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Is a $400 Knife Worth It? Actually, Yes

Is a $400 Knife Worth It? Actually, Yes

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Sure, you could get a couple nice Le Creuset pots for that price. But there are few tools that you use more often—or depend on more heavily.

For your average home cook—not a professional chef—how important is it to have really great tools?

It depends on the tool, of course. If you aren't cranking out hundreds of dishes per night, you probably don't need an industrial mixer or a commercial dishwasher. And while a $2500 coffee maker may be great if you've got money to burn, a $40 Chemex makes a cup that's more than good enough for many high-end coffee shops, at about 1/63 the price.

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But a major investment in a very fine tool can be worth it for something that you're likely to use every day for years on end. There is value in spending more up front if it means having something that you will enjoy using and won't need to replace.

This is one of the reasons that Le Creuset, for instance, commands $300 or more for a single enameled dutch oven, despite other manufacturers selling versions for $50 or even less. The quality of craftsmanship that goes into one means that it's unlikely you'll ever need to replace it, and they have a lifetime warranty to back that up.

But there are only a few kitchen tools that I use often enough to warrant spending the time and effort to find really good ones. And one of the most difficult items to find is a good knife.

I've said elsewhere that finding a knife you like—one that makes cooking a pleasure—can be a highly personal matter. And frankly, making sure that the knife you have (whatever it is) is sharp enough has far more effect on whether the time you spend cooking is fun or frustrating.

I've worked in food media for years, and I've had the chance to handle and learn about all kinds of knives, from the very inexpensive, to the very very expensive. But when I cook at home my go-to is still an old knife that I picked up years ago for a few dollars at a yard sale—it was made by a company called Hoffritz that went out of business, and it looks like this.

It's not a high-end knife, but none of the much more expensive knives I've owned has felt or worked better for me. Why? First, it's well balanced: I can lay it on my finger right where the handle and blade meet, and it won't tip or fall off. That makes it less likely that the handle feels like it's going to slip out of my hand, even when I'm holding it loosely—meaning I can use to cut a lot of food without getting tired (or, you know, cutting myself).

It's also lighter than many higher-end knives, lacking the heavy sculpted handles or extra layers of metal that make high-end knives pretty, but often unwieldy and difficult to use. And while my knife is made from pretty standard stainless steel, it's been relatively easy to sharpen, and holds an edge pretty well.

But recently, a representative for a startup knife company called Artisan Revere reached out, and asked if I'd be interested in looking at one of their knives.

What caught my eye was that their knife is made out of a new type of metal—Elmax steel—that is well known in the survival knife world, but hasn't been used by a kitchen knife manufacturer before.

According to a variety of sites, the steel is both more durable and harder (so it can get—and stay—sharper). I was skeptical, since as I understand it, you either have a knife that is durable, but won't get extremely sharp (like many German-style knives), or have you one that can get very sharp (like many Japanese-style knives), but is more delicate and prone to chipping.

Artisan graciously let us test one of their knives, so I tried it out myself and then gave it to a couple of our professional developers in the test kitchen to try out.

And after about a month of testing, I am really impressed. The knife is basically an upgraded version of my favorite knife, that's just slightly better in nearly every way.

It's not an impressive-looking knife—few guests in your kitchen would be likely to remark on it. This is, again, because it lacks all sorts of design features like a bolster (the flared-out chunk of metal behind the blade) a fancy handle, or the layers of extra metal that give some knives that wavy, Damascus steel, or hammered metal look. Instead it's just a simple looking piece of metal, sharpened on one end, with an old-fashioned two-piece handle sandwiching the tail (or tang) of the knife.

But everything about it is incredibly well made. Every single surface besides the blade is smooth and comfortable, from the well-polished handle to the top edge of the knife (which almost always has mildly sharp right angles). The balance is extremely even, so in the hand it feels light and easy to wield—more like an extension of your arm than anything else. And while two of our testers found a mild complaint with the comparatively long, thin blade's point occasionally catching on a cutting board or other surface, others found it worked well for delicate work.

The material is, indeed, incredibly strong and sharp. Our test kitchen developers sliced cleanly through duck bones with it, then deboned some chicken thighs, chopped up root veggies, minced herbs, and made some delicate, paper-thin fillets of snapper for crudo. It performed flawlessly—and has continued to do so for the past month without needing more than a swipe on a honing steel. Artisan Revere claims the steel will stay sharp between two and nearly three times as long as other high-end knives, and I am inclined to believe them.

For the next few days, Artisan Revere is selling their knives through Kickstarter for between $269 and $279. After this, they'll be available on their website for closer to $400. If you're in the market for a knife you want to use and love for years to come, this may be it.

My 10 Most Essential Kitchen Gadgets.

Up until this year, one might have said that I was an “all the gear, no idea” sort of cook. I had (mostly through one off recipes, boyfriends who made me buy things like meat thermometers and cast iron skillets, and getting older and just accumulating all of the “adulting things”), invested in most of the important stuff to cook with but did I use it regularly? Nope, sure didn’t! Flash forward to lockdown and now I’m suddenly cooking all of the time and also getting more experimental in the kitchen because hey why not, what else is there to do?

So today I wanted to round up 10 of my most essential kitchen tools and gadgets for you! I hope it’s helpful or at least interesting!

First, some small space thoughts!

My kitchen is pretty small in the scheme of things. I feel badly saying that as it’s definitely bigger than some of the spaces I’ve lived in, but then again I’ve also lived in some abysmally small apartments over the years. It’s all part of that NYC life. I only have one small counter and not a ton of storage so I have to be really careful. Basically, if one new thing comes in, something else has to go. For example: when I bought my air fryer I said goodbye to my slow cooker. I loved the slow cooker but only used it maybe a few times a year to make chili and stews.

There are other ways to cook those things whereas I use my air fryer every single day (usually to roast veggies for one – but we’ll get to that. ). The air fryer is 1000% worth the counter space!

