My friend Joe has been a professional chef for 15 years, working in every station in every kind of place you can think of, and he’s learned some things over those years that translate back to the home kitchen.
Now, you certainly don’t need to buy a $700 blender or a $10,000 combi-oven, but a few small investments will make a world of difference in the ease and quality of your home cooking.
I asked him for some key products to elevate our cooking lives. Below are his answers, rewritten with my help, and given to you as you explore the final frontier of eating food—actually cooking it.
The basic tool of any kitchen, any chef, is a good knife. You can’t under-estimate the importance of a knife you know and trust: it makes cooking easier and smoother, and that confidence cascades to more ambitious dishes.
If you’re serious, the Mac Knife JU-65 Japanese Series Vegetable Cleaver is the perfect all-around knife for almost any kind of work. It’s $78 now—on a small sale down from $85—but more than worth it.
This is as inexpensive as a truly great knife can be, and you’ll likely never need to replace it. The 6 ½ inch blade is just right for most home-use cutting boards.
Bamboo Cutting Boards | $45
Speaking of cutting boards, there’s a trade-off between aesthetics and use. If you want beautiful times, I recommend some MOHY Bamboo Cutting Boards. They’re environmentally friendly, work well, and carry a homey beauty that elevates your kitchen.
(If you want efficiency, plastic and dishwasher-safe cutting boards are the answer: these, from Gorilla Grip, are more than half off).
Lucky Fish Sauce | $10
The next step towards home kitchen domination is an all in one flavoring agent. Oftentimes, in the professional world, I would make a sauce or a dressing or a soup and it just lacked something.
You know what I mean.
Sometimes food is missing an indefinable but important depth of flavor and finding a plug for that hole can be frustrating and occasionally fruitless.
The go-to solution for me and my crew was always a good fish sauce—I prefer the Three Crabs brand for the layered, intense and flavorful dish.
It stinks to high heaven, and please, whatever you do, don’t spill the stuff in your house, but if your gallon of chili is just missing the mark, a teaspoon of this stuff will put things right. It is an incredibly powerful, potent, delivery agent for the elusive umami that we all want in our savory dishes—and even in desserts.
Cambro Container | $22
Okay, so you’ve diced and slice and flavored. You’ve eaten your delicious meal, but you have leftovers that simply cannot go to waste. In restaurants, the backbone staple for food storage is the 4-quart Cambro container.
They’re virtually indestructible, they don’t hold onto strong flavors or odors, they don’t stain, and their square design helps save room in your fridge.
I recommend the larger size, partially because it encourages you to cook more at once (always a good chef move.) But, if a gallon is too much room for you, Cambro also makes a 2-quart model.
These simple tools won’t break the bank, but they will help take your home cooking one step closer to professional quality. Also, they’ll save you money in the long run, and hassle in the day-to-day. Happy cooking!