In addition to a general aversion to kitchen gadgetry, I despise sets of things. Why would I ever need a very small, a medium and a gigantic frying pan? My advice to those who need to fill a new kitchen with pans is to buy multiples of the medium size—the standard twelve inch pan. Like a line cook at a busy restaurant, I have a stack of these loyally waiting just next to the range. This is a basic efficiency; there is no application for a miniature frying pan that the standard one can’t accomplish, and if cooking in volume is really necessary, I switch to a large brazier. In other words, small and large frying pans are irrelevant, but a medium one is just right. Is this really so exotic a concept? For professionals, not, but the humble home cook usually finds the idea (or me) peculiar.
And yet I have never been in an amateur kitchen that doesn’t possess some favorite pan, or knife, or spoon, or apron… I had a friend who made a good soufflé, but he could only do it using his favorite soufflé ramekin. It shattered one day, and he quit soufflés for good. Despite a number of others, my mother uses an old sauce whisk that has long lost its handle. She grips at the little metal stub feverishly each evening so as not to lose it in the dressing. This is insane! I don’t begrudge the desire for the consistent performance of a favorite; I just don’t understand why dinner must screech to a halt if some piece of equipment is in the wash. Instead I’m preaching perpetually available consistency.
To return for a moment to size: it is not universally ill-advised that it should vary. Stainless steel bowls are the unsung heroes of the efficient kitchen, marinating meats, storing leftovers, serving as impromptu Champagne buckets. But six bottles of bubbly and a ten pound bag of ice won’t fit in a two quart bowl, and a sixteen quart one is far too large for storing a few cups of concasse. So one resorts to sizes in, say, four quart increments from two to sixteen. This works well, but, once again, only if there are multiples in each size. If one very large bowl is needed, the chances are good that another will for the same meal. Incidentally, the twelve quart stainless bowl is the most useful—I have at least four of them in constant rotation.
A confounding and mercurial force is at work preventing all of this kitchen prudence: the packaged deal and its silver-tongued appearance of value. When my wife and I registered for our wedding, a very slippery salesperson escorted us about the kitchen department recommending sets of all the, as she put it, essssentials. When challenged on what was so essential about a three inch braising pot, her response was the full pitch: you never know…and the set is such good value. I do know, and no it isn’t. Packaging things is always a tactic to get the consumer to spend more, not less. And throwing in a few specialty pots for which there is little need is an inexpensive way to create an impression of value. She was not amused when I confiscated the little gun from her and zapped three identical pans.