MAC Professional VS. Misono UX10 VS. Wusthof Ikon

[font=arial, sans-serif] Ok, so I'm in the market for some new knives, mainly a chef's knife (9 or 10). I am currently using Messermeister and Henkel. both I am not happy with. My main complaint is the poor balance of the knives. I really need to step it up here, so I have narrowed it down to these choices. [/font]

[font=arial, sans-serif] 1. MAC Professional: I have heard great things everywhere about these knives, but I have been told so many times (by professionals) that stamped knives are not the way to go. I am by no means a professional chef, or an expert in the craft of knife manufacturing, so is this true? [/font]

[font=arial, sans-serif] 2. Misono UX10: Again, I have heard nothing but good things about these knives, except they are a bit "whippy" and too flexible. Is this true? Is it a better choice than a MAC if I went Japanese? Are they as balanced as the MACs? Is this an all around good choice for a chef's knife, or is it more of a specialty knife that should be used for special, delicate tasks? Of course, I have the same concern with the stamped blade. [/font]

[font=arial, sans-serif] 3. Wusthof Ikon: I like these for the balance. It's also a forged knife, the best, so "THEY" say. The guy that taught my last knife skills class had one, he loved it, same guy that said forged is the way to go. [/font]

[font=arial, sans-serif] 4. Anything else you recommend: Maybe you would recommend one of the 3 choices above, but if you have any other suggestions, please let me hear them. I have heard "Sabatiers" are great, but that is really not a brand, it's a type of knife, right? How can you tell a good Sab from a bad one? [/font]

[font=arial, sans-serif] Any advice you can give would be great, thanks!


I wrote you a very long reply last night, but before it was done accidentally back-paged (easy to do on a laptop) and the post was lost. The combination of CT's software and Mozilla won't do recovery. It's not entirely a bad thing, which is why it's worth any mention it at all. Rereading your post, it's clear that balance is your most important consideration.

So, my first question is, "What do you mean by by balance?"

All of the western ("yo") handled knives you've listed, German or Japanese, and including the ones you don't like, share a similar design and tend to balance in very much the same way.

That is, they have full tangs and handle scales counter-balancing the weight of the blade. The blades and tangs are distal tapered to which moves the BP (balance point) towards their junction. A solid bolster is sintered at the junction, also moving the BP to the junction.

All knives of that type of construction, in your specified range of lengths have a more or less neutral BP falling at the bolster or just in front of it at the "pinch point."

There are a few knife lines which make their knives back heavy by using a counter balance at the end of the handle. The only one I can think of that's any good is Viking (made by Gude in Germany). Global knives are made to have dead neutral balance by filling each knife's individual hollow handle with a measured amount of sand before sealing it.

It's obviously just a matter of taste, but many (probably most) good cutters don't care much about balance. We accept it as a fact of life with old, pre WWII rat-tail tang knives, Japanese wa-handled (also rat tail) knives, "Chinese chef's knives" aka (Chinese choppers or light cleavers), and longer knives in general.

You can search for a tool which exactly suits, or adapt your technique (and expectations) to get the best use from a range of tools. What you say about this will go a long way not only towards determining which knives we talk about -- but whether there's anything you can confidently buy without at least testing it in a store.

More, I don't want to waste a lot of time writing about knives you won't like because they don't balance in the hand the way you'd like them to.

For the time being, I'll only make a couple more observations.

In your general price range, a good stamped knife is as good as a good forged knife. Period. Fact. Not opinion. Your "experts" are repeating old dogma which is long disproved.

There are trade offs between one knife and another, but if they're at all related to the general type of manufacture they can be modified by more sophisticated individual manufacture. By way of one example, forged knives are generally considered to be stiffer than stamped but the MAC Pro is among the very stiffest of mass-produced Japanese knives. For another example, "light" and "thin" are the hallmarks of stamped knives, but the entire class of the lightest and thinnest chef's knives, nicknamed "lasers" and "Kate Moss knives," is made up entirely by forged knives.

It turns out that the commonly associated traits aren't the exclusive property of one type of manufacture or another, but merely are -- or at least were -- respectively a little cheaper or more expensive to build in or keep out.

In addition, there are reasons why particular properties become linked in the public mind with the way the knives are made. Marketing is the strongest. For instance, the makers of full-tang, forged knives want you to believe that heavier is better so they make a virtue out of what was necessity. Another is the very human tendency to make the logical fallacy of assigning results to things which weren't necessarily causes.

For a very few tasks, like splitting chickens, heavier is better. However for almost everything else, sharper beats heavier every time. Japanese made knives are made lighter and with better alloys that can be made much sharper and hold an edge much longer than their European brethren.

  • What do you mean by "balance?"
  • Where is the ideal BP for your chef's knife? Handle heavy? Neutral? Blade heavy? Remember, the knives you DON'T like are pretty darn neutral.
  • What's your price range?
  • Do you sharpen your own knives or send them out?
  • How often do you sharpen your knives (in some other way than on a steel)?
  • How much time are you willing to invest to improve your sharpening?
  • How much money?

There's a brief introduction to a number of Japanese made, western-handled knives in your general price range in this blog post. Take a look at it.

Tip 1: Know What Foods not to use with a Meat Slicer

If you want to know how to use a meat slicer, you need to first understand what foods you cannot slice, regardless of model.

Do not use foods that have seeds

The exception here is for tomatoes. The seeds and pits of other fruits such as peaches, avocados, apples, etc. can cause damage to your appliance. You want to avoid any foods with seeds.

Do not cut meats with the bone

You do not want to slice through bone, ever. It is important to only slice foods which do not contain bone, otherwise his can cause damage to your slicer.

Do not cut frozen meat

This is a common question, and the answer is no, you cannot use a meat slicer to cut frozen meat. This actually goes beyond meats and includes vegetables, fruits and even fish (more on this later on for how to handle frozen foods with your slicer.)

Do not slice cooked food right after raw meat

This falls under safety tips as well, but it’s worth mentioning a few times.

Never use your food slicer to slice cooked food of any kind when you just used the slicer to cut raw meat.

This breeds serious contamination and cause severe food born illnesses such as E.coli. The CDC reports that about 5-10% of people diagnosed with STEC 0157 infection develop a life-threatening complication. STEC 0157 is a type of E.coli

Do not slice meats that are over-sized for the slicer

Cut your food to size first. If you find you need to slice some bread or other food, such as a roast or leg of lamb, but the item extends over the slicer, then cut the food item down to a better more suitable size.

Not following this rule can cause damage to the equipment and will not give you the desired cut that you are looking for.

Column: Beware of this ‘important opportunity’ for job-seeking students

The letter recently sent to young people throughout Southern California arrives in a plain white envelope with no return address. “Time sensitive information enclosed,” it says.

The single sheet of paper within claims to represent “an important opportunity for students in your area,” with “immediate openings for summer work.”

“The starting pay is excellent — and the best part is you don’t need any experience,” it says. “We’ll train you and teach you everything you need to succeed.”

Sounds great. Except for just a few teensy-weensy things.

Such as: What is this company? And what does it do?

The only clue is the firm referring to itself as Vector, “an international company established in 1981.” It says it has openings in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades, Venice, Marina del Rey, Beverly Hills “and surrounding areas.”

Is it a scam? No. It’s a real business.

Is this a dubious way to recruit people? Yes, absolutely.

Here’s what you need to know if you or your kid got one of these things.

