A chef without a good knife is like an anchorman without auto-prompt: a bit useless. Celebrity chef Rick Stein claims he's been using the same cook's knife his whole career, despite a nick from the time he "stupidly cracked a lobster," he told The Guardian newspaper. Look for a 20cm blade made with high-carbon stainless steel or Japanese "super-steel", based on centuries of samurai-sword making. Don't forget to invest in a sharpener.
Are your kitchen cupboards bursting with pots and pans? Save on space (and save yourself an injury) with a multi-cooker. Go for a model that combines a slow cooker, pressure cooker, basic electric pot, rice cooker, deep fryer and soup maker. We like the new New Wave Kitchen Appliances 6-in-1 multi cooker, $189.95.
The non-slip mat
It will change your life, says Leona Watson, chef and founder of cooking school, Cheeky Food Group: "Buy a few 10cm, square non-slip mats. They're perfect for stopping your chopping board from moving, opening jars, sitting under bowls in microwaves … you can throw them in the dishwasher," says Watson.
The food processor
Sure, you could get RSI from using a mortar and pestle — or you could enlist a machine to do the hard work for you. Go for an easy-to-use and most importantly, easy-to-clean food processor, such as the Sunbeam MultiChopper Food Chopper, $49.95. It can make dressings, dips, pastes, pate, mash, icing and coulis, using everything from brie to frozen berries.
The grill pan
It's almost winter, the mercury's dropped and your BBQ is getting sorely neglected. Stay indoors and get the same effect with a simple grill pan, which you can use on the hob or in an oven. Look for cast iron or aluminium, with a non-stick surface and a groove in each side so you can drain fat and oil. We like the IKEA GRILLA, $19.99.
The bamboo steamer
For authentic and healthy Asian cooking, you can't go past inexpensive, stackable bamboo steamers (available at Asian grocers). Simply boil water in a wok or pot, rest the bottom steamer on top — leaving an inch or two between the water and the steamer — and pop in fish, meat, veggies or dumplings. Use baking paper or lettuce leaves so food doesn't stick. Throw herbs in the water for more flavour.
Hit the bottles
Jamie Oliver reckons he can't live without empty jam jars. Presumably clean ones. "Super-cheap and super-useful, for storing anything from salad dressings and salsas to storing pulses and spices."
Think outside the box
Gluten intolerant but miss pasta? Invest in a vegetable spiraliser, advises Lee Holmes, healthy chef and creator of superchargedfood.com: "It's such a nifty little tool that makes angel hair vegetable pastas and ribbon salads. My favourite veggie spaghetti is made from zucchini "noodles", or "zoodles", as I like to call them."