For this article I interviewed my friend and chef Gretchen Young. She is a chef for Williams Sonoma's store at Columbus Circle and personal chef for a bachelor in New York City. Here are the things Gretchen says you simply cannot live without.
Pepper mill (and salt mill if you are so inclined)
Peugeot Chateauneuf Adjustable Salt & Pepper Mills
Did you know that the French car maker Peugeot also makes world class pepper mills? The mechanism was created in the 1840s and this same engineering has been the best since then! Sleek and shapely, this traditional grinder is top quality and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Mini salt & pepper mills
Let's say you don't have a lot of space on your counter, yet you still want fresh pepper or salt on your plate. Try the "Pump N Grind!" In one hand, hold down with your thumb and pump away. No adjustment possible to the coarseness of the grind. Salt and pepper grinders fit easily in utensil drawer.
All-Clad Utensil Set
Oxo Utensil Set
While I prefer All Clad's stainless tool set, this set has a bit of everything and it is non-stick which means that you do not scratch your pots and pans (something I do not seem to worry about, but does seem to stress out others).
You've invested a lot of energy equipping your kitchen. Now it's about the maintenance. Wooden spoons are the way to go when cooking. They will not scratch metal pans, clean up is easy and there is no scraping. Save the metal spoons for serving. Just remember not to toss wood spoons in the dishwasher.
Batali wooden spoons
A wooden spoon is a basic and beautiful tool to have in your kitchen. When I pull out my wooden spoons I recall fond moments of watching images of chefs and home cooks the world over. Gretchen likes the beechwood spoons, I love the lines of the Batali spoons.
All-Clad Standard Cups & Spoons
Heavy stainless measuring cups and spoons. All-Clad makes wonderful tools for the kitchen. They are perfect for recipes that call for "scoop and sweep" methods. And they won't rust. Gotta love that.
Oxo Angled Measuring Cup
The OXO Angled Measuring Cup is another item on the "must have" list. No more raising the measuring cup to eye level to figure out just how much is in one of these things. Just pour liquid into the cup and read levels instantly. Dishwasher safe. Colorful and easy to read.
As for the dry measuring utensils vs. wet measuring utensils. As Gretchen remarked to me, you cannot use one in lieu of the other, dry ingredients and liquids are volumetrically dissimilar.
Microplane Zester Grater
No more scraping your knuckles with a box grater. This brilliant, versatile tool is used for lemon/lime zest (you'd be surprised how many uses you can find for zesting), for Parmesan cheese and chocolate shavings (on those nights you want to make dinner special for your honey). Rinses clean, dishwasher safe.
Microplane Grater-Zester without Grip
This is my favorite, though Gretchen claims that men will like the one above more as she finds it easier to handle. They both do the same job and do it beautifully.
Gretchen Young has a culinary career that stretches over 10 years, having satisfied high profile individuals, restaurants, small businesses and non-profit groups through a catering business, cake design studio and as a private chef. She has taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle and the Whole Foods Bowery Culinary Education Center. During the Fragrance Foundation's 2006 Fragrance Week, she partnered with Takasago Perfumerie and Bacardi to create a multi-sensory experience of food, cocktails and scent. She earned an MBA from the University of Michigan and was trained at the Institute of Culinary Education.