Setting Up a Kitchen? Here Are Strategies for Picking Among the Pans (and More)

Jason Saputo and Alicia Vincent get some help from bridal consultant Elizabeth Reid on selecting measuring cups at Bed Bath and Beyond. He favors quality; she goes for necessity.
Jason Saputo and Alicia Vincent get some help from bridal consultant Elizabeth Reid on selecting measuring cups at Bed Bath and Beyond. He favors quality; she goes for necessity. (Photos By Len Spoden For The Washington Post)
By Judith Weinraub
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Alicia Vincent and Jason Saputo started cooking together at Old Dominion University. They used his parents' kitchen equipment when they cooked on weekends at his family's townhouse in Norfolk or her parents' equipment when they visited their home in Virginia Beach.

The first meal he made for her was shrimp scampi. "That was before I knew she was allergic to shellfish," he says.

Her first dinner for him was steak and potatoes. "I wanted to make something that would make him say 'Wow, I want some more of that,' " she says.

Over time, they acquired some hand-me-down cookware and bought a few essentials -- an electric coffeepot, a microwave oven. But the really old stuff will be tossed aside after their September wedding. "We want to start out clean," she says.

Outfitting a first kitchen can be daunting. Where do you begin? How much does it cost? Does good equipment make a difference? Does buying cookware in those tantalizing sets make sense? If a couple is choosing, whose taste, cooking and eating habits should the choices reflect?

Vincent, 25, until recently an Army second lieutenant stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., and Saputo, 24, a database administrator, are wrestling with those questions as they plan their wedding.

The couple prefers eating in to eating out. "You know what's going into the food so it's healthier," she says. She likes to try new recipes from the cookbooks she takes out of the library and loves to bake. He's a grill master, and, according to Vincent, makes the best oatmeal cookies in the world. Their favorite television program is Food Network's "Good Eats" with its popular host, Alton Brown.

Russell Shultz, a bridal registry consultant at Bed, Bath and Beyond, where the couple has registered, asks his clients questions before they select a single pot. The first: "Do you like to cook?" is quickly followed by "What do you like to cook?"

For example, if he's helping customers who like to cook traditional dishes, he guides them to stainless pots and pans or infused anodized aluminum cookware. "They do a better job of searing meats and caramelizing" sauces, he says. When clients are more inclined to low-fat cooking, he often steers them to nonstick cookware, "because very little fat is needed."

Shultz asks lifestyle questions, too, such as whether people are willing to wash pots and pans by hand (as Vincent and Saputo are). "Some people don't want anything they can't put in the dishwasher," Shultz says.

He usually skips the "what is your budget" issue because that's rarely relevant to a bridal registry. But what friends and family can afford is.

Nancy Pollard, owner of La Cuisine, a specialty cookware store in Alexandria, counsels customers to choose only equipment that suits their cooking style. Cookware is often sold in beguiling sets that cost less than buying the pots and pans individually, but the sets "aren't designed with individual cooking needs in mind," she says. "You might be the kind of cook that needs three saucepans the same size, but never the tiresome casserole in the wrong size that seems to be included in almost every set."

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