How many of you own or know a non-photographer friend who owns a nice DSLR camera? Ok, great. Now, those of you with your hands raised, how many of you can explain the terms ISO, focal length, or crop factor? How many of you have successfully used that fancy DSLR in anything other than “auto” mode?
Hmm. I see a lot of hands going down.
Gadgets are supposed to make our lives easier and better, which is why we spoon out our hard-earned dollars on fancy cameras: We imagine that if we only owned better gear, our pictures would instantly improve. But, they don’t.
Ready for the secret of how to take better pictures? Take a lot of pictures.
So, what does this have to do with cooking?
Mom did not own kitchen gadgets.
My mom is amazing (hi mom). No, but seriously, she has three master’s degrees, heads up a multi-million dollar research budget at work, and she still manages to be the best cook I know.
But did my mom own a kitchen full of widgets designed to make her cooking better? A $300 le creuset dutch oven to pair with her $800 DSLR?
Mom uses cheap knives from the Asian market, a nonstick pan that may actually have been nonstick at some point, and a rolling pin that I’m pretty sure she brought with her from China. 25 years ago.
So, if mom can make do with just the basic implements, why do we young people feel the need to drool over the latest kitchen “accessory?”
If the wedding registries I’ve doled out for in the last few years are any indication, we 20-somethings feel culinarily incomplete without at a minimum: a 5-qt kitchenaid stand mixer, a 14-piece set of All-Clad tri-ply cookware, and a professional knife set (Shun and Henckels are both acceptable. Just make sure to get forged. Why, you ask? What are you, a caveman??)
Wow, all of that cool equipment sounds awesome, and your kitchen looks damn sexy! So are you going to cook me up a nice sole meuniere with a side of mushroom risotto, topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil?
Whhaa–? Why not?
I don’t have the time or energy to cook
Ohhh, I see.
Don’t worry, I understand. You’re a very busy young professional, and you are much too busy/stressed/tired to cook for yourself.
Besides, you ran the numbers one time and it actually makes more financial sense to order takeout than to waste your valuable time (worth at least $30/hour) standing in front of the stove.
And all those terrific pots and pans you own from Williams-Sonoma?
Well, they’re there, you know, in case one day you get around to cooking for yourself. Just in case.
We all keep bucket lists with items like “sail Everest” or “climb the Atlantic Ocean” (just stay with me here), but do you really want to look down at that list when you’re 85 and realize you’ve never cooked a decent meal in your life?
Cooking is like walking; it is a defining characteristic of humanity
Without getting all anthropological on you, cooking is arguably the one aspect of human evolution that allowed homo sapiens to separate himself from the rest of the animal kingdom.
If you don’t cook at least one dish, from scratch, in your life; then I submit you have lost a key part of the human experience.
Maybe you’ll never cook again after that one dish, but trust me, even creating one dish will be worth it.
A few basic tools are worth buying
Ok, enough preaching.
How do you get started in the kitchen? If you already own the laundry list of gear I went through above, it’s easy enough to get started. Most grocery stores sell pre-packaged raw ingredients that come with a recipe card.
Fantastic startups like Plated will even deliver the ingredients of a gourmet meal straight to your door.
If you don’t own the basics, they won’t set you back as much as you think:
One of the most highly rated knives online is just $40. And if you already own a chef’s knife, make sure to get a solid $8 knife sharpener.
I like a nice large plastic cutting board. Though some people prefer a smaller one. Whatever your preference, the real important thing to buy is a cheap roll of cabinet liner to put under your cutting board—it makes your cheap plastic board feel like an expensive heavy wooden one by sticking the board to the top of your counter.
And here’s where I’ll go against the recommendations of many food blogs out there and say that for the beginner cook, your best best is a 10” nonstick pan. Sure, you shouldn’t be searing steaks at blazing heats in a nonstick, but you can still get a decent crust in a nonstick and you run a lot lower chance of ending up with half your dinner stuck to the bottom of a skillet—a very serious risk for the beginner cook.
And finally, skip the spatula, and just grab a pair of these OXO Good Grups tongs with nylon tips. They are the ultimate multitasker in the kitchen.*
So what’s our total bill? Around $150. And that’s if you buy everything I just listed.
Now stop reading this post and go cook something.
*actually, chopsticks are the ultimate multitasker in the kitchen, but not everyone is good with those