The Homebody Guide: Getting started in the kitchen

By Brett Mundinger

If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s people that say “I can’t cook.” I mean, what does that even mean? Do you have hands? What about eyes? Presumably, you have a tongue. That’s most of what you need if you really break it down. There are some things very few can do, but cooking is not one of those things. It’s not building a rocket or programming a computer. 

The line people should actually use is “I’ve never tried to cook,” or “I don’t know where to start.” A core belief of mine is that everyone can (and should!) learn to cook. While I may sound like that fat chef’s ghost in (hopefully) everyone’s favorite movie about a rat whose dream is to cook, it’s a basic life skill we’ve lost in the era of convenience and the hyper-processing of our nutrition. 

That cooking is in our nature is all but confirmed if experienced and taught early in development, and it’s like swimming in the sense that one can be pushed in and eventually find their way to the surface. Consider some of the best memories you have around family and ask yourself what those would be without the food, the gathering of people, and the feeling you had upon eating. Would they even be memories? How many times have you made a memory going through the drive thru of your local McWhatever? 

Our days start with food, we find community around it in any season, and it’s even a source of entertainment for us. But so many of us don’t actually do anything with it. There’s this pervasive attitude amongst some that the nuance and variety of food are best left to the chefs- that it’s beyond the grasp of the ordinary person. And while it’s true that time and study bring about higher levels of skill in the kitchen, it’s also true that there’s not a more democratic and accessible activity in existence than cooking. 

As part of Fountain Mortgage’s Homebody series, we’ll be looking at recipes, techniques, food varieties, and our favorite local nosh in hopes that it inspires you to get started in your own home experiencing the joy of food. In my opinion, getting started with cooking comes down to very little actual equipment you need to get started. Here are the five items any person needs to make a wide array of things in their kitchen:

1. A sharp chef’s knife

A dull knife is actually much, much, more dangerous than a sharp one. A sharp knife does the job more efficiently and enables better control of your range of motion, meaning that you’re less likely to cut yourself. If you do cut yourself, it’s easier for the body to heal a clean nick or slice than a jagged one. You’ll also feel much more confident with a sharp blade. I’d recommend getting something with a bit of heft in the handle. Avoid something light and flimsy as you want to know where you’re cutting. 

Cheap-ish option

Mid-range option

2. A wooden cutting board

There’s a huge amount of debate around this one, but I think wood is the superior cutting board. After all, don’t you have enough plastic in your life? I feel like we must be partly made of microplastics at this point. I like wood for a variety of reasons, most notably because it just feels nice and is aesthetically pleasing in the kitchen. They also last a long time if you take care of them and avoid buying those thin, cheap ones.

Wood also has an inherent antimicrobial quality because it’s a porous material, and researchers at the University of Wisconsin in a recent study proved that 99.99% of dangerous foodborne illness bacterias they placed on wooden cutting boards died out within just a few minutes. Claims of plastic cutting boards being antimicrobial are unfounded in terms of the cheap boards most people purchase. Low-quality boards were found more likely to be rough, and their damaged surfaces spurred easier bacterial growth. Basically, wood is cleaner, looks better, and feels best, so why not use it? 

Here are a few options to get started with:

Good

Better

Best

3. A simple fry pan

In the same sense that a good chef’s knife can complete a wide array of tasks, so too can the humble fry pan. It’s the classic workhorse of many a sauce, meat, pasta, or vegetable dish, and its utility is hard to match. I spring for stainless steel for my pans because I throw everything in the dishwasher. I’m a dedicated cook but a nearly unemployable dishwasher when it comes to doing the dishes. My throwing pans in the dishwasher is seen, to say the least, as controversial amongst the cooking community, but I’ve never gone wrong with it. Here are some great options you can use, and I even included a non-stick pan for those partial to a session of scrubbing:

Good

Better

Best

4. A utilitarian stock pot

Big is beautiful. I mean, who doesn’t like leftovers? The bigger the stockpot I have, the more liable I am to make huge amounts of anything. I’m a huge fan of freezing things like stock, soup, or chili, so I love a large stock pot, especially in dreary months like February. While the stock pot likely won’t win any awards for being the best-looking equipment in your kitchen, it’s certainly one of the most useful. Here are a few options so you can start living in leftovers paradise:

Good

Better

Best

And that’s it! That’s really all you need to get started with cooking and try many different things. I recommend learning on the stovetop since it’s the most visually accessible within the kitchen. You can watch and taste as you go much easier on the stovetop than when utilizing the oven. I’ll write more about braises, roasting, frying, and other varieties of cooking in future articles, but the above equipment will get you started on a wide array of dishes. 

And who doesn’t like saving lots of money while eating like royalty? Get started with the above and keep an eye out for our future recipe articles! Until then, you can find me in the kitchen ruling my own kingdom.

This weekly Sponsored Column is written by Fountain Mortgage. Located in Prairie Village, Fountain Mortgage is dedicated to educating, and thus empowering, clients to make the best financial decision possible for their situation.

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