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Gift an Aspiring Chef These 15 Essential Tools

May 17 2013 - 4:25am

To become a professional cook, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears . . . as well as equipment. Here are some items you'll want to give to someone starting her career a chef. It's easy to pull together these essential items for both home kitchen and professional use.

A Chef's Guide

The Culinary Institute of America produced The Professional Chef [1] ($49), a guide to learning basic cooking techniques from making stock to sautéing meats and fish.

Chef's Knife

Everyone in the kitchen brings their own knives. In order to have immaculate knife skills, a razor-sharp chef's knife, is required. The Wusthof Classic Eight-Inch Cook's Knife [2] ($150) is a trusted knife and a good starting point for beginner professionals.

Snap-On Knife Sheath

Keep knives protected when they're not in use by storing them in a snap-on plastic knife sheath [3] ($6). They come in all different sizes, so you can use them on all sizes of knives.

Sharpening Stone and Steel

Each time you take your knife out, the blade needs to be realigned with a steel, and every few months (of hard use), knives need to be sharpened with a sharpening stone. This Shun Three-Piece Whetstone Sharpening System [4] ($94) has everything you need to stay sharp and achieve a perfect cutting edge.

Sauté Pan

Most professional kitchens are equipped with All-Clad stainless-steel fry pans [5] ($110 for an eight-inch). The pans withstand incredibly hot temperatures without morphing, so you can even pop them into the oven to finish meats, and if polished regularly, they will maintain their shiny silver hue forever.

A Heat Diffuser

Most chefs prefer to cook on gas stove tops, but sometimes it's difficult to achieve a simmer, since the flame is so hot. That's where the Norpro 144 Heat Diffuser [6] ($6) comes in. Placed on the stove top, it diffuses and thus lowers the heat, so you can cook grains and make sugar-filled candies without worrying about scorching the bottom of the pan.

Photo: Anna Monette Roberts

Vegetable Peeler

There are a lot of peelers out there, but many restaurant and home cooks use the Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler [7] ($4). It's incredibly light, sharp, and inexpensive and will last you about a year.

Cork Cutting Boards

While there are plenty of cutting boards on the market, from plastic to bamboo to wood, this Bambu Cork Taper Cutting Board [8] ($26) is my new favorite. It stays put on the counter without needing to lay a wet cloth underneath it, and its squishy material is gentle on knives, so you won't have to sharpen them as frequently.

Good Flavor Combinations

Karen Page's The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs [9] ($35) is essentially an encyclopedia of flavors and what details to consider to make food delicious.

Measuring Cups and Spoons

Every chef or professional cook needs a sturdy pair of measuring cups and spoons. For the professional kitchen, buy a junky set, because they will typically get lost or taken. At home, splurge on a set that will last you your lifetime like the All-Clad stainless-steel measuring cups and spoons [10] ($50).

Glass Bowls

While no glass is allowed in a professional kitchen, when at home, use these clear, glass stackable bowls [11] ($40 for set of 10) to store prepped mise en place, which consists of measured and chopped ingredients all set out in place to be prepared.

Wooden/Bamboo Spoon

When cooking with nonstick pans, a wooden spoon or Sur La Table bamboo stir-fry spatula [12] ($5) won't scratch the bottom of cookware and can withstand high temperatures. I personally love this bamboo one over wooden spoons, because it doesn't retain oniony aromas and it still looks brand-new even though I've used it every day for the past two years.


The first thing I bought when I entered a professional kitchen is a Microplane zester [13] ($15). Arguably the sharpest one on the market, Microplanes can be used to zest lemons and grate nutmeg, cheese, and even chocolate.

Locking Tongs

Tongs are probably the second most commonly used cooking utensil, just after the wooden spoon. These Rösle Locking Tongs [14] ($30 for 12-inch) keep meat securely in your grip to prevent heavy items from falling on the ground.

Herringbone Dish Towels

Used to clean up your work area or your hands as well as to transfer hot dishes, herringbone dish towels [15] ($13 for one dozen) have a specific texture designed to absorb liquids quickly without leaving behind any cloth fibers.

Vitamix Blender

The Vitamix is one of the best blenders on the market. Used to puree soups, smoothies, and sauces, the Vitamix CIA Professional Series [16] ($529) has been designed for chefs to blend a variety of ingredients and achieve a variety of textures. It also comes with a cookbook of intriguing ideas, allowing you to use the Vitamix to make peanut butter or ice cream.

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