Last year, for my birthday, my parents tried to buy me a microwave. Any good kitchen, they figured, had one, and clearly my choice not to own one had more to do with my spending habits than my use for a microwave. I told them I'd prefer a chair. My kitchen is small, and honestly, what do I need with a microwave? But trying to explain that philosophy is no easy task. When co-workers are cleaning out their garages and offer me their ancient zapping machines, my rote "no thanks, I don't use a microwave" answer doesn't get me very far. Saying I don't need a microwave--don't even want a microwave--is like confessing I don't own a TV. My colleagues just look at me in stunned bewilderment, wondering, I imagine, how the heck I survive in the modern world.
A microwave, though, in my kitchen is not essential. No professional kitchen routinely reheats its pasta or soup in that beaming oven, so why should I? And any quick cooking procedure the microwave enables (say, making oatmeal or cooking potatoes) only takes a bit longer the traditional way. Plus, I'm convinced that the extra labor makes my food taste better. My kitchen isn't alone in shunning conventional kitchen accessories. Right here in Denver I've been to homes without convection ovens (a baker's nightmare) or spice grinders (yep, those friends use pre-ground jars of seasonings). Even The Kitchen's chef Hugo Matheson points out, in this issue of 5280, that he really has no need for matching dish sets. His motley market finds--a plate here, a bowl there--are enough. Yet, these kitchens, despite their imperfections, turn out marvelous meals. The success of their dinner parties has more to do with the company and the food than the serving dishes or cooking techniques. Often in the kitchen, the gadgets may be pretty, but they aren't necessary. What can your kitchen live without?