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

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."

As people who cook regularly and know what they like to make, Vincent and Saputo had an easier time than most assessing what to buy.

Their essentials: good-quality pots and pans (they selected individual ones rather than a set, to lower the cost for gift givers), mixing bowls, a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a can opener, a vegetable peeler, a good knife set, flexible plastic cutting boards, tongs, a cheese grater, a paper towel holder, a salad bowl, baking equipment, a dish rack and drainer, a set of mesh strainers, a nonstick jellyroll pan that can double as a baking sheet or roasting pan and a 13-gallon trash can.

They also registered for other items they know they'll use. Like a toaster oven, an ice cream maker (they're eager to try out recipes for lemon and avocado), a wok, a double boiler, a rice cooker, a deep- fry thermometer, a carving board and a mortar and pestle.

They didn't always agree. He is more comfortable with high-quality equipment -- say, a $100 pan. She would rather buy an entire set of pots and pans for the same amount.

Conflict like that can be hard to resolve. Cheryl Mendelson, author of "Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House," offers practical advice: "Who will use it the most?" she asks. "If one person has dominant skills like baking, that person's rights are paramount."

Pollard advocates buying quality rather than quantity. "Better to invest in one pan that will last than in a set that looks cool but has no history of longevity," she says.

Vincent and Saputo compromised. "We tried to go down the middle," he says. "Not too high because we didn't have the money, but we didn't want to purchase something so cheap it wouldn't last."

Legally, Vincent and Saputo are already married. They had a civil ceremony presided over by a justice of the peace at the home of Vincent's sister when Vincent learned that her unit (39th Field Artillery in the 3rd Infantry Division) was scheduled to go to Iraq in January. "I wanted to make sure he was taken care of," she says.

But training injuries (a neck compression) resulted in a medical discharge in November. Vincent is anticipating surgery in April, before their real white dress wedding, and the couple is looking for a single-family house they can afford. For now, they're living with his parents in Woodbridge.

So they don't know what storage space they'll have or what kitchenware they'll receive as wedding presents. Once they do, they'll figure out what they have to buy, and what they'll be able to afford, because there are a few expensive things they crave, among them a five-quart stand mixer and a bread machine for her and a really good pair of forged knives for him.

Their advice to other couples: Listen to each others' needs. And if you're not going to use something, don't get it.

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