As a traveling chef, I get to cook in kitchens around the world. I once taught cooking to a young man in New York who had a nice-size studio apartment, but his kitchen was so small we both couldn't fit into it at the same time. I would go in and demonstrate some things, then we would switch and he would go into the kitchen to practice his skills.
I have cooked in kitchens that are huge and decked out with all sorts of modern "conveniences"—which I have to say I don't always find so convenient. I know it can get lonely being alone in the kitchen, and at least the coffee maker will talk to me, but I've never been great with reading instruction manuals and anything beyond on/off buttons can get me a little flustered, so simple works for me. I grew up in rural Ireland and watched my mum and grandmother prepare all our meals in big black pots hanging from hooks over an open fire. When I was about 7 years old, we traded our hearth fire for a big range in which we lit a fire that would heat up the stovetop and oven. Perhaps it's for this reason that I resonate more with simple, natural elements in a kitchen. Some of my most memorable meals have been cooked over a campfire.
While cooking on a movie filmed in Bangkok last summer, I got to cook for my client in the kitchen of the famous Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Although I was a little out of my comfort zone, as I'm so used to being solo in the kitchen and not having to tiptoe around lots of busy chefs, I still enjoyed the buzz of being in the kitchen with other chefs. It was a wonderful learning experience, as Thai food is one of my favorite cuisines and there was a little kitchen osmosis going on, which of course influenced my cooking style.
Of course, the only really essential things in any kitchen are a person who loves food and cooking, a little creativity, a happy heart and a great knife.
Pots and Pans The best investment you can make is in a range of good-quality pots and pans. If cared for, they will last a lifetime. Choose good-quality stainless steel, enamel-coated cast iron or copper core stainless steel. Copper is a good heat conductor and will spread the heat to allow for even cooking. Of course, the size and quantity of pots will depend on the number of people you're cooking for. I always find that even in kitchens that have a huge range of pots and pans, there are about two or three that are my go-to items that I use all the time. I'm not a big fan of Teflon-coated cookware, although I had a scientist argue that the toxins were inert unless the surface was scratched. When I heard that birds will die if exposed to the fumes from cooking in Teflon cookware, I was a little suspicious. However, I do like to have one nonstick pan for making crepes. I have tried them in stainless steel and cast iron, and I just can't make it work. I like cookware with glass lids, as I like to be able to see what's going on in my pots and pans as the food is cooking. Also find out if the handles will heat up—on most good-quality pots, they won't.
Bowls I like to have a nice assortment of bowls—ceramic, glass and metal—for baking and mixing. I always put my prepared veggies for my dishes in small bowls, which I line up next to my stove to add to my dishes, so I keep a range of various-size bowls on hand.
Blender My blender one of my most valued kitchen items. I use it daily to make creamy soups, smoothies, sauces, waffle and pancake mixes.
Juicer I love my vegetable juicer and use it on a regular basis to make an assortment of fresh fruit and vegetable juices. My favorite treat these days is kale lemonade, which I make by juicing a large bunch of kale and squeezing the juice from three to four lemons. Combine in a jug and add about 4 cups water and enough agave syrup to sweeten it to taste. As well as being a delicious and refreshing drink that even kids enjoy despite the fact that it's green, it's highly nutritious and alkalizing.
Food Processor I tend to use a small food processor a lot more than the bigger one, unless I'm preparing large quantities.
Spice grinder I use my spice grinder a lot for grinding spices, nuts and seeds.
Zester I use my zester every day, as I love the flavor of citrus zest in my savory and sweet dishes. Microplane brand is popular and works really well, but any grater that has a zester feature is fine.
Cutting Boards My personal preference is a bamboo board, as they're durable and hygienic, as less absorbent than most woods. Bamboo is also a sustainable, environmentally friendly material. I also like to have a few plastic cutting boards that I can put into the dishwasher for cutting meats and fish—preferably color coded.
Knife I'm not one of those chefs who boasts a large selection of knives—I travel with one Japanese-style knife, which works for most of my needs. It has a blade guard, which makes it easy to travel with.
Aprons Of course, I always have a selection of gorgeous and fashionable aprons so I can stay clean and look pretty as I cook.
Most importantly, make your kitchen a welcoming place where you'll enjoy creating delicious, healthy dishes to nourish yourself, your friends and family.