Must-Have Gear for the Gourmet Cook

Whether you're restocking your kitchen or setting up your first set of gourmet tools, the core of your cooking repertoire relies on well-chosen essentials that match performance with lasting quality. Chef Josh Valentine of "Top Chef: Seattle" warns against buying gadgets just to have them. Amateur cooks "think the more tools the better they are, when in fact it's quite the opposite. Less tools, more technique," he says. Take advantage of a pro chef's advice on what to buy or skip.

Essential Tools

Unsurprisingly, Valentine thinks that every cook needs a high-quality set of knives capable of maintaining its sharpness. Make your preparation techniques equally sharp with smart appliances that can help you choose your ingredients, keep them fresh, and roast, bake and simmer your way to gourmet satisfaction. A Wi-Fi®–enabled refrigerator gives you touch-screen Internet access to look for new recipes, investigate exotic produce or look for pro techniques. High-quality ingredients deserve a high-performance range. Whether you choose gas for its precise cooktop control or an electric model with a smooth top and easy-cleaning elements, look for features that can raise your kitchen efficiency. One tip that Valentine uses as he multitasks—he turns ice cube trays into molds "for certain dessert applications like panna cottas," taking them from range top to refrigerator.

Other Tools

Along with pro-quality cutlery, add a good-quality meat thermometer, a cutting board you can sanitize properly and a handful of little gadgets that handle specific tasks. A tablet can become your digital sous chef, helping you look online for problem-solving tools, playing back how-to videos and using your home network to access the recipes you've stored on your computer. "The Internet is a fantastic tool," Valentine says. "I also save and organize my recipes on my laptop." If you set up a home theater system in your kitchen, you can take advantage of its wireless access to your music library across multiple sources including your smartphone, computer and media player to provide a toe-tapping soundtrack for your cooking endeavors.

Hard-Working Utensils

If he could buy only one item as a gift for a friend who loves to cook, Valentine would choose a cast-iron skillet for its enduring good performance. "They will last you a lifetime. I actually have my grandfather's, so they can be passed down as well. They are great pans." Their ferrous-metal construction makes them ideal candidates for use on a range with an induction cooktop, which transfers magnetic energy directly to food through flat-bottomed utensils made of magnet-friendly iron or steel.

A new ENERGY STAR-qualified range gives you an ideal opportunity to experiment with new cooking techniques, especially those that cut preparation time. Valentine relies on pressure cookers to do more than power through canning. "I use them to cook and pickle beets in 12 minutes, but also I can make chicken stock in 45 minutes opposed to the two to three hours it normally takes." A range with a convection oven also enables you to cut preparation time and temperature. For the ultimate in flexibility, look for a range with an oven that can split into dual compartments, each with separate temperature control.

A Clean Kitchen

Unless you choose them wisely, countertop appliances can eat up valuable preparation space without providing a full return on the dollars you invest in them. Instead of a big stand mixer, Valentine says "a great blender is a must-have," lauding its versatility "from soup to sauces, vegetable purees" and beyond. As you build a repertoire of gourmet techniques and recipes, tidy counter space helps you keep your workspace clean. Look for appliances that share that focus, including a range with both a heavy-duty self-clean cycle and a steam-cleaning option to deal with lighter soil. When you choose a dishwasher, combine ENERGY STAR performance with flexible fold-down and height-adjustable rack options, along with quiet operation, powerful wash jets and dual drying fans.

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