'It takes me right back to my childhood': the kitchen kit foodies treasure forever
Kitchen gadgets can build up quickly but some items are too precious, or useful, to give away
Ali Dunworth’s ramekins from a job she loved, her granny’s butter dish and a wooden spoon all give her joy.
Hands up if you had a clear-out during lockdown? It was the kitchen that stumped me. When I challenged myself to Marie Kondo’s how much of this sparks joy, so much of it did. A set of ramekins from a job I loved, granny’s butter dish, my favourite wooden spoon.
There wasn’t much cleared out but it did get me thinking about how kitchen paraphernalia seems to make us more nostalgic and possessive than any other inanimate home objects. Even people I know who are minimalist to the core or don’t cook much can have kitchen items they wouldn’t dare part with.
Whether it’s deep nostalgia or simply a fond association, the smallest thing can change something – from throwaway to treasured, as these cooking curio fans confirmed for me.
Eiffel Tower oil bottle – Laura De Barra, author Gaff Goddess
Next to my hob is what is next to all hobs. Oil. It’s practical, but instead of its original packaging, it sits in a glass bottle shaped like the Eiffel Tower (with a gold stopper). It was the only thing I bought on a work trip to Paris. Working in fashion, I was overworked, underpaid and spent my only hour off people-watching and spotted her in a gift shop. She was only €6, but she’s priceless to me. A new flatmate once remarked, “that’s the tackiest thing I have ever seen” (not knowing it was mine) and I think they were right. She’s stunning.
Plastic chopping board – Holly Dalton, chef
When you picture a chef’s chopping board, something rustic and handcrafted might come to mind. My chopping board is definitely not that. It’s a multicoloured, flimsy plastic board that is literally falling apart. My fiance, Seb, brought it into our lives when we first moved in together and it had already seen a lot of use then. The beauty of it is not in its appearance but in its non-slip rubber bottom that I’ve never seen another chopping board have. It might not look great on anyone’s Instagram feed but it’s the first thing I reach for when I start to cook any meal.
Bean slicer – Johann Dorley, gin bottler
My dad grew Scarlet runner beans. As the summer wore on they got bigger and hairier, and needed to be sliced. One of the summer chores was pushing the beans into the slot of the appropriate size and turning the handle so the blades cut them into even diagonal slices. Some were cooked fresh and served with the Sunday roast. Sometimes they were overcooked and went a bit grey, all the butter in the world could not disguise the taste and the hairs. I haven’t used the bean slicer since Mum died, but one of these years we’ll grow some runner beans and slice them in it.
Molcajete – Lily Ramirez-Foran, chef and grocer
I love my molcajete. It is an ancient Mexican kitchen tool made from porous volcanic rock. It’s believed that pretty much like the Chinese wok, molcajetes have food memory so, over the years, salsas will improve with the knowledge of those made before. Traditionally, you are gifted one by your family when you get married, so mine is about 16 years old. When your grandmother dies, no one cares about money or land, it’s all about who gets her molcajete!
Electric carving knife – Leslie Williams, food and wine writer
I took many things from my mother’s house after we sold it in 2014, including this electric carving knife. Most chefs (and food writers) are utterly dismissive of them but I think they are missing out. Yes, I can indeed carve manually, but I find this enormously satisfying to use. I love its gorgeous retro looks and the sound alone can cause an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) reaction in me, it takes me right back to my childhood 1970s kitchen and the comforting scent of Sunday roasts. I remember when it was purchased (about 1975-6, I reckon) and despite the fact that my father died in 1978 when I was 10, I still associate it with him.
Cast iron dish – Blanca Valencia, cooking teacher
Years ago when I ran Alambique cookery school in Madrid, we did a clear-out and found a gorgeous orange cast iron Cousances Doufeu that had been around since the school opened in the 1970s. The owner did not want it as it looked a little old. Cousances was a cast iron maker in France that was bought by Le Creuset in the 1950s and they still make some of their old designs. I took the dish and it’s been with me in Buenos Aires, Chicago, China and now, here with me in Dublin. This might sound corny but it reminds me of how cooking is a universal gift and how the owner of Alambique took chances with both teachers and utensils.
Fifty cents grater – Leah Kilcullen, communications manager
A few years ago I set out on a summer of travel, where I joined a cooking class in Hoi An. Our chef for the day was My, and she took us through the Vietnamese classics, including summer rolls. My furnished us with these multi-use graters which made quick work of the carrots, papayas and cucumbers. After the class I found them for sale in a market for about 50 cents and my only regret is that I didn’t buy 10.
Fancy knife – Brian Lennon, founder Oui Chef
I love my Blenheim Forge Chef’s Knife. My brother bought it for me a couple of years back for helping to renovate his house, so it means a lot to me. I used to be a bit precious about using it but it made all the difference once I became confident sharpening it – Japanese whetstones and a little elbow grease, that’s the key. It’s had a fair few outings, I’ve been known to bring it with me to dinner parties (where I’m preparing a course, I hasten to add!) which does seem to amuse people.