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Be Bobby Flay, Not Chef Boyardee

Find out what your first kitchen needs tonight at MET


Chris Kimball, host of the hit television series America’s Test Kitchen and editor of Cook’s Illustrated, will speak tonight as part of Metropolitan College’s Food and Wine Seminars. Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

After a long day of classes, a student rushes home to her first off-campus apartment for dinner — but instead of finding a hot meal waiting, she faces what can be the daunting task of cooking for herself. Welcome to life without a meal plan. For the first few weeks, new apartment dwellers will likely get by fine with a can opener and a microwave. But frozen dinners can satisfy hungry tummies for only so long. There comes a time when the charms of ramen and Spaghetti-Os fade, and students will have to put together a working kitchen for the first time.

But there’s no need to fret, says Chris Kimball, host of the PBS series America’s Test Kitchen and editor of Cook’s Illustrated. Off-campus living can be fulfilling, as long as students have what they need. And while learning to use a kitchen can be difficult, he adds, equipping it is not.

In the seminar The Kitchen Detective with Chris Kimball, he will speak about kitchen must-haves, including specific brands and products, tonight, February 26, at 6 p.m., in the Fuller Building at 808 Commonwealth Ave. Admission is $25 and is open to the general public. Contact the Metropolitan College Food and Wine Seminars at 617-353-9852 for more information.

BU Today asked Kimball what every first kitchen needs, and what can be left at the store.

BU Today: What are a kitchen’s bare essentials?
You’ll want a 12-inch skillet, a 3-quart saucepan, and a 6- or 8-quart Dutch oven. You should also consider an eight- or nine-inch nonstick skillet. You’ll need an eight-inch chef knife, and I recommend buying a Forschner Fibrox. It will cost you about $28, and it’s almost as good as a $100 knife. You’ll want a couple of baking pans, an 8 by 8 and a 9 by 13, a cookie sheet, and a cooling rack. And you’ll want a heat-proof spatula and a big roasting pan. You’ll also need a kitchen timer — West Bend makes a lot of good models — and if you’re a new cook, you’ll definitely need an instant-read thermometer. You can use it for everything from steak to bread to custard. A Thermapen will run $80, but it’s the Lexus of thermometers, and you can buy cheaper models. I recommend Taylor Digital Pocket Thermometer. Just be sure to buy digital and not analog.

What’s the most useful piece of cookware?
The Dutch oven is the most useful piece of cookware because it makes soups, braises, and stews. Tramontina makes great Dutch ovens that typically run between $90 and $125. A food processor and a standing mixer are also essential items, although they can be pretty pricey. I recommend going with KitchenAid for both products. The food processor will cost you about $130, and standing mixers run anywhere from $200 to $400.

What’s the most useless kitchen gadget?
I hate bread machines. Although a bread machine does a decent job of kneading bread, it does a crappy job of baking it. It makes loaves like cake — it’s just awful. The oven is vastly better for baking, and if you don’t want to knead the dough, you can very quickly knead it in a food processor. Please, don’t buy a bread machine.

I think people tend to buy too much of things they don’t necessarily need. For example, everyone wants a fancy knife set, but two-thirds of the knives are useless because you’ll never use them. Personally, I’d rather spend more money on fewer quality items.

So where should you spend your money?
Get a really good 12-inch skillet. If you want something that’s going to make you a better cook, this is it. The quality will make all the difference in the world. Buy something substantial; you’ll burn your food if you don’t have a heavy saucepan or skillet. Also, be sure that the handles are ovenproof. Very often you put skillets from the stovetop into the oven, so you never, ever want something with plastic handles. I recommend buying an All-Clad stainless steel skillet. They run about $190, but they’re worth it. If you don’t want to spend that much money, Calphalon offers a 12-inch skillet for $65, and Farberware Millenium has 12-inch skillets for $70. Honestly, though, even if I were struggling financially, I’d get the All-Clad.

A knife sharpener is also essential. Knives get dull really quickly, and there’s no other way to sharpen them unless you send them out. I recommend Chefs Choice Model 110 and Chefs Choice model 130, which run about $130.

When choosing an apartment, should you look for a gas or an electric range?
An electric oven is fine, but you want a gas stovetop. It’s much harder to adjust the heat quickly on an electric stovetop, and when you’re cooking, you want to be able to adjust the heat quickly. It is possible to learn how to cook on an electric stovetop, but it’s not nearly as convenient. You can see and adjust a gas flame by eye, and the reaction time is instantaneous.

If you live in the dorms and have to cook in a microfridge, what can you make?
Back in the 1980s, there was a hope that microwaves would replace ovens, but realistically, a microwave is for reheating. It’s not a cooking instrument. I guess microwaves make okay bacon. You can also make a decent polenta, which is a cornmeal mush, in about eight minutes. So if I were a starving student and I wanted to make something really good in my dorm room, polenta would be it.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.


12 Comments on Be Bobby Flay, Not Chef Boyardee

  • Nathan Miller on 02.26.2008 at 8:45 am

    Knife Sharpening

    Using a knife sharpening rod, I have sharpened hundreds of knives, dull from watermelons and misuse (doin’t use the cutting edge of your knife to scrape the cutting board, use the back edge). IMO – Counter top knife sharpeners are a waste of money and counter space.

    However, I gotta agree about the All-Clad stainless. Great balance, thick layered for even heating (although the copper core has a better pouring lip on the saucepans). And I also agree about knife sets: an 8-inch Chef’s knife, a Bread knife, and a paring knife (in that order) are are the knives you really need.

