1. CHEF'S KNIFE: a good chef's knife is like a good bourbon - aged, complex, and toasty brown. Okay it's not like a good bourbon, but it is the single most important tool you can have in your kitchen. A good chef's knife isn't necessarily the most expensive one - it's heavy, well-balanced, comfortable, forged, and most importantly, razor sharp. Your annoying foodie friends will drone on about how 'a sharp knife is a safe knife'. Well, it's true, you should listen to your friends, they care about your safety. It will also increase your speed and efficiency in the kitchen, and teach you a very valuable lesson in hand placement discipline when you inevitably hack off a bit of finger.
2. CUTTING BOARD: I know you got a great deal on the 3-pack of paperback-sized cutting boards at IKEA - hell, I did too - but these cutting boards are almost useless. Try chopping a bunch of carrots on that adorable dollhouse prop and see what happens. Your hands are crowded, the board's slipping all over the place, carrots are tumbling into the impossible-to-reach gap between your oven and the counter. Your life is the black-and-white segment of an infomercial. Get a huge (24x18"), heavy, thick-ass cutting board. You'll be stunned how much more comfortable you are with a massive surface on which to chop vegetables, form meatballs, break down a chicken. It's like flying first class, but not even at all like it.
3. INSTANT-READ THERMOMETER: A fast, accurate thermometer is an unrelenting lifesaver for almost any dish. Forget squeezing your fingers together to feel your steak's doneness - a thermometer will ensure that your meat, oil, bread, chocolate, and more are at the perfect temperature. It's indispensable.
4. STAINLESS STEEL SKILLET: A high-walled, 12" wide, well-made stainless skillet is an opportunity to create some really wonderful things. Learning chefs shy away from stainless as it's widely known as the kind of pan food "sticks to". Which is true - more than that, it's the goal. You want your food to stick to this skillet, it's how you make crusts and build fond. It takes some practice - these scenarios require high heat, lots of fat, and the correct recipe. You DO want to use stainless steel when you're putting a dark, crunchy crust on the outside of a steak, while building a sticky brown layer of fond at the bottom of the skillet, hissing in anticipation to be softened and scraped up with some wine, some beef stock, some herbs. You DO NOT want to cook, say, eggs. For that, you should go with:
5. NON-STICK COOKWARE: nonstick cookware isn't just a safety net, it's a legitimately better way of cooking some foodstuffs. Making sunny side-up eggs in a stainless skillet is the equivalent of making homemade graham crackers - yeah, sure, you can do it...but why the hell would you? There's a better option. A nonstick skillet that goes in the oven is inexpensive, versatile, and time-saving.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
+ Who are you? Why should I care?
My name is Andrew Rea, and I'm a filmmaker and home cook that's decided to make my little mark on this thing called the internet. My love for media and food have come to a magical crossroads in the form of something called Binging with Babish, a web series where I recreate the foods from movies and television. Its success and the undying support of my audience are leading to the creation of new series, like Basics with Babish, where I share recipes and techniques to help grow your confidence in the kitchen. My ultimate goal is to be on the cutting edge of how cooking shows are made and consumed, and your support is helping me get there!
+ Who is Oliver Babish? How do I ever trust anyone again?
My name is Andrew Rea, I promise. Oliver Babish is a character from the West Wing, portrayed by the irrepressible Oliver Platt, that acted as legal counsel for the Bartlett administration. I named my Reddit handle after him, I started making the show for Reddit, it found an audience outside of Reddit, and the rest is history. Trust is something earned, not given, always remember that.
+ Do you have any formal training as a chef? In a kitchen? Near a kitchen?
Nope, I am 100% self-taught. Well, when I was 15, I used to make crepes all day at a restaurant called...Simply Crepes. I don't wanna talk about it. I've thought of myself as a "chef" since I was 17 - I'd say I started taking it seriously when I was 23 or 24. When I say 'taking it seriously', I mean really learning about and understanding why food behaves the way it does. Experimenting without trying to impress. Really trying to get a grasp of the basics, so I could have a foundation on which to build something. While this doesn't make me qualified to teach at an accredited culinary school, it does show me as proof positive that if I can do it, you can too.
+ Why don't you show your face?
My intention with creating BwB was to put an emphasis on the food, first and foremost. I was tired of YouTube cooking channels where personality/vlogs/antics were given precedence over what we actually clicked on the video to see: the method, the recipe, the plated-up steaming-hot moneyshot. I wanted to create something halfway between a Tasty video and a traditional cooking show: something information-rich, food-centric, with a backdrop of personality and entertainment. I'm not trying to remain anonymous or anything - Google my name and a few pictures will come up. I think I even put one on my "About" page. At least I hope I did.
+ What are your tattoos?
I get this one a lot - inside right forearm is the original Kodak logo from 1911 - it's an homage to my hometown (Rochester), and a reminder to stay relevant, unlike an unnamed multinational corporation that refused to embrace the digital camera. Outside right forearm is a rudimentary lens focal length diagram. Rear bicep is the Seattle skyline, a city that I've never even been to, because I love a little show called Frasier. Inside right bicep is a "Katrina Code", a symbol that was spraypainted on houses after Hurricane Katrina. Inside left forearm is a chef's knife and whisk (ooooh, how original), with a banner that reads "Born & Bread", the name of my fantasy bakery. I've got a couple more, but you're not allowed to see those. Yet.
+ What equipment do you use to film the show?
Camera: Sony a7S II
Lens: Zeiss 35mm 2.8
Microphone: Blue Yeti
Software: Adobe Premiere & After Effects
+ What are you drinking on the show? Whiskey? What are your favorite whiskies?
I love em all, but I'm partial to Lagavulin 16 when I want something so smoky it's like a glass full of burning tires, Glenfiddich 15 when I want something sweet and complex, Monkey Shoulder when I want an inexpensive blended Scotch, Angel's Envy Rum Cask when I want the very finest in bourbon, and Bulleit Rye when I want a daily go-to. I'm also a beer snob: I enjoy the work of Harpoon, Victory, Unibroue, Ballast Point, New Belgian, Blue Point, and many others. I'm also a wine drinker but I just like it, I really don't know enough to talk shop with you.
+ How do I start cooking? How do I become a better cook?
There are lots of ways to grow your confidence in the kitchen, and there's no sure-fire approach for everyone. I learned by reading books, watching videos, experimenting and failing. Lots and lots of failing. Don't be afraid to make mistakes in the kitchen - just like any mistake, it can be an impactful learning experience. If I could go back and do anything differently, it'd be this: Learn. The. Basics. Please. So many learning cooks' first instinct is to get experimental/fusiony/miniaturized/deconstructed/whatever. You need a foundation before you can meaningfully attempt any of that - you need to crawl before you can walk, read before you can drive, learn how food works before you try fucking with it. I wholeheartedly recommend America's Test Kitchen, The Food Lab, SimplyRecipes, SORTEDfood, Foodwishes, Bon Appetit, and ChefSteps as valuable learning resources. It's also my hope that if you start watching my new series Basics with Babish, from the beginning, it'll help make you a better cook. Give it a watch when it premieres in June!
+ What tools do I need to get started?
The short answer is a good knife, a large/heavy cutting board, a temperature probe, and a couple basic oven-safe pans. The longer answer can be found on my Kitchen Essentials list.
+ Can I be your friend?
+ Can I be your best friend?
I, uh. Yeah sure!
+ Can I come to your house?
+ Can I please come to your house?
You're coming on a little strong, but you're a risk taker, and I respect that. Bring beer and a frisbee, I'm jonesing for some disc.
STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?
Get at me.