I am a huge fan of Alton Brown. I love his quirkiness and nerdiness, especially how he is able to break down the science of a recipe in language we all understand. He also cooks recipes on his show that all people can cook. So when Alton Brown speaks, I listen.
On Monday, Serious Eats posted a video in which Alton Brown described his five pieces of essential kitchen equipment. Before watching the video, I hypothesized what he might say: a good knife, a cast iron pan, a good Dutch oven, a food processor, a KitchenAid stand mixer, a specific utensil. These would be the items that make my list, but the five that Alton Brown described simultaneously shocked me and yet were completely obvious.
- Table. He says, “Because no matter what you make, if people can’t sit down and break bread together, it’s useless.”
- Knife, preferably a sharp one. My personal recommendation: invest in a knife that you like and that feels comfortable to you. Don’t buy a knife simply because so-and-so says it is the best.
- A Talisman. For Alton Brown it is a spoon he always gravitates toward. His idea is that you should have a piece of equipment that allows you to feel at ease and at peace in the kitchen. The goal of being in the kitchen and cooking should always be one of enjoyment, not high amounts of stress and anxiety.
- Light, and plenty of it. Ideally it is nice to have a mix of natural and artificial light. (I have had to cook with no lights before, and it is no fun.)
- Fire. He does not care if it is a gas range, a grill or a fireplace, but he says, “People who somehow cook with fire are different. The primal element of fire is something one must reckon with.” Unfortunately, the apartment Claire and I are renting has an electric range, but I still have my gas grill.
As you can see, his list is so simple yet at the same time so counter cultural. Maybe because there are gadgets for everything. Or maybe we have watched so many celebrity chefs cook with only the best equipment that we think we must have the best equipment to produce good food. I myself get caught up in acquiring more for the kitchen – a better knife, a new pot, a new appliance (do I really need a crock pot, a deep fryer, a sous vide machine, a KitchenAid, a hand mixer, a food processor, and an immersion blender? No, but I am super thankful that I am able to do a lot of different things with food.)
But chances are at least 95% of Americans have all five in their home already. The two most difficult things about this list is 1) to actually use them, especially a table instead of watching TV, which Claire and I struggle with, and 2) to remember that at its heart, cooking is simple and should be treated as such.