“It is difficult to know what counts most in the world but I am beginning to see that the things that really matter take place not in the boardrooms but in the kitchens of the world.” Gary Allen Sledge
I recently returned from a girls trip to Washington, D.C. with girls who are all foodies and/or excellent cooks. Me, I’m a “foodie” in that I love food but I am in no way, shape, or form an excellent cook. While on our trip we ate at many fabulous restaurants and talked about many a delectable dish. It’s just amazing how amazing amazingly prepared food is!
I also recently joined a group that doesn’t just get together for potlucks, we get together and cook! Everyone signs up to bring something according that month’s theme and we all prepare the dishes together. So. Much. Fun. The woman who organized the whole thing is, of course, a fabulous cook and her kitchen showed it. Although her home is beautiful it is also modest but her kitchen is anything but and has all the ingredients of someone who loves to cook. So impressed.
We can’t all travel and eat out all the time, but we can become better cooks and it all naturally starts in your kitchen. That kitchen, however, must be stocked and set up in a way that will allow anyone to cook not only better but more efficiently. Creating a gourmet kitchen can be expensive, but there are ways to cut costs and still end up with a room that works.
True Palate or Just Good Taste?
Although many believe their food knowledge makes them a culinary connoisseur, it’s important to note that there’s a distinct difference between “palate” and “taste.” I would venture to guess that most non-professionals have good taste as opposed to a true palate.
In a nutshell, someone with good taste can distinguish subtle differences between versions of dishes and may be able to name the ingredients in that dish, but a person with a true palate can taste a dish and recreate it and/or improve it just by that: tasting it. Make no mistake, it’s a talent acquired and refined and is something quite special.
Your Dream Kitchen
Before you attempt any kitchen redo, think about how you use the kitchen and what you cook most. Do you bake a lot? What appliances do you tend to use every day? How many people do you normally cook for and how many people regularly cook at one time? All of this will help with layout and function, both of which are paramount and permanent. From there, you can move on to a kitchen’s Holy Grail: large appliances.
Red oven: does it get any better?
Whether your goal is to have better taste or to acquire a unique palate, first and foremost you need top-notch appliances. Commercial or industrial-grade are preferred and gourmet cooks prefer gas ranges. Induction cooktops are also popular, as they heat up faster and deliver a more direct heat, but they are not for everyone. As for ovens, two is better than one, but one will work. If you are fortunate to have two, try to make one of them convection, which means the oven has a fan that circulates hot air so food cooks more evenly and efficiently. Again, not for everyone and I wouldn’t suggest one being your sole oven choice. Warming drawers are also popular, as they keep food warm while protecting the moisture in it.
The other two big appliances in a kitchen, refrigerators and dishwashers, can get just as expensive and equally complicated. When it comes to refrigerators, Sub-Zero is at the top, but just because it’s the most expensive and will tell your guests “I spent a lot of money on my refrigerator,” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only good ‘fridge. In fact, “Consumer Reports” ranks Thermador and Jenn-Air higher than Sub-Zero . The attractiveness of Sub-Zero, other than owning the Mercedes of refrigerators, is that they have two compressors: one for refrigeration and one for freezing. This helps the appliance last longer (up to twice as long as other models) and also improves food quality and freshness but also contributes to them being particularly noisy. But, unless you want to spend upwards of $7,000 dollars on an appliance, you might want to consider way more affordable French-door bottom-freezers refrigerators that also received top scores with “Consumer Reports.” The style is the fastest-growing configuration in refrigerators and allows you to have more affordable function and style. Also popular and trendy are built-in integrated appliances that virtually disappear into kitchen cabinetry. These painted or natural wood panels match a kitchen’s décor and according to realtors, often help with resale, as do Sub-Zeros.
As for dishwashers, even “Consumer Reports” says you don’t need to spend a fortune on one. First, decide which features best fit your lifestyle and home. Do you have a large family that will use the appliance daily? How big is the space opening for your dishwasher…sizes vary?! Today many dishwashers boast the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Energy Star” rating, meaning they use minimal water and electricity, and still others have electronic sensors that measure dish soil levels and adjust water and cycles accordingly. Wow! Other features you want to look for are greater loading options and a quiet operation. For many, quietness is a key deciding factor. Keep in mind that dishwashers with base-pan mounted motors are the quietest and that the more expensive a dishwasher is, the quieter it will probably be. European models tend to be less noisy and almost always have a stainless steel interior, which is a sign of a higher-end appliance. Finally, one-piece designs are quieter than two-piece ones.