Vector is actually Vector Marketing, the New York sales arm of a privately held company called Cutco, which manufactures kitchen knives and claims over $200 million in annual sales.

What the company is doing is recruiting young people to sell cutlery that costs an average of $366 but can run more than $2,700 for a high-end set. Vector/Cutco temporarily switched from Avon-style home visits to virtual sales calls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Salespeople earn about $21 for each appointment they book, or they will receive a sales commission of at least 10%, whichever amount is higher.

“Anybody can sell Cutco,” said Ryan Williams, 21, who started as a rank-and-file salesman after being recruited by a friend two years ago and now manages the company’s Northridge operations.

“I like to say we’re in the transportation business,” he told me. “We take people from where they are to where they want to go.”

If that sounds like a well-honed sales pitch, bingo. The people who succeed at this game are the ones who are naturally gifted at moving product — any product.

“I understand selling knives might sound weird or different,” Williams acknowledged. “Sales isn’t for everybody. We’re looking for people who work hard and take the initiative.”

And perhaps who won’t ask too many questions.

The internet is dripping with posts from former Cutco salespeople who say the company is little more than a pyramid scheme aimed at enriching senior managers.

There’s something to this. Williams said salespeople are encouraged to recruit friends who would be a good fit for the organization. He also said managers such as himself receive a share of sales made by underlings.

But that doesn’t make this a pyramid scheme, in which money flows upward to the highest-level employees, leaving few proceeds for those at the base of the pyramid.

As best as I can tell, Vector doesn’t rely on an endless stream of raw recruits to generate cash. The company has a legitimate product to sell and the reviews for its knives are generally positive.

It also doesn’t require new salespeople to purchase their own knife sets for demonstrations — a classic ploy for what are known as “multilevel marketing” operations, such as Amway or Herbalife.

Indeed, Vector goes to elaborate lengths to insist it’s not a multilevel marketing company, although that’s precisely what it is.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, multilevel marketing companies “sell their products or services through person-to-person sales. That means you’re selling directly to other people, maybe from your home, a customer’s home or online.”

“If you join an MLM, you’ll be a salesperson,” the agency says. “Your job will be to sell the company’s product and, in many cases, to convince other people to join, invest and sell.”

Joel Koncinsky, a Vector spokesman, told me that even though the company’s salespeople are rewarded for bringing in new recruits, the compensation system is different from that of some other multilevel marketing companies in which higher-level employees profit from the cash flow of subordinates.

“We think this is where the confusion lies,” he said.

Well, no. Vector’s sales structure is an exact match for the FTC’s definition of a multilevel marketing company. There’s no confusion.

That’s one reason Vector has been sued multiple times for allegedly deceptive recruiting practices, including an action taken by the Arizona attorney general in 1990 and another by Wisconsin authorities several years later.

In 2011, Vector agreed to pay $13 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it failed to pay its salespeople minimum wages.

Five years later, the company paid $6.75 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging it failed to adequately compensate salespeople in California and a handful of other states.

“In the world of business, lawsuits happen,” Koncinsky said. “We settled not as an admission of guilt, but to better invest our time and energy into the hardworking managers and reps that we serve on a daily basis.”

Some former salespeople say online that part of the reason Vector aggressively recruits inexperienced young people is because it wants them to get their feet wet selling knives to friends and family, who may be more likely to take pity and make a purchase.

That doesn’t make Vector or Cutco a pyramid scheme. But the fact that the company is so reluctant to own its multilevel marketing status is a red flag.

My biggest issue with all this is the deliberately ambiguous recruitment strategy focusing on teens and people in their early 20s, who are targeted via mailing lists sold by shadowy data brokers.

Any company that’s on the up-and-up, and that’s selling a legitimate product, shouldn’t be hiding behind unmarked envelopes and letters that go out of their way to not tell you anything.

If you’re a knife company and the recruitment letter doesn’t contain the words “knife” or “knives,” there’s clearly an effort being made to mislead.

Koncinsky insisted everything’s made clear “during the interview process.”

“While our letters do not try to explain everything our representatives would be doing, every one of our recruitment letters clearly states our name Vector,” he said.

Williams, the Vector Northridge manager, told me you can’t beat the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of selling stuff to a captive audience stuck at home during a pandemic.

Sales, he said, have more than doubled since last year.

“It’s been amazing,” Williams crowed. “Demos have been easier to book than ever before. Everybody’s cooking at an extremely high rate.”

He told me he started selling Cutco knives at the age of 19. He said he earned roughly $3,000 that first summer selling about $15,000 worth of knives.

“I’ve been able to pay my way through school and get some resume experience,” Williams said. “If that’s a scam, it’s a really good scam.”

We’ll just leave it at that.

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David Lazarus is an award-winning business columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He also appears daily on KTLA Channel 5. His work runs in newspapers across the country and has resulted in a variety of laws protecting consumers.

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Are you still with me?!

Most of this list has been dedicated to kitchen items that are an investment. These are tools that will equip your kitchen for a lifetime and you can invest in them over time and during sales! But to finish this list, I have three quick items that I absolutely cannot live without in my kitchen.

I use garlic almost on a daily basis for our meals. Peeling garlic has never been a task I’ve loved. I used to just smack the back of my knife against the garlic to pop the peel off but, that can be dangerous and it’s unnecessary wear and tear on your knife. Also? Some recipes call for whole garlic cloves and now we’ve smashed the garlic to pieces.

I discovered the garlic roller at a kitchen store in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a silicon tube and you just place the clove of garlic inside, roll it a few times and out comes a naked garlic. It is like $5 and I cannot live without it.

I think every home cook should own this book. I own it and have devoured it. It is not your typical cookbook. Samin breaks down the science behind creating a delicious meal. With fun pictures and easy to understand principles, you will feel more confident in the kitchen. You will be more equipped to pull together a delicious meal without needing a recipe!

I featured it on my Christmas Guide this last winter because it is not only packed with information but it’s really beautiful. (I give this book as a gift often!)

The most confident home cooks don’t just know how to read a recipe. They understand the ingredients they are working with and know what it takes to bring a delicious meal together. Samin literally breaks down everything you need to know to create delicious meals at home.

Right now with Amazon Prime you can get $5 off book purchases of $15. Use the code PRIMEBOOK19 to get Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat today.

    – because we all need music or our favorite podcast for the monotonous and tedious task of cooking meals.

We have a smart speaker in our kitchen and I love it because it can play our favorite music or podcasts while we are in the kitchen cooking or cleaning but also because a smart speaker can answer many of our kitchen questions like, “Alexa, how many tablespoons are in 1/2 cup” or “Alexa, what temperature do I need to cook meat for medium rare?” Alexa is also quite excellent when it comes to setting multiple timers.

