10 Kitchen Essentials Culinary School Taught Me To Need

That was Then

As a New York City transplant, I got used to preparing full meals in impossibly small kitchens with a minimum set of equipment. It became a point of pride – the things I could accomplish with little more than a chef’s knife. I am still a minimalist at heart, and cringe at excessive collections of one-use tools. But…

This is Now

However, after cooking in a well-stocked culinary school kitchen for months, I can admit – and embrace – that there are a handful of kitchen tools I didn’t have that I now can’t imagine cooking without. Plus, now that we live in Los Angeles, I have a smidge more room on my counter tops. My #kitchenlife is so much happier and more productive for these tools. They make my #misenplace sing. Learn from my previously under-stocked kitchen, and check out these essentials (the list could be so much longer with items that are handy and nice to have, but this list is about the few select items that I think could truly improve anyone and everyone’s home cooking experience).

10 essential things you need in your #kitchenlife. Confessions of a minimalist home cook post-culinary school.

My 10 Kitchen Essentials

I’ve come to love all the products I recommend below through years of trial and error. Some of the links are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission if you click on such a link and make a purchase. This is at no cost to you. Happy reading!

          1. A Scrap Bowl. If you have a set of mixing bowls, you’re all set. This tip is more about utilizing an item you probably already have in your kitchen, just in a way you may not be using it. At culinary school, we always had a big bowl at our workstations to toss the scraps from our food prep – e.g. carrot peels, egg shells, onion peels, stems, etc. The bowls with non-slip grips on the bottom are the best. They won’t budge or topple over in a busy kitchen. Placing a damp paper towel under your mixing bowl is a quick-fix way to help stabilize it.
          2. Awesome Cutting Boards. I had cutting boards already. Of course, so do you. But when I got a really great chef’s knife, I got picky about a quality cutting board that wouldn’t wear it down and pre-maturely dull the blade. I’m now a big fan of Epicurean boards. Take care of them, and they will take care of you. Again, I’m a fan of the non-slip features, which is a big help with damp surfaces (like when you wash Brussels sprouts and they drip water on the counter somewhere between the strainer and your cutting board… which happens to me weekly). Another option is to buy separate grip sheets – that’s how useful it is not to have your cutting board unsecured on the counter. Anyway, back to Epicurean: they’re responsibly made in the USA, using natural wood-fiber board materials certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The nonporous surface means it doesn’t harbor bacteria. Dishwasher safe and comes in a bunch of sizes. I have a small, medium, and large one.
          3. Food Grade Mineral Oil. This is for your cutting boards and any other wooden kitchen tools – wooden spoons, spatulas, etc. It’s affordable, easy, and makes a big difference for the life of your items.
          4. An Excellent Chef’s Knife. You knew this one was coming. I treated myself to a new chef’s knife when I started culinary school, but I didn’t break the bank to do it. I got a knife from NYC-startup company Misen for $65 not $165. It’s the knife Serious Eats’ J. Kenji Alt-Lopez describes as having, “incredible quality and design, high-end materials, perfect balance, and a razor-sharp edge.” So, of course there is a wait list. I highly recommend you get on it. But if you need an upgrade ASAP, here’s a nice alternative quality chef’s knife.
          5. Food Scraper. This simple tool was a revelation. I used to scrape up foodfrom the chopping board with the edge of my chef’s knife. Now I know how that just adds extra wear and tear to the blade, the precious precious blade. There’s also the possibility of cutting yourself. Last but not least, there’s only so much maneuvering and surface area on a knife for scooping up food. A flexible food scraper does a better job at all of these things. They’re typically $10 bucks or less, too.
          6. Fish Spatula. This is also sometimes just called a slotted spatula, maybe because it’s for more than just fish. But at culinary school, we called them fish spatulas, so that’s what I’m gonna call it. It has a curved side that makes it really useful for getting into the edge of rounded pans and under food. Mine has a silicon edge and an exposed stainless steel edge so that I can use it on both my non-stick and my metal pans.
          7. Prep bowls. Every good cook needs a set of prep bowls: large, medium, small, and tiny (for herbs and spices). A good starter set will have a few of each. As you cook more and more, you’ll see which bowls your personal brand of cuisine uses more of, and then you can add to your prep bowl arsenal as you go along. I have a set of glass prep bowls, to which I’ve added more of the tiny ones since I use a lot of pinches of this and pinches of that. I also have a fun set of these colorful prep bowls. I use them both.
          8. Nesting measuring cup beaker set. Truthfully, I bought these on a whim because they were so fun. However, I use them regularly, and now could not imagine my kitchen without them. I often need a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a half-cup of broth, plus a quarter-cup of olive oil… you get the idea. These nesting beakers are great for pre-measuring all the liquids you need, so that you don’t have to mess around with re-cleaning and re-using the same one measuring cup or measuring spoon as you make your meal. Ah, mis en place. So nice.
          9. An awesome food processor. I held out for so long before investing in any counter-top appliances. I got this one because it’s red. Just kidding. I did copious amounts of internet research, read consumer reports, and watched America’s Test Kitchen trials with various food processors. And this one won out. It chops, slices and grates at the push of a button. Great for big batch cooking. Think: home fries. I still use my chef’s knife for precision cuts. Bonus, it comes in red.  🙂
          10. A powerful blender. This one took me even LONGER to come around on than the food processor. I give in. I love the power to pulverize whole lemons into submission for a vibrantly flavorful and healthier take on lemon pie. While I prefer to chew my food, yes, I’ll admit that sometimes a smoothie is a simpler and just as enjoyable way to eat my fruit and vegetables. Again, I’m a sucker for aesthetics, so I love this copper blender from the Vitamix Heritage line.

What Do You Think?

If I’m honest, I’ve collected a few other gadgets and gizmos along the way, but that’s a different post (ahem, air fryer). How does your kitchen stack up? Did you already have all these essentials? Were any interesting or a surprise? Am I missing any biggies that you simply could not live without in your kitchen? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

9 Comments

  1. Lauren Harris-Pincus

    February 28, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Awesome tips, especially the food scraper. I need a good cutting board too 🙂

    1. Maggie Moon, MS, RD

      February 28, 2017 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks Amy!

  2. abbey sharp

    February 28, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    Love this list!! An excellent chef knife is key forsure!

  3. Jessica @Nutritioulicious

    March 1, 2017 at 12:55 am

    Great list Maggie! Having the right utensils makes such a difference in the kitchen!

  4. Mandy Enright

    March 1, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    Great ideas! I’m going to share this on my social media for my couples who are starting to register and looking for essential (and maybe a few nice to haves) they should register for. Thanks!

  5. Whitney @ To Live & Diet in L.A.

    March 3, 2017 at 1:52 am

    I’d never heard of a fish spatula but it looks like I need one!

  6. Anne|Craving Something Healthy

    March 3, 2017 at 5:56 am

    Yes to all of these! Having the right tools makes cooking SO much easier and more fun!

  7. Mitzi

    June 5, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    This is an excellent resource, Maggie! I will definitely take all of your tips into careful consideration. Those Epicurean boards look interesting!

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