Last time I talked about buying to much crap when you first arrive at school, so that leaves the question "What on earth should I buy?"
The general idea when buying anything should normally be quality over quantity , except in the area of kitchen equipment. Now don't misread me and think that quality doesn't matter, because it sure does, but I want you to keep this in mind.
Buy a $25 peeler and chances are its going to grow legs and walk out of the kitchen. Its a sad truth about kitchens, and one that's lead to the birth of the stereotype about chefs protecting their gear as though it was a newborn child. When you find a good piece of equipment you safeguard it with your life, but you cant always be there to protect it. So what to do?
Like I said before quality is important yes, but sometimes cheap, reliable, and easy are the best ways to go.
There are a few items that every knife kit would be useless without. Of course, you need to have a decent quality chef's or French knife, a paring knife, and a slicer. But here are a few cheap but reliable "extras" you may want to consider buying:
Peeler I've heard people tout this peeler or that peeler more times then I care to remember. The debate is constant and with every new peeler people go crazy. Peelers are essential in kitchens, they make a dull job fast and easy. But don't think you have to go out and buy a $25 one. Personally I prefer a good plastic horizontal peeler. A strong body with a good reliable blade are what you want to look for, something that wont wear out and wear your hand out when you're pulling a Beetle Bailey and peeling 25 sacks of potatoes. Horizontal or Vertical really doesn't matter much that I've found, its really personal preference, I've just found I tend to go faster with a horizontal blade.
Wooden Spoon I know it may seem silly, but a decent wooden spoon is indispensable in a kitchen. I use a wooden spoon whenever possible, the less metal on metal the happier I am. What you want to look for is a good heat resistant as well as water tolerable spoon. Something that can handle constant abuse.
Whisk Ahh yes, the whisk. It would seem that every Sally Homemaker with her own line of products would lead you to believe that you need this type of whisk for eggs, and that type of whisk for brownies. Just not true. What you want to look for is a whisk with a comfortable handle (Ever try hollandaise sauce with a crappy whisk? ) and sturdy wiring. The wiring can be key for a whisk, too thick and you wont get air into your product too thin and it will break apart easily on you. A good way to tell a decent whisk is to hold it upright in front of you and give it a little back and forth shake. If the wiring doesn't move it's too stiff. If it flays all over the place it's way to loose. What your looking for is a very slight movement of the wiring, just enough so that it still feels stable. There is nothing saying though that you don't want a thinner wiring for uses other than everyday whisking. Thinner wiring works wonders for whipping cream. Again its personal preference but don't think you need a different whisk for every application.
Instant Read Thermometer One of the biggest fads I see with culinary students are going and buying these high tech thermometers that use lasers to record temp or can compute the launch trajectory of a NASA space craft. Look, Ill be honest here. If you buy a cheap thermometer, calibrate it correctly, make sure to recalibrate it before each use, and take care of it it will last years. Unless of course your name is Bob and you decide to toss yours down your garbage disposal (it committed suicide my arss!). And buy the way, those laser thermometers only record surface temp which doesn't do you much good if you want to temp a turkey.
These are just a few items you can buy cheaply and will reward you with years of reliable service. And your wallet will thank you. If you want further motivation to buy "cheap and reliable" here's a short list of things that have grown legs and walked out of my knife kit in the last 6 months:
2 Paring Knives, 1 Whisk, 1 Steel, 3 Peelers, 1 Bread Knife, 1 Digital Camera (curses!), 2 Wooden Spoons, 1 Wine Key, and 1 thermometer.
Thankfully all but the Camera and Bread Knife can be replaced cheaply.