Right now for Amazon Prime Day the Alexa Smart Speaker is 50% off!.

Are our smart speakers listening to us? Um, yes. I don’t love that little feature. But I still use one.

If you just want a good ol’ bluetooth speaker that can’t listen to you, this cordless UE Boom has fantastic sound!

Culinary Cult Objects: Worth the Price?

Beyond mere functionality, there's pleasure in using an exquisitely crafted object.

I COOKED PORK chops on a $15,000 grill recently, and, boy, were they good! Crusty outside, moist within, they had a smoky flavor thanks to the hickory wood I placed beneath the grate. Not even the most favorable review of my chops, however, would in itself justify my purchasing the Kalamazoo K750HT Hybrid Fire Freestanding Grill.

Don't get me wrong: This grill is impeccably machined and assembled with the best materials available. It cooks with gas plus charcoal, wood or a combination thereof its large firebox makes for unparalleled heat dynamics. None of which made my pork chops any better. The hard fact is that they would have been even tastier had I made them in my $99 Weber One-Touch, because cooking with pure wood, as opposed to gas plus wood, gives you purer wood flavor.


But that's beside the point. The Kalamazoo is the most expensive gas grill on the market, and that mere fact makes it worthy of discussion—as are the stoves, knives and even steaks that inspire awe among a small but committed cadre of cooks and command the sort of prices normally reserved for minor Old Master paintings. I'm talking about what we might call the Ultimates—products of scarcity, vaunted craftsmanship and above all exclusivity. Their cachet mirrors that of other luxury goods. Will a $48,000 steel Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph tell time four times better than $12,000 Rolex Daytona? Will a $12,000 Hermès Birkin bag carry your sundries 12 times better than a $1,000 Ferragamo one? Does it even make sense to try to quantify that way? Beyond mere functionality, there's pleasure in using an exquisitely crafted object. There's also the thrill of owning something not everyone can have.

Take the knives custom-made by Bob Kramer, widely considered the greatest American knifesmith working today. The blades he forges in his Olympia, Wash., studio had a three-year waiting list when he dispensed with it altogether three years ago the pieces he now auctions off quarterly can fetch upward of $30,000. The knives are beautiful indeed, their Damascus steel swirled in patterns as unique as individual fingerprints, held in place by burnished handles carved from exotic hardwoods like ebony and snakewood.

&ldquo There's pleasure in using an exquisitely crafted object, and the thrill of owning one not everyone can have. &rdquo

My own Bob Kramer 8-inch carbon-steel chef's knife is not a custom model it was made to Mr. Kramer's specifications by the German knife manufacturer Zwilling J.A. Henckels and retails at Sur La Table for $300. It doesn't look like his studio pieces, but it feels the same, it's made of the same carbon tool steel and it's every bit as murderously sharp. So what's the point of paying 100 times what I paid?

To Mr. Kramer's admirers, his knives aren't so much tools as works of art their creation by his own hands imparts a spiritual quality. "You can sense his soul in each one," said Christopher Geiger, owner of Geiger and Company, an advanced data-analysis firm based in Topsfield, Mass. Mr. Geiger possesses 25 custom Bob Kramer knives, but only a few see actual use. Are you really going to cut onions with a $30,000 knife? Mr. Geiger isn't. "I'm planning on taking the two most recent ones and having them framed and mounted," he said.

The WSJ Guide to Wine

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Other products, like the aforementioned Kalamazoo K750HT Hybrid grill, are built in a factory, not hand-crafted by a single world-famous artisan. But they are built one by one, to order as a result, the company has an output that is puny relative to that of rivals who sell their products at Home Depot . And of course, this high-end hybrid has a comparable Ultimate in the world of all-wood grills. Grillworks, a small manufacturer that has emerged, seemingly overnight, as the Rolls-Royce of grills, makes a home model of its flagship Infierno 52-inch grill that sells for $24,000. But even that isn't the Ultimate Ultimate. Grillworks' 64-inch model costs well over $30,000. "If you're [celebrity chef] Jose Andrés, you have the Infierno 64 in your backyard," said Ben Eisenrath, Grillworks' owner.

If you've seen the Infierno in action in restaurants like King + Duke in Atlanta, Ox in Portland, Ore., or Rural Society in Washington, D.C., you know that these are next-level machines. They look more like nautical engine machinery than grills. They are capable of producing incredible food in great quantities.

What these grills have in common is that, like Mr. Kramer's knives, they'll last a lifetime—and beyond. "My Kramer knife will be an heirloom I can hand down to my children," said chef Mario Batali. "And they can hand it down to theirs." You can't say that about such perishables as jamón ibérico de bellota from Spain, or 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, or the Wagyu-breed beef imported from Japan. Are they worth their prices? Absolutely not, in my opinion. (See the sidebar below for relatively affordable alternatives).

But what we're talking about here is consumption of a different order. Buying something fabulously expensive specifically to make it disappear is about as far as you can go in the Ultimates game, and that's precisely why some people will pay the cost. It's not merely the ham, or the bourbon, or the grill the Ultimate-buyer is acquiring. It's the knowledge, testified to by price and praise, that what you have is the best. For them, that knowledge is, if not priceless, something close to it.


Here are my verdicts on which investments in equipment and ingredients actually pay off in the kitchen and on the table. —J.O.

Bob Kramer Custom Knives vs. Bob Kramer by Zwilling J.A. Henckels

Bob Kramer Original Forged Blade 8" Custom Chef's Knife, top, and Bob Kramer by Zwilling J.A. Henckels 8" Chefs Euro Stainless Damascus

THE "ULTIMATE" // Bob Kramer Custom Knives: The production is hugely labor-intensive, the demand intense. But each of these knives is unique, not to mention sharp and strong enough to cut steel bolts in half. Bob Kramer Original Forged Blade 8" Custom Chef's Knife With Pulsar Damascus, available via auction and special sales,

THE CHALLENGER // Bob Kramer by Zwilling J.A. Henckels: German company Zwilling J.A. Henckels produces a line machined to Mr. Kramer's specifications. The best kitchen knife you can buy without going custom-made. Bob Kramer by Zwilling J.A. Henckels 8-inch Euro Stainless Damascus Chef's Knife, $400,

THE VERDICT: In a value duel, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels line makes mincemeat of the custom-made originals: perhaps not as pretty, but just as sharp, powerful and perfectly balanced.

