Golden rules for stocking your kitchen: ‘Good equipment does not make you a good cook’

Russ Parsons: I came to Ireland with three knives and an instant-read thermometer

This month marks two years since my wife and I put almost everything we own into storage and moved from Los Angeles to Ireland with just five suitcases.

Any move means a big sort, letting go of things we’ve held on to for years. But for me it was even more so. As long as I can remember I have been cursed with the collector’s gene. Books, art, records (when I was a music writer), cooking equipment (when I started in food) – I have never been able to resist picking up just one more essential object, or, indeed, regarding almost anything that catches my fancy as essential.

This resulted in my kitchen and pantry cabinets in Los Angeles being crammed chock-a-block with high-end All-Clad and Le Creuset pans, top-of-the-line food processors and stand mixers and all their attachments, and, perhaps most fatally for me, my counter crowded with crocks crammed full of what cooks call “smalls” – wooden spoons, whisks, spatulas, strainers and assorted paraphernalia.

Of course, none of this would fit in those five suitcases. I came to Ireland with only what I considered truly essential for cooking – three knives and my good instant-read thermometer.


Slowly but surely, I since have filled up what had once seemed like boundless cabinet space in my new kitchen. And still I find myself searching online for the “just one or two little things” that I need to complete my collection.

With Christmas coming, I thought this would be an appropriate time for another good sort, to make what they call “a searching and fearless inventory” of my kitchen cabinets – not just for my own purposes, but as a kind of thought exercise for anyone contemplating buying culinary presents for the cooks they know.

So here are three golden rules for stocking your – or your loved one’s – kitchen.

Rule one: Know who you’re shopping for

The equipment you need will be based on the type of cook you are. Despite all my best pandemic intentions, I am still not much of a baker, so those tools don’t figure much in my scheme. On the other hand, having blown in from a warm country, I am absolutely enthralled by the opportunities for soups, stews, gratins and all those chilly weather dishes I love to cook but always felt like a bit of an affectation in Los Angeles.

One of the first things I bought after we arrived was a good enamelled cast-iron pot and I use it several times a week. Other pots and pans in regular use include a cast-iron griddle for toasties and Sunday morning pancakes, and a big boiling pot with strainer for making pasta and blanching vegetables. A roasting pan with a rack is also in steady rotation for chickens, lamb legs, pork loins and the occasional chunk of beef.

Oddly, the cast-iron frying pan that I thought I needed hasn’t been used nearly as often. And don’t even get me started about that nice food processor I thought I needed and have used only twice.

Rule two: Shop smart

Don’t forsake quality for convenience or economy. The two flimsy cookie sheets I bought are long gone. The sturdy replacements, though they did cost a bit more, work better, will last longer and are a much better value.

Check the details, particularly if you’re shopping online. I bought a pasta pot without looking carefully at the capacity. It would barely hold enough for two servings and I’ve already given it away. My big bugaboo: keep a tight lid on your enthusiasms. I do need baking dishes for the gratins, casseroles, crisps and cobblers I make so often. But to my surprise I now find that in two short years I have somehow accumulated five of them of different sizes and materials. I am willing to admit that perhaps two or three might have been sufficient.

Rule three : Don’t overlook the small stuff

It’s true that nothing makes a splash like a big gift under the tree. But for me, the definition of luxury is having enough of the little tools that I use constantly.

Among my best buys has been a bamboo-handled wire skimmer I picked up at a Chinese market; it’s perfect for rescuing big batches of blanched vegetables or cooked pasta. I can never have enough silicone spatulas and in fact I think whoever invented them deserves at least a Nobel prize, and possibly canonisation.

Same with those Microplane graters.

Maybe my favourite purchase of all has been these ingenious stainless-steel mixing bowls I found at Tesco, of all places. They are just the right size, they clean up like a dream, they have graduated measurements marked on the inside, and they have a rubber-jacketed bottom so they stay in place on the counter when I’m using them. They can be hard to find, so I bought three when they came in stock; I would advise you to do the same.

But the biggest lesson I’ve learned through all this – and it may even qualify as shopping rule number four – is that good equipment does not make you a good cook. It makes certain tasks easier and it makes many jobs more pleasurable. Still, it’s no substitute for those cooks’ attributes that cannot be bought – thoughtfulness, careful attention and practice. Fortunately, those take no suitcase space at all.