YOU Magazine - December 2005 - Building the Perfect Kitchen Part I: Chop Chop By Kirk Leins
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Alaska USA Mortgage AK#157293
December 2005

Building the Perfect Kitchen
Part I: Chop Chop
By Kirk Leins

Building the Perfect Kitchen - Part I: Chop Chop - By Kirk Leins

You cannot imagine how thrilled I am to be contributing a series of articles on putting together the perfect kitchen. For anyone living in a gastronomic fantasy world like me, this is the ideal job. Not only do I get to pontificate about some of my favorite kitchen tools, but I'll also have the chance to construct, on paper at least, the culinary equivalent to Shangri-la.

Literary references aside, there is nothing quite like a well-equipped and practical kitchen. Before we go any further, I want to talk about my goals for this series. A good number of you who are reading these words are new homeowners, so you have new kitchens. For many, this may be the first kitchen that has ever inspired you to cook. Let's face it, most apartment kitchens aren't worth writing home about and, as a result, they go unused. Because of this all-too-common quandary, I will assume that when it comes to kitchen equipment, you own nothing of use.

I am also writing this series under the assumption that very few of you are independently wealthy or living on a trust fund. It would be quite easy for me to create a wish list based on the latest William-Sonoma catalog, but anyone who's doing this on a budget would only end up hating me. Instead, I intend to do a little research, bargain hunt if you will, for what I consider to be the best deals for the money. In some cases, I may give you options; an expensive one and a not-so-expensive one, for example. The bottom line is, by the time we're done, you will know exactly what it will take to set up your kitchen.

Getting Started
As a personal chef and food writer, I am constantly being asked my opinions on all things food-related. “When setting up a kitchen, where do I start?” is one such question. No matter who's doing the asking, my answer never changes. You always, always start with knives.

The reason is simple; everything in the kitchen starts with the knife. There are very few meals that don't include some form of knife work, especially in the prep stage. Good knives will make your life much easier. One of the worst things about cooking in a strange kitchen is when the sharpest knife in the joint is the one used to spread butter.

Good knives will also cut down on prep time. The sharper and more honed the blade, the quicker and prettier the cut. And here's another tip. If by chance you cut yourself, you'd much rather do it with a sharp knife as opposed to a dull one. The reason? There's more surface space on a dull edge, which results in a wider cut. A cut with a sharp knife will not only be less painful, it will heal quicker.

So now that you know the importance of good knives, let's go shopping. No matter where you purchase your knives or what brand you decide to go with, I always urge people to do the equivalent of a test drive. This is important because knives feel different to each individual. The thickness of the handle, the weight, and the overall balance are all features that will determine how it feels in your hand and whether you're able to use it effectively.

My suggestion is to visit your nearest cooking store, ask the clerk to open up the knife case, and give them all a try. You might look a little questionable to fellow patrons as you practice cutting a phantom piece of meat, but who cares? This one step will save you the aggravation of spending money on something that you won't like.

As I mentioned before, there are several great brands of knives. For a long time, Germany had the market cornered with the Wusthof-Trident and Henkel Brands. As of late, Japan has gotten into the mix with Global, Kershaw, Kyocera, and Shun. I want to make it very clear that you cannot go wrong with ANY of them. In my opinion, these brands are the upper echelon of professional kitchen knives. The bad news is that all of them cost a fair amount. For an 8-inch chef's knife, you should plan on spending somewhere around a hundred dollars.

However, there is good news! When it comes to high-end knives, you don't need a lot of variety. Most kitchen jobs can be accomplished with two knives: an 8 inch chef's knife and a 3½ to 4 inch paring knife. (Paring knives run between $30–50 dollars, depending upon the size). The only other addition you might need is a serrated bread knife.

If you're looking to begin collecting high end cutlery, do it one piece at a time. Start with the chef's knife and work your way through the other two. If you treat these knives properly, you will have them forever. Think of it as making an investment in your kitchen.

Let's say that you don't feel like spending a hundred dollars on a knife. What's your low-end alternative? In my opinion, as well as many other chefs, a company called Forschner makes the best inexpensive knives. Forchner knives can actually be found in many professional kitchens. And an 8 inch chef's knife will cost you less than $25! These knives have plastic handles, so don't be surprised when you pick one up. Once again, keeping these knives sharpened is imperative to their performance.

Speaking of sharpening, when you're buying knives, you'll also want to pick up something known as a honing steel as well as a knife block. The steel will allow you to sharpen the knife's edge before and after every use, and the block will let you store the knife without dulling it. A steel will cost around $25, and a block is around $20.

Now that you've auditioned knives and narrowed down your selection, where should you go to buy them? Generally speaking, the best deals on high end knives are found either on the internet or in outlet stores. A good place to start is a website like There you can search for the best deals, read reviews, and even purchase the desired product. If you're uncomfortable with shopping online and you're not located near any outlet stores, I would suggest looking through the yellow pages and visiting your local restaurant supply store. Whatever you do, stay away from mall stores and other, similar venues. You might carry your knife out of the store in a great bag, but you'll pay for it.

One last thing I want to mention is the importance of cutting boards. They are vital to prep work, and they tend to get overlooked when setting up a kitchen. My suggestion is to visit a restaurant supply store and pick up 4 plastic cutting boards; a red one, a yellow one, a green one, and a white one. Use the red cutting board for meat. Use the yellow cutting board for fowl exclusively. The green cutting board should be used for veggies, and the white cutting board is for everything else. Plastic cutting boards are inexpensive, and, because they're plastic, they are dishwasher-safe. This is also the way that restaurants prevent cross-contamination while providing their chefs with a quality work station. Four plastic cutting boards should only cost you around $60.

The next article in this series will be Building the Perfect Kitchen – Part Two: Pots and Pans. Until then, happy cooking!

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