    • Aileencr on 03.19.2008 at 9:50 pm

      thank you

      favorited this one, bro

    • Joelob on 04.05.2008 at 1:13 pm

      well done

      favorited this one, brother

  • Anonymous on 02.26.2008 at 10:39 am

    Is this really what we want to teach young people who would like to cook themselves a healthy meal – that if they can’t afford to spend $1000 on kitchen supplies that they shouldn’t even bother? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to being the proud owner of a $130 food processor, a $200 standing mixer and a $190 skillet. When I hit the lottery I’ll buy them for myself. In the meantime, I’ve been cooking for myself and my family for years without any of the above. Shame on Chris Kimball for forgetting that healthy food can be cooked in the humblest of kitchens with a little care and creativity.

  • Arturo M. Escajeda on 02.26.2008 at 11:57 am

    I agree with the first comment. The article is absolutely ridiculous. It imbues upon the reader the idea that good food can only be prepared using expensive kitchen tools. In one memorable line,

    “Buy something substantial; you’ll burn your food if you don’t have a heavy saucepan or skillet.” As if it were impossible to not burn food in an expensive, heavy saucepan, or vice versa, impossible not to have a properly prepared meal on a cheap pan.

    Perhaps in a world where everyone had the benefit of wealthy parents and hedge funds, this would be reasonable advice. The entire article simply lists various, expensive kitchen items.

    The good chef, or cook for that matter, is not dependent upon expensive tools, but genuine sill.

    Disappointing, to say the least.

  • ... on 02.26.2008 at 12:23 pm


    Ok, here’s the problem. This guy is rich. He’s clearly totally disjointed from reality. He doesn’t look that old, but he’s apparently already forgotten what it’s like to be broke. I rode my bike to Watertown and rode back with a box of pots & pans which I bought for $28. It took like three hours, but it was cheaper than at Bed Bath & Beyond. I got 2 nice non-stick frying pans and 2 decent boiling pots. Oh no, they have plastic handles…….?! And $28 for a knife? Just steal one from the dining halls.
    Don’t be a snob. It doesn’t take good cooking utensils to be a good chef. It just takes creativity, herbs, and time. (I’d much rather have bayleaf & garlic & basil & thyme than some $150 frying pan…)

  • Anonymous on 02.26.2008 at 1:38 pm

    this is ridiculous!

    these are ridiculous suggestions for a college student. All someone needs are a few good pans and some spatulas (and etc) and a baking dish. Thats all I have used for the four years I have lived alone throughout college and grad school and I make amazing meals. Recently I added a crock pot which is GREAT because I can cook without having to actually do anything except throw things in. I don’t think this was even mentioned! The big problem here is that the life of a college student wasn’t even taken into consideration. And they are charging 25$ to hear this crap! Something that is common sense, buy everything at the store except a bread machine.

  • Anonymous on 02.26.2008 at 8:31 pm


    Perhaps knife sharpeners have come of age; I’ve never found one I’d care to sacrifice a good knife to. I taught myself to build an edge with a sharpening stone, and I highly recommend at least trying it, starting with an inexpensive blade – you’ll probably ruin the knife, but if you keep going, you’ll get the edge back, and better than ever, through your own efforts….kinda like learning to fish, it’s a skill that lasts a lifetime & improves with age.

    As for Kimball’s big-ticket recommendations: don’t think of it as one big ticket: only buy what you need, but get the best you can afford; if you can’t afford All-Clad, get a good cast-iron skillet & learn to take care of it (hey, you’re learning to cook – taking care of your tools is a prime piece of that). Get one good knife, and learn to use it – it’ll be awhile before you really need another. Food-processors and stand mixers are upstream, not at all pressing or urgent for almost everyone.

    Relax, take your time, enjoy yourself: with the right attitude, cooking is only slightly less fun than eating!

  • Anonymous on 03.03.2008 at 9:48 pm

    If you think $28 is too much for a knife

    How much do you spend a week on beer? Give me a break. Can’t afford $28 for a knife so you encourage people to commit petty larceny? GET A JOB.

  • Anonymous on 03.05.2008 at 12:41 am


    I think he is probably correct in the idea of getting one or two pans for college…but the idea of paying that amount is insane. LOL… I think I would put that money to good use buy stocking my fridge and going to Savers or the goodwill to find a pan until I am out of college and can get something better.

  • Philip on 04.12.2008 at 8:12 pm

    Knife Sharpening

    I take exception to his recommendation for a knife sharpener as well, except only because that one is SUPER expensive. You could have the sharpest knives of any college kid and only spend $20. http://tinyurl.com/3oem6r

    Sorry, but I’ve seen at least 10 times the number of knives dulled by people using a rod vs. a knife sharpeners. Holding that 20 degree angle simply takes too much practice.

    Also, the people I know with sharpening rods simply don’t use them enough. Those people often have dull knives while those of us that use the SUPER convenient, fast, and fool proof knife sharpeners have consistently sharp knives.

    I’ve been using the same knife for 15 years with the same sharpener and my knife is almost always sharper than any knife I find in the kitchen of my friends. Why? Because I sharpen it every single week.

    I’m not against people using rods (my father still does and my restaurant friends, of course), but for most normal people, counter top knife sharpeners end up being the best way to go.

    I’m open to others opinions.


  • Anonymous on 09.08.2008 at 3:02 am

    good,i like it

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