Whether you’re the kind of person who cooks elaborate home dinners or just likes to make a respectable meal here and there, every man needs several essential tools in the kitchen. While it’s possible to spend a small fortune on equipment, James Beard Award finalist Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville says you only need a few things to improve your cooking skills — first and foremost, practice.
“One of the things restaurant cooks do that home cooks do not is repeat making one of the same recipes again and again. So we improve each time we do something,” explains Lee. “Home cooks make recipes once and then move on to something else. Choose a dish, technique or ingredient and make a commitment to cook it three, four, even five times in a short amount of time. That will improve your cooking really fast.”
As for equipment, here are Chef Lee’s recommendations for how beginning and intermediate cooks should stock a kitchen.
Chef’s knife. But not just any old knife. “It should feel like an extension of your hand and not a foreign object,” he adds. “The relationship you have with your knife is the most important relationship you will have with your kitchen, so don’t rush this decision. Don’t worry about fancy handles or engravings. Buy one that feels right, because it will become your most trusted friend in the kitchen.”
Quality cast iron pan. “You can cook anything on it, from eggs to steaks to vegetables. Go for a reputable brand like Lodge.”
Microplane. This tool is so handy for grating and zesting that Chef Lee recommends keeping a few on hand. “They make quick work of garlic, ginger, cheese, breadcrumbs, etc.,” he says. “I can’t live without mine.”
Wide cutting board. Make sure it’s a high-quality board that gives you plenty of workspace and is easy to wash. When it comes to the material, Lee says to never buy a plastic board, and “don’t cut on hard materials like marble – or worse yet – your granite counter top. Soft wood or rubber keeps your knife from getting dull and doesn’t ruin your produce.”
Dutch oven. Lee recommends a top-of-the-line Le Creuset oven: “They look like something in a French maid’s cottage kitchen, but there’s nothing more badass to cook braised meats and stews in.” If you care for your Le Creuset Dutch oven well, it should last you a lifetime.
Measuring spoons. Nothing ruins a meal like haphazardly dumping in all sorts of ingredients. “Don’t toss salt and pepper around like you are Emeril. Measure and learn what a half teaspoon feels like in your hand before you start free-flinging spices and herbs around your kitchen.”
The Next Level
Vita-prep blender. This one is an investment, but there’s no better tool for blending and creating purees. “[This tool] is why all purees in restaurants have such a rich texture.”
Green Egg. This versatile device is a grill, oven and a smoker, all rolled into one ceramic outdoor cooker. It can sear steaks, smoke meats and even cook pizzas. “If smoked meats are your thing, then this is your new obsession,” Lee says.
Probe thermometer. It’s tough to avoid overcooking a pork tenderloin or a whole chicken – that’s why you need a thermometer that can tell you exactly how many degrees your latest creation is. “This makes your meats foolproof.”
Photos by Judson Jones