BBQ Pits by Klose vs. Pits by JJ

BBQ pits by Klose, top, vs. pits by JJ

THE "ULTIMATE" // BBQ Pits by Klose: The maddest whim of millionaires is Dave Klose's command, and his creations can border on the surreal—though all function at the highest level of efficiency. Ultimate Cookoff & Catering Rig, $14,675 as shown (2½ -by-7-foot chamber), 800-487-7487

THE CHALLENGER // Pits by JJ: A rival custom-pit maker has popped up in Mr. Klose's hometown of Houston. The upstart makes mobile monsters just as sturdy, spectacular and indestructible. JJ Triple B Trailer Pit, $14,575, Pits by JJ, 713-691-2922

THE VERDICT: A wash. Both are expertly crafted, both are available in bespoke versions. JJ doesn't have the name yet, but Mr. Klose has a serious rival on his hands, and on his own turf.

Alba White Truffles

Alba white truffles

THE "ULTIMATE" // Alba White Truffles: About $150-200 an ounce,

THE CHALLENGER // Alba White Truffles: There is no substitute.

THE VERDICT: These highly aromatic truffles from Italy's Piedmont region are simply the best in the world.

A5 Wagyu Beef vs. Flannery 'California Reserve' Beef

A5 wagyu beef, left, vs. Flannery 'California reserve' beef

THE "ULTIMATE" // A5 Wagyu Beef From Japan: The highest class of Japanese beef is so richly marbled that it demands to be eaten like sushi. Miyazaki Wagyu Strip Steak, $105 for one 12-ounce steak,

THE CHALLENGER // Flannery "California Reserve" Beef: The California Reserve steaks I've gotten from Bryan Flannery have had nearly the same degree of marbling as their Japanese counterparts, and a far greater flavor. New York Strip Steak, $42 for 12 ounces,

THE VERDICT: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Flannery's beef is tastier because the cows' diet is more complex and wholesome. Mr. Flannery brings a couple of generations' worth of expertise to the job. His farmers deserve our support.

La Cornue Château Series vs. Ilve Majestic Series

La Cornue's Grand Palais 180, part of the Château series, left, vs. Ilve's Majestic series

THE "ULTIMATE" // La Cornue Château Series: These ranges would be equally at home at Downton Abbey and the world's greatest restaurants. Grand Palais 180 in stainless steel with polished copper trim, $54,700, Purcell Murray, 800-457-1356

THE CHALLENGER // Ilve Majestic Series: Ilve's ranges are majestic all right, but for all their beauty, they're at least as functional as the best American ranges by DCS or Thermador. 60-inch Dual Fuel Range, from $17,599, EuroChef U.S.A., 866-844-6566

THE VERDICT: Both ovens are far better than any home cook will need. For sheer prestige, go with La Cornue.

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota vs. Edwards 'Surryano' Ham

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, left, vs. Edwards 'Surryano' ham

THE "ULTIMATE" // Jamón Ibérico de Bellota: This Spanish ham is widely promoted as hog heaven, but to me its all-acorn diet gives it an aggressive nuttiness that gets in the way of the pork flavor. $950 for a 12- to 13-pound Fermín ham,

THE CHALLENGER // Edwards "Surryano" Ham: This ham produced in Surry, Va., is, to my mind, superior to any Spanish rival in the clarity and force of its pork taste, which neither salt nor smoke can obscure. $215 for a 15- to 17-pound bone-in ham,

THE VERDICT: Unless you are addicted to acorns, it's Surryano by a country mile.

Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, 20 years old, left, vs. the 15-year-old variety

THE "ULTIMATE" // Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, 23 Years Old: The father of all cult whiskeys—and among the hardest to come by—the oldest Pappy has, to my palate, spent too much time in the barrel. Currently going for upward of $2,000 at various online sources

THE CHALLENGER // Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, 15 Years Old: The 15-year hits the perfect sweet spot where mild wheated bourbon converges alchemically with wood and time. $600 and up at various online sources

THE VERDICT: Go for the 15-year-old, which has the added benefit of being somewhat more available.

Corrections & Amplifications

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, 23 Years Old, which sells foraround $2,000 at various online sources, is the oldest of Pappy Van Winkle's bourbons. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the oldest is Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, 20 Years Old, which sells for around $1,100 at various online sources.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

What Everyday Kitchen Essentials to Buy (or Not Buy) From Someone Who Knows

As a 34-year-old “elder millennial,” it strangely feels like I’m one of the only people I know my age who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. Sara on our team and maybe two of my friends seem to be the only exception. So, of course, that makes me the token advice giver when anyone needs help distinguishing between a zucchini and a cucumber or knowing what to buy when you suddenly get tired of eating out and want to cook more than frozen Trader Joe’s go-tos.

Even our dear, sweet Emily told me she was pretty helpless in terms of knowing what she needed to buy to set up her kitchen when she got DEEP into souping. She compared herself to a baby vampire from the Twilight franchise…she “rabidly, maniacally bought all the things, yet didn’t actually have any of the things I really needed.” I hear that. That was me about 9 years ago. While I learned how to cook at a young age out of (sort of) necessity (neither of my parents was very, uh, good at it and I liked to eat good, varied food), I didn’t get a chance to really dive into the world of kitchen tools for myself until I moved into my first apartment in my mid 20s. I BOUGHT EVERYTHING. If it looked cool or was pretty or I even sniffed that I could need it, I bought it and stupidly spent money I could have used as a “rainy day” fund on lemon zesters, ALL the pots and pans, only the best-looking vegetable peeler. Do not do this. Learn from me. After nearly a decade of cooking in my own kitchen, here’s what I learned: just because something looks good doesn’t mean it’ll work well and probably better yet, you do not need a special tool for everything. All that does is clutter up your counters and drawers. That Yonana machine you thought was a good idea can only do ONE thing: smoosh frozen bananas. Guess what can do the same thing and also a ton more? A really good food processor.

So, if you find yourself always asking your friends/coworkers/strangers on the street/the internet for what knife you should buy, or never having on hand what you need when meal prepping (or souping) or even just moving into a new home and starting from scratch, I hope my personal experience using (and not using) items in my kitchen will help guide you to getting what you really need that will hopefully last you a long, long while (instead of rusting over and cracking at the first go in a dishwasher…here’s looking at you KitchenAid can opener).

First up, my every day (as in, I use them every day) kitchen essentials:

Before diving in, I want to say something, though. My biggest tip for ANYONE just starting to cook or outfitting a kitchen is to know how and what you like to cook and start there. If you’re a souper like Emily, you’ll want to get a great chef’s knife for all that veggie chopping, a cutting board and a big stockpot. If you make a ton of family meals or want more hands-off cooking, invest in an Instant Pot or the large half sheets and Silpats I mention below. 30 minutes in, you have yourself dinner with very few dishes to wash. Make eggs or pancakes every morning? A non-stick pan is where it’s at. If you want to be the kind of person who makes a smoothie every morning but you know you never will, you do not need a fancy blender. You can always add more as you need it, but I bet you’ll find yourself not needing as much as you think. Okay, let’s get into my tried-and-true must-haves.

