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Despite fervorous attempts at a sourdough starter and a dedication to concocting of-the-moment summer recipes, some of us are more of a novice in the kitchen than we’d care to admit. But for those looking to improve their skills (*slowly raises hand*), taking a peek into an expert’s kitchen is never a bad place to start. Why? Because tools are important, people, and this is especially true when it comes to cooking. Which begs the question: Are there certain appliances that are gimmickier than others? Or specific knives that’ll help us on our way to slicing and dicing like the pros? What about utensil types that we should reach for more frequently than others?
To get to the bottom of things, we turned to Carrie Nahabedian, a professional chef who has spent decades (since high school, to be exact) honing her craft. Chicago resident, Nahabedian worked a near 12 years as an Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort, and now co-runs a restaurant with her cousin, Michael Nahabedian, called Brindille, which showcases upmarket Parisian cuisine, in addition to the duo being partners in Kostali at the Gwen Hotel. In short, she’s exactly the expert we needed to help us navigate what we should avoid buying—and what to stock our shelves with instead.
1. Single-Use Appliances
When it comes to smaller kitchen appliances, Nahabedian reminds us to ask ourselves, “How frequently am I really going to us this?” Moreover, she also warns that as we cook, we’re going to go through phases. “Maybe you’re currently interested in learning how to make yogurt, so you buy a yogurt machine,” she explains. “Eventually, you are going to get better and realize you don’t need that yogurt machine anymore.” That said, there are certain small appliances a chef wouldn’t have in their own kitchens. These include: a breadmaker, an egg cooker, a tabletop convection oven and lastly, that aforementioned yogurt maker.
What to buy instead: Evergreen appliances you can use for a variety of tasks
“I prefer a clean, filtered kitchen, so if you are going to purchase smaller appliances, they should be things you use regularly,” Nahabedian explains. “I think everyone needs a Kitchenaid mixer in their life because it encourages you to do things like making baked goods or whipping cream for hot cocoa.” Nahabedian’s second and third recommendations are a solid blender and a food processor. As for the first, it doesn’t *have* to be a Vitamix, but since appliances take up a good amount of counter space, so you’ll want it to be a good enough quality that you will continue to be able to use over the years.
That chic-looking pan you’ve seen blasted over social media? Yeah, Nahabedian says it may be best to skip spending your $$$ on it. “There’s this FOMO out there of not partaking in the next cookware trend or fad. You see everyone having a certain type of pan and therefore you feel like you should, too.” And to that end, resist the urge to buy the massive, matching cookware set, just because it looks chic. You may not actually need all of them—and it often costs more.
What to buy instead: Separately sold pots and pans with a quality and longevity you trust
“It’s great to have all-clad everything, but some of my favorite pans cost $20 and I’ve had them for decades,” she says. Buying different pieces of cookware separately and curating your own personal set is going to lead to products you not only use more frequently for longer periods of time, but also ones you truly enjoy whipping up recipes with.
Shop cookware: All Clad 3-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set ($520; $400); All Clad 2-Piece Frying Pan Set ($90; $60); Lodge Cast Iron Skillet ($45; $30); All-Clad D3 Stainless Steel Covered Sauté Pan ($180); Cuisinart Chef’s Classic™ Stainless Stockpot With Straining Cover ($95; $55)
3. Glass and Plastic Cutting Boards
Basically, plastic and glass are no-nos. “I prefer to stay away from plastic boards,” Nahabedian explains. “Even if you have a different color for each—red for meat, green for veggies—I personally do not think they are as sanitary. …And the feeling of actually cutting upon a plastic board isn’t as satisfying.” Noted. What about glass cutting boards? “I find glass cutting boards interesting, but if you would like to avoid the sound of a knife on glass, I wouldn’t buy them.” OK, excellent point.
What to buy instead: Wood cutting boards
“One thing I always stress is having a great, heavy, wooden cutting board—and invest in numerous ones. They’re great for using for presentation of charcuterie and cheese boards, and they’re more enjoyable to use.” In short, wood cutting boards are versatile, and anything that can be used to help slice fruits and veggies on and then be used as an Ina Garten-caliber presentation piece is always worth having in your arsenal. Carrie continues: “I’m also very partial to Boos cutting boards. They’re thick and they’re substantial, and they clean exceptionally well and stay very sanitary. I use those both in my restaurants and in my own kitchen.”
Shop wood cutting boards: West Elm Rectangular Cutting Board ($50; $30); Five Two Bamboo Cutting Board (From $29); Simply Essential Bamboo Cutting Boards Set of Three ($15); Our Place Walnut Cutting Board ($95); John Boos Block Chop-N-Slice Maple Wood Edge Grain Reversible Cutting Board ($46)
4. Plastic Utensils
A brief science lesson you are probably already familiar with: plastic melts. And what is a key ingredient in cooking? Heat. So it really comes as no surprise that Nahabedian suggests staying away from any utensils that are made out of plastic.
What to buy instead: Rubber spatulas and wooden utensils
“For a novice that’s just starting to grow their collection, I recommend rubber spatulas and sturdy wood or stainless steel utensils,” she says. Other kinds of utensils Nahabedian also has a fondeness for? “Balloon whisks, peelers, melon ballers, zesters and microplanes.” (Oh, and a Nahabedian pro tip: Buy your cheese fresh and grate it yourself.)
Shop utensils: Sur La Table Flex-Core Silicone Spatula ($14); Five Two Wooden Spoons (From $25); Tovolo Flex-Core All Silicone Spatula Set ($26; $17); Chef’n Scoop Troop Melon Tool ($15); Microplane 5-In-1 Elite Box Grater ($45)
5. Cheap Knives or Knives You Don’t Know How to Use
“Knives are highly personal,” says Nahabedian. “I don’t recommend purchasing a knife if it is beyond your skill level.” This doesn’t mean we think you don’t know how to cut up veggies, but owning a fillet knife when you never fillet fish is one you probably aren’t going to use as frequently. Additionally, while buying a full set might seem tempting, Nahabedian recommends snagging a single one that’s a bit a nicer and seeing how you like it before investing in many all at once.
What to buy instead: High-quality options you can purchase individually
At home, Carrie uses (almost exclusively) Global and Henckels knives. Why? “They’re solid, they last a lifetime, they keep an edge and they’re easy to use whether it be slicing a bagel or a fish.” Her other advice is to “Take a step back and look at the things you’re cooking to see what you need.” Will you use a paring knife? A slicing knife? A bread knife? What are you cooking on a regular basis, and what kind of knife will help you with that? (If you’re not sure where to start, our food editor suggests looking for three types in particular, which can tackle most day-to-day cooking tasks: a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife.) Keep in mind that knives “Are things you ultimately love and nurture and should take care of,” so equipping yourself with a quality sharpener is as equally important.
Shop knives: Global 2-Piece Chef and Pairing Set ($100); Chef’s Choice 4643 Pronto Pro Manual Knife Sharpener ($60); Henckels 1895 Classic Precision 3-Piece Set ($100); Zwilling J.A. Henckels Knife Set ($226; $110); Henckels Dynamic Knife Set ($226; $110)
“What you stock your kitchen with is very personal,” says Nahabedian. “It’s very easy to fall in running out and buying The Next Best Thing you see on all the infomercials, but if you stick to purchasing quality, well-made products that will fit seamlessly into the lifestyle you currently have within your own kitchen, you’ll be more than satisfied. And know that from time to time you’ll end up buying something that’s goofy—but that’s OK. Every now and then, you gotta indulge.”