Absolutely adore the “mantel” above this cook area.
Countertops and Cabinetry
Counter surfaces and cabinetry are the next biggest expenses in a kitchen and choosing them can be stressful and exhausting. In general, easy-to-clean and sturdy surfaces like quartz and granite are the most durable, but other popular surfaces include marble, stainless steel, butcher block, and the ever-affordable laminate.
Today’s top countertop choice remains granite, which offers a high-end look while providing a durable surface. Very similar to granite is engineered quartz , which is also stain, acid, scratch, heat and impact resistant but doesn’t need to be sealed like natural stone countertops. Laminate is the most budget-friendly surface and thanks to patterns that resemble stone, wood, and even quartz, laminate is proving not only inexpensive but trendy. I love the look of butcher-block wood counter tops, which once sealed properly, are both decorative and functional. My favorite look is mixing wood with a solid surface countertop.
Joel-Snayd and HGTV
The hottest countertop trend right now is probably marble. This history-filled stone gives a kitchen a high-end feel but it is very porous. Stainless steel counters are also popping up everywhere, but they are not a favorite of mine. Too industrial. Too cold. Still, the grayish metal coordinates well with any color scheme, stains wipe right off, and is considered the most hygienic countertop available. In the end, choose the countertop you can afford and the one that best suits your style.
Cabinets made to look like furniture. Yes.
Now it’s time to pick cabinets. These can make or break a kitchen. Without going into too much detail, here’s a snapshot of which woods may work best for you. Light woods will generally make a small kitchen look bigger and include oak (strong and resists wear and tear), maple (uniform in color), pine (inexpensive with a bold grain…also is good if you want to paint or stain them), and ash (also good to stain.) Medium woods can tend to add warmth to a room and include beech and cherry, which is reddish-brown and expensive. Dark woods make a statement, including high-priced mahogany or walnut, which is the most sought after wood for high-end paneling and cabinetry. Me? I kinda prefer white cabinets (but I do love the non-white ones in my current home) and I’m obsessed with bead board. I also really, really like when the wood of a kitchen island is a different color than the cabinets and I love “legs” on lower cabinets that create the look of a piece of furniture. Cabinetry hardware is a total personal preference and I definitely prefer it. To me it’s a cabinet accessory, much like jewelry.
Lighting is also important in a cook area and is something I am a fanatic about. I’m all about light fixtures and they are usually one of the first things I notice in a home. As with most things, I prefer traditional-style lighting, especially lanterns, and am not a big fan of track lighting. Under-cabinet, recessed or can, and pendants help focus light in work areas, and if done correctly, add form and function to a kitchen.
Now it’s time to stock that gourmet kitchen you just built. I will focus on cooking and storage items and leave the dishes for your personal tastes. Most experts say splurge on small appliances and cookware, as they are the building blocks of any kitchen. I love my Keurig and I love my cast iron. Dutch ovens are also popular and are perfect for a variety of cooking methods and dishes. A professional chef’s knife is also a must. This is something you’ll want to spend money on after doing some research. I love my Messermeister and use it religiously for slicing, chopping, and mincing. Other recommended knives are a straight-bladed paring knife for peeling and cutting, a utility knife for slicing items like cheeses and sandwiches, and a serrated knife for tough-to-slice foods like tomatoes. Whatever you do and whatever you buy, never put your knives in the dishwasher! Finally, if I could recommend one type of storage item, it would be all things square not round, and glass not plastic. Square containers take up less space and fill every corner of a cabinet.
Kitchens are all about innovation and should be all about fun too. Here are some very innovative and very fun ideas for your next kitchen:
Spices underneath cooktop, pull-out pantry, and appliance shelf inside pantry
Flatware drawer and cutting board above trash bin
“Dead space” shelf for cookbooks and coffee station
Appliance garage and mini fridge for kids or often used items
Some of my favorite kitchens:
That island! Blue walls and oven! Those formal chairs! Subway tile!
Exposed brick or dramatic beams.