1-2. Silpats + Half Baking Sheets: I honestly use these 3-4 times a week for just about everything. Veggies, potatoes, chicken, fish. I love a one-pan meal on a weekday and the half sheet is large enough to accommodate both protein and veggies (but still fit in my rental oven). I used to have those little dinky dark-coated non-stick cookie sheets and one day for my birthday, I gifted myself these larger versions (with the Silpats) and my cooking completely and utterly changed. I thought both of these things were more for whipping up tons of cookies or macarons, but I was so, so wrong. My Silpats, in particular, are probably one of my top “never be without ever again” kitchen items. These are “name brand” but people have told me the ones from the Amazon Basics line are also great.

3. End Grain Cutting Board: I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, so a quality cutting board is a MUST for me. This one is considered “end grain” (looks like it was made from lots of little wood blocks). These tend to be a little more expensive, but there’s something magical about the end grain that self-heals after coming in contact with a knife so it actually lasts much longer than an edge grain board. Just be sure to oil it often and DO NOT PUT IT IN THE DISHWASHER.

4. Dough Scraper: This little doohickey looks pretty unassuming, but man is it useful basically every day. I use it to scrape up, say, all the garlic I cut on my board (but because my stove has no counter space around it, I’d rather not walk my heavy cutting board across the kitchen with other veggies rolling off the side just to transport said garlic). It’s called a dough scraper, but it’s a little kitchen tool I find myself using regularly for far more than dough.

5. OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler: Repeat after me—Invest in a quality peeler even if it isn’t “cute.” For years, I fell victim to the need for “cute” things in the kitchen. That’s almost embarrassing to admit. My candy-colored KitchenAid peeler looked nice (in a drawer, where NO ONE SAW IT), but that thing rusted over, cracked, and the “metal” coating chipped off…TWICE). I finally wised up and got a VERY good peeler that’s so sharp, it’ll split a fingernail as easily as a hot knife through butter so be careful.

6. OXO Good Grips Can Opener: Same goes with a can opener. I also went the “attractive” route here and had the same issues with rusting, cracking…ugh. This one from OXO is fantastic and very high quality. No more jankily opened cans of crushed tomatoes in my kitchen.

7-9: J.A. Henckles Zwilling Gourmet 10-Pc Cutlery Set, Zwilling Kitchen Essentials Set, Zwilling 8-Inch Gourmet Chef’s Knife: Okay, so I have three different varieties of knives here. When I got my first apartment, I bought a very similar knife block as #7 one (I couldn’t find the one I had online anymore). Zwilling knives are my favorite for the price point. Very solid, well balanced and LONG lasting. I’ve had my set for 9 years and they still look and cut like new (with a little sharpening here and there). But, you absolutely positively do not need a 10-piece knife set. Honestly, I really only use my chef knife and paring knives, and I promise, unless you’re constantly deboning chickens and fish, you also do not need more knives than you have fingers. Budget hack: Look for these at HomeGoods and TJMaxx because they often sell this brand for WAY less than retail (same goes for A LOT of the stuff on this list).

10. Anchor Hocking Glass 4-Cup: I’m pretty sure even my 90-year-old Puerto Rican grandma used Anchor-brand measuring cups decades ago so I learned to trust the brand. Yes, I also have dry measuring cups and spoons, but this baby is a regular protagonist in my home cooking show. I bought the set of 3, but the 4-cup is the only one you need. I NEVER use the 1-cup or 2-cup because, uh, the 4-cup also has those same measurements.

11. Snapware Glass Food Storage 24-Piece: I have a household of two, but cook for four so we have lunch for the next day, and these are the best storage containers I’ve found. I bought mine at Costco for about the same price.

12. 10-Piece Glass Mixing Bowl Set: My glass prep bowls are like my right hand in the kitchen. I’m not a huge mise en place-er (too much to wash), but I use these for almost everything. There’s a size bowl for basically anything you need, plus they neatly stack into each other to save a ton of space.

13. OXO Locking Tongs: Tongs that pinch you or easily open are a huge pet peeve of mine. I love these and recommend you get two (one of each size) to avoid having to rush to wash raw chicken juice off before turning your asparagus. They’re also great for tossing and serving salad (so you def don’t need a specific serving set for that).

14. Sur La Table Flex Core Mini Silicone Spatula & Spatula Spoon Set: I’ve had my fair share of beautiful rubber spatulas with pretty wood handles. Guess what? You can’t put that in the dishwasher (or at least, it’s not recommended that you do…they will dull, crack, fall apart). These are all rubber and one-piece construction, and ideal to throw in the dishwasher over and over again.

15-18. All-Clad Hard Anodized 8″ & 10″ Nonstick Frying Pan Set, Cuisinart MultiClad 5 1/2-Quart Saute Pan with Lid, Cuisinart Stainless Steel 3-Quart Cook and Pour Saucepan with Lid, Cuisinart Stainless Steel 8-Quart Stock Pot with Lid: I have a lot to say about pots and pans, but mostly it’s this: just like knives, you likely do not need a set of 6-10 pieces. I cook A LOT, and consider myself a pretty adventurous cook as in I make lots of different varieties of things, and even I only really use these four things. I make eggs about 4 times a week, so a non-stick pan is clutch for me and these are GREAT. I also use these regularly for sauteing without too much added fat. Aside from these that basically just sit out on my stove because I use them that much, I use a higher walled saute pan with lid, a 3-quart sauce pan for almost everything (rice, small servings of pasta, sauces, beans, etc.) and a stock pot for large batches of pasta, boiling corn, making soup, etc.

Next up is my list of “nice to haves.”

These are things I have in my kitchen that I don’t necessarily use EVERY day but still think are very good to have on hand if you have the space to store them.

1. Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor: This is another scenario where “Arlyn picks the cute kitchen appliance” turns out to not work all that well. I had a KitchenAid food processor which was perfectly fine, but the lid broke on it after not much use (and yes, I took great care of it). It also didn’t come with the attachments I needed and found it collecting dust on the shelves of my laundry room. BUT THIS ONE IS DIFFERENT. My friend who is another avid cook recommended it to me and man I love it. It’s pretty no-frills in that it only has a “pulse” and “on” button (i.e. no speeds), but it’s powerful, can fit a whole head of cauliflower (or, let’s get real, block of cheese), comes with three blade attachments and is just generally awesome.

