Having great cooking equipment is not critical for success in the kitchen, but it can make the process of preparing meals easier and more efficient. I'm often asked for recommendations about various kinds of appliances. I think the increasing frequency of these questions is due to both changing tastes as well as technological advances which have resulted in a number of interesting (though at times confusing) new possibilities for home kitchens. In this two-part post, I'll shed some light on my recommendations for a home kitchen that will be fun to work in and look good for years to come.
The overriding principle I encourage people to apply when planning a significant kitchen project is to always focus on functionality first and appearance second. This means trying to resist purchasing an appliance or feature such as countertop or flooring simply based on looks. These are long term investments which, if you a serious cook, will be used constantly. Unfortunately, a beautiful-looking oven may not perform the way you would like it to and the same applies to many other appliances. It's worth reading some product reviews and talking to salespeople at several different locations to get a more accurate idea of how the product will actually perform. If you have an opportunity to talk to someone who is actually using the appliance or feature in their kitchen, that's a great way to ascertain if it lives up to the hype.
Another consideration is how the appliance choices you make are going to impact the appearance of your kitchen. Today's LED touch screens may look sexy but take it from me, electronics, circuit boards and computers do not blend well with a hot, humid and sometimes wet kitchen environment. Will that LED screen look so sexy when it doesn't work and costs half the price of the fridge to repair? In my experience, you're usually better off to select fewer bells and whistles - particularly electronic ones - in favour of long term reliability.
Speaking of appearance, I usually caution people to be wary of trends. What looks great now might not look so trendy in 5 years; this applies to everything from backsplashes to range hoods to colours. As an example, who remembers harvest gold or avocado coloured appliances...need I say more?
I am often asked if it is worth it to pay the premium for stainless steel. True stainless steel, or the stainless steel look, have been very popular for years now. Part of the reason for this appeal is that it looks like a commercial or professional kitchen appliance, but remember that looks don't always equate to performance. I personally like the look as I have been working with stainless steel equipment for my entire career. But for home appliances it has no effect on functionality other than it shouldn't rust, whereas if you chip an enamelled appliance (those painted white, black, red, etc.) it could rust. Typically stainless gear costs 30-50% more than enamelled, so it is an expensive personal choice. Choosing stainless may add some resale value to your home should you sell, provided stainless steel stays trendy and you learn how to clean it properly so fingerprints and grease do not detract from its gleaming appearance. As an alternative, an increasing popular trend is colourful enamelled ranges, so bear in mind that stainless may be passé before you know it.
Of course there are myriad choices to be made when outfitting a home kitchen. Here is my top ten list of other considerations when you want to outfit your home kitchen like a professional:
1) Install a cold water faucet (sometimes called a pot-filler tap) at your range; it's just really handy to have.
2) Look for an extra-large two compartment sink with a heavy duty faucet that can be easily turned to the side to give you full access to the sink.
3) If space permits, a rack to hang small pots and frying pans from the ceiling helps to avoid the awkward piles of pans in your cupboards.
4) Coved edges on a countertop leading up to the tiled backsplash are important. A granite countertop typically meets the backsplash at a 90 degree angle, requiring silicone caulking to join the two mediums but silicone stains, erodes and can lead to leaks which is no fun. Standard laminate countertops are traditionally seamless and coved (curved) up to the beginning of the tile backsplash providing a waterproof, stain-free area where water and grease can gather. So if you can have the option of having the granite curved up the backsplash you can avoid this potential trouble spot. Ideally, heavy gauge stainless steel is the best medium for a countertop. It doesn't corrode, chip, leak or discolour. It cleans easily and doesn't pit or crack which granite and laminate counters can. It really comes down to price and the look you are comfortable with.
5) I wouldn't get a butchers' block; while they're nice to look at, they're not as easy to clean and they get pitted and grooved which can harbour bacteria.
6) A small commercial stand mixer with meat grinder, dough hook, beater paddle, wire whip and grater is very versatile and helpful. I say commercial grade because even though there are some good quality residential stand mixers available, their parts tend to be partially built with plastic, and they tend to be less precise when performing whatever task you are asking them to do.
7) For flooring, something seamless and sealed is best. It will clean up easily and provide the least amount of opportunity for a leak. There are numerous options all with different benefits, appearances and price points.
8) Range hoods come in many different functional options and aesthetic styles. The hood needs to vent properly out of the house to eliminate lingering smells, reduce humidity and prevent a lot of extra cleaning. I have seen so many homes with hood vents that simply redirect the air right back into the kitchen, just higher up away from the stove. Look for a hood with a good light, is easy to clean (smooth surface with as few angles as possible), has a heavy duty exhaust fan and has a filter which is dishwasher safe. Most hoods can be similarly matched up to the look of your kitchen with exteriors made of stainless steel, copper, white, black, glass, wood, composite and more.
9) A wine chiller is a must. Ours serves as our beverage cooler for all sorts of drinks, freeing up valuable space in our fridge.
10) A large fridge is also essential; a full-sized, double door will be in my next kitchen, you can never have enough fridge space if you are a serious cook, particularly if you entertain.