’s 36″ 5-burner range. This gorgeous gas cooktop lets you create mouth-watering dishes with ease. The design features recessed cooktop grates, which make it easy to move pots and pans between elements. And toss those rough and abrasive scrubbing brushes. These ranges are designed for easy cleaning!
A Convection Oven
Ovens have come a long way over the last decade, and many chefs have turned to convection ovens to perfect their quiches, roasts, and meringues. Unlike conventional radiant (a.k.a. thermal) ovens, a convection oven uses fans to circulate hot air through the oven cavity. The moving air speeds up the rate of heat transference that naturally occurs when air of two different temperatures converge, and what results is more evenly cooked food at lower temperatures, often with better and faster results (food cooks an estimated 25% faster). Fisher & Paykel’s OB30 built-in oven is as about as high-tech as a convection oven can get. Not only does it boast a cavernous size, but it also features ten cooking modes including self-clean (a busy chef’s best friend!), and their advanced AeroTechTM cooking system.