2. 6-Quart Instant Pot: I know the Instant Pot has a lot of devotees, but also, on the other side of the fence, people who are like “why. ” (Emily being the latter). But as someone who has a habit for collecting small appliances, this thing has helped to replace my slow cooker and rice cooker, plus I probably use it for a VERY fast weeknight dinner about 2-3 times a week. It’s a one-pot wonder, people. The 6-quart is a great size for my smaller household, but if you’re cooking for more than 4, you might want the 8-quart.

3. Cuisinart 9-Speed Handheld Mixer with Storage Case: I have a KitchenAid stand mixer. It is a prized possession (a 30th birthday gift), but I am here to tell you that YOU DO NOT NEED A $400 STAND MIXER. It looks good, yes, and I have fun attachments for pasta and whatnot, but it’s a pure luxury. If you whip up a batch of cupcakes like𔅿 times a year, a hand mixer is all you need. I have this one and I love it because it has a ton of speeds and has a snap-on case that stores all the attachments.

4. Staub Round Cocotte, 5.5-Quart: Okay, so a $340 cast iron French/Dutch oven will not make your chicken taste better than a $50 Dutch oven. But I understand wanting a “status” kitchen item. I’m personally a Staub girl (instead of Le Creuset) because the black interior doesn’t stain and scratch like the white ceramic interior of LC. Plus, I just like the dark inky colors of Staub better. OH, and Staub lids have these little raise dots on the underside that help to better distribute steam and juicy goodness that LC does not have (good for braising). I was lucky enough to find my first oval Staub for $60 on clearance at HomeGoods (check often because they have them), and my other two as “landmark” birthday and anniversary gifts. I will have them likely longer than I’ll be alive, which is why they’re worth the steep price tag.

5. Lodge 10″ Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet: “Hands and pans” videos will have you believing you can’t survive without a cast-iron skillet. You can. However, they are fantastic but high maintenance, which is why they are on my “nice to have” list instead of my everyday essentials. The time I spend scraping, oiling and re-seasoning my skillet makes it too annoying to use on a daily basis, but Lodge makes a great one (I have a 10″ but 12″ is also great) for very little money that, as long as you take care of it, will probably be found fossilized in your home because it’ll last THAT long.

6. OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner 4.0: I tend to not like “single purpose” kitchen items, but I have a few exceptions, including a salad spinner. It literally does nothing more than dry my greens, but I eat a lot of salad and detest wet sopping water messes at the bottom of my bowl so…this is a must in my kitchen. OXO makes a great one for under $30.

7. Microplane: Yes, I have a standard cheese grater, but I probably whip out my microplane more. I use it for, well, cheese (hard cheeses like parmesan only), ginger, fresh turmeric, lemon and lime zest, garlic (sometimes), nutmeg and beyond.

8. Orblue Garlic Press: The only other single-use item on my list is a garlic press. It’s a “nice to have” because you can absolutely just chop up garlic with a knife and be done with it, but if you have a recipe that calls for anything more than 3 or 4 gloves, a garlic press will be your best friend. This is my favorite one I’ve ever owned (I’ve had several that have all snapped) and I feel like it’ll last me a very long time, hasn’t rusted, has an easy-to-clean compartment and inflict brute force on those cloves.

9. Flexible Cutting Mats With Food Icons: These are probably more of a “you do not need these” item but I like to use them in conjunction with my wood cutting board (better for your knife) so I don’t have to spend time washing between cutting chicken and slicing carrots. Plus, if you’ve ever cut garlic on a wood cutting board and forgot, then went to cut up some luscious strawberries and were unpleasantly surprised…these will save you every time.

As if I haven’t written enough words here today, I can’t finish without telling you what, from experience, I have learned you absolutely do not need (some I’ve already touched on but want to revisit as a reminder):

  1. Niche one-use tools, like an avocado slicer (use a knife and big spoon), spiralizer (you can use that good-quality peeler I just recommended to you instead), lemon zester (use a microplane or fine cheese grater), Yonana (yes, I’ve owned one of these banana ice cream machines) or any other novelty items. They will take up space, collect dust, and you do not need them.
  2. A Vitamix. This is another one of those things. The internet will have you thinking that you are NOTHING without a luxury blender. I could never bite the bullet on one of these and bought this KitchenAid blender (after MUCH research, not just because it was pretty and blue…I promise I’ve learned my lessons) for like 1/4 of the cost and it’s EXCELLENT. I use it about two times a week for my homemade almond milk and it has never failed me. Wait, why didn’t I include it in the “nice to haves” roundup from above? Let’s pretend I did.
  3. A big knife block set. I already talked about this, but it’s a nice reminder. You really need 1-2 good quality knives and that’s it for most daily cooking. Save yourself the money and space if you’re short on both.
  4. A big, beautiful stand mixer. I love my KitchenAid mixer, I do, but I probably use it like 4-5 times a year and it really is more of a “status” item than anything else.
  5. All the pots and pans from a set. Look, buying a set is typically a VERY good value, but when I think about the space all the sauce and fry pans I rarely use take up, I would have been better off just buying the three things I NOW know I only ever use. In general, unless you have a plethora of cabinet storage, I’d recommend starting with just a few pieces and building from there as you find the need for something else. But honestly, I think most of the time, you’ll find you are 100% fine with less.

I hope this was useful. I know it’s a lot, and you definitely do not need everything. Your life will go on without a microplane, it will. Mine is just made easier in the kitchen with these things without feeling like too much or kitchen “fluff.” P.S. that is a peek into my kitchen. It’s really not much bigger than what you see there (the stove is over to the right kind of on its own, and the fridge is alone on the opposite wall…awesome). Most of the stuff I included in here is stored inside that gray IKEA unit you see to the left of my dining room, FYI. That and a little console table I brought in next to my fridge.

Now, my inner cooking and kitchen tool enthusiast wants to know ALL about your must-have everyday essentials or best brands you use. Please spill all the details because I am not an expert, just someone who cooks a lot and is relatively proficient behind the stove.

Athena Calderone's 35 Stylish Must-Have Kitchen Essentials

When it comes to interior style icons, one name always immediately springs to mind: Athena Calderone of EyeSwoon. The interior designer is an entertaining expert who's worked with major brands to create dreamy table settings and delicious food to match. It's her stylish knack for creating recipes (her debut cookbook, Cook Beautiful is a must-have) that not only tastes good but looks beautiful too that has us all following her every move and wanting to replicate it at home too.

Athena Calderone is the creator of EyeSwoon, an online destination for food, decor, and lifestyle. She is an NYC-based entertaining expert committed to turning little moments into lasting memories through beautiful design.

Well, as we enter the season of entertaining, we reached out to the impeccably cool and stylish Calderone to share some of her kitchen must-haves. From glassware to dinnerware, knives, and linen for the tablescapes, these 36 kitchen essentials will create the most stylish and practical cooking space for the new year.

"These handblown, honeycomb-patterned glasses from Il Buco are perfect everyday glassware that can be used for everything from water to wine. Versatility at its finest. Bonus: Textured glassware filled with water or wine sparkles in the natural light, reflecting dappled, dancing shadows onto the table."

"[These are] super minimal and really functional. I love these CB2 juice glasses because the glass is extra-thin and lightweight, but the body of the glass is quite grand."

"When I have guests over, it’s always a thoughtful touch to leave out water pitchers throughout the living and dining space. This way they can serve themselves without feeling like they are constantly asking their host for water."

"From Eleven Madison Park to Lilia to your very own dinner table, Jono Pandolfi’s classic designs are highly regarded in the New York restaurant world and are equally simple and durable for your daily use."

"These handmade modern stoneware dinnerware pieces with a matte black glaze expertly complement a bold, dark kitchen. Plate hearty dishes or vibrant desserts on these deep black sets."

"Trust me, finding a truly beautiful platter to plate your family-style meal is tough. This one from Il Buco Vita is perfect for just that."

"This beautiful black and brushed steel flatware is slender and designed flawlessly. They are elegant yet work perfectly as an everyday set."

"A classic cotton cloth is always a kitchen staple for me. This one from Fog Linen has a natural yet soft texture that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. They also wear well and last longer than other dishtowels."

"This twill table runner from my go-to source for linens, Silk & Willow, offer a gauzy, raw, and textural component to the tables. They are bold, moody, and offer natural movement to the kitchen and dining area."

"I tend to crave an undone look. I embrace wrinkles and love a frayed edge. Actually, an amazing styling secret (if you dislike an iron as much as I do) is to dampen your table linens and throw them in the dryer for that perfectly tossed and crumpled, imperfect look."

"Rough Linen is my go-to classic in both white and charcoal. I love its European style linen tablecloth runners, napkins, and aprons, which have a lovely homespun texture and slightly heavier weight. I'm rather obsessed."

"This black walnut butcher block is alluring for so many reasons. From the impeccable craftsmanship (look at that brass inlay) to the stunning natural grooves of the wood, this cutting board makes for an amazing, thoughtful gift."

"Simply put, this cutting board is the workhorse of my kitchen. I chop, dice, and filet nearly everything on this thick cut of maple."

"This stunning, sculptural board is crafted to last through the ages. It’s an EyeSwoon obsession."

"This knife is sleek, stylish, and super sharp. There is no substitute for a high-quality knife in the kitchen. This one marries both function, technique, and aesthetics."

"This mortar and pestle is a really helpful tool in the kitchen, especially when making cocktails (or pesto) for your guests. It's made from cast iron. I also really love the sheer weight of this piece."

"Any veggie becomes salad-worthy when elegantly sliced and diced with a mandoline. This beloved model is the one I, and myriad chefs, recommend."

"No surprise a lover of bold, bright flavors would covet her zester, but it’s also invaluable for grating cheese and garlic."

"I’ve been using this graceful, minimal mill to freshly crack pepper for years."

"I'm just enamored by all the beauty that Arno creates. I love the African-inspired sculptural quality of this triple tray. I styled the vessel with gorgeous concord grapes cascading over each bowl for my holiday table."

"Just about anything matte, plaster, or ceramic and made with a handmade touch is heaven in my design book. I love these."

"These timeless and elegant Ilse Crawford brass candle holders are my go-to. I actually love when they get all mucked up with candle drippings and how the brass develops a patina over time. I’ve even helped them along with a little saltwater spritz and interaction from the outdoor elements."

"Extra tall and slender, these taper candles are elegant and natural with a waxy finish. Perfect for mood lighting."

"I have been a friend of Robin and Stephens for 10 years now and have always swooned over the vintage candelabras that have illuminated their Montauk tablescapes for their annual July 4 BBQ. Now we can all have them from RW Guild. Whoot, Whoot."

"With a natural green hue and waxy texture, these tapered candles are elegant neutral accents that effortlessly set the ambiance of any room."

"When hosting, matches are a must. Forego an old matchbook, with this chic brass match scratcher on your dining table, coffee table, or mantel."

"This champagne bucket is unconventional in all the best ways. Crafted from resin, this piece maintains a sleek yet organic shape and is bookended with two leather handles. I love how casual it is, even if the occasion might not be."

"Yes, she’s an investment but she’s worth it. For the swooner at heart, she is just soooooo purdy perched on your stovetop."

"There's a reason people rave about cast-iron skillets—they get ultra-hot and cook evenly."

"Once you use this cast-iron Dutch oven, you'll never want to use another one again. Staub is my mainstay and just gets it right for any braise, soup, or stock."

"Don't they always say that good things come in small packages? This mini-prep is petite but powerful and will surely speed up your cooking process."

"Every good home chef needs a KitchenAid, so let yours make a bold statement. A handy appliance like this, in a deep shade of matte black, will be used again and again in any kitchen."

"From smoothies to soup, my Vitamix seamlessly blends my various ingredients into smooth and creamy bliss."

"Cook Beautiful is where design meets food, where culinary tradition marries food styling, where home chefs become experts. These are luscious dishes to make for friends and family, with advice that will inspire you to create visually stunning, and still wholly delicious, culinary masterpieces. Even if I do say so myself."

Does Botox hurt?

Listen, I know that saying Botox feels like a little pinch is a cliche, but it really does feel like a little pinch! If you've ever had a bikini or Brazilian wax, consider Botox a spa day. Many doctors describe getting Botox as a series of sharp, brief pinches—and you can get numbing cream (though honestly, I would say don't waste your time or money). And the whole thing is so quick—my Botox injections take less than two minutes total—so before you can even register that your face is being repeatedly poked with a needle, it's done and over.

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p.s. I’m also a San Diego Young Living Essential Oils independent distributor with local classes, support and resources. If you live in the Southern California region, I teach San Diego essential oil classes – including Carlsbad, Orange County and other areas. Just email me at [email protected] to find classes near you.

I also have local Hawaii essential oils classes as well as classes by associate members all over the US and International. Email me at [email protected] for more details.

Interested in Philippines essential oil classes? I’ve got online classes and resources just for you!

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About Tracey Black

Tracey Black, founder and CEO of Don’t Mess with Mama, started blogging to share her family’s gluten-free and natural living journey. At, she shares how simple it can be to live a more natural lifestyle. Here you’ll find gluten-free recipes, green cleaning tips, DIY and homemade tutorials, minimalism tips and so much more! Tracey is also the author of the books Natural Beauty Made Simple, Instant Pot Recipes Made Simple and Gluten-Free Recipes Your Family Will Love.

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