If you’re like me, you love nothing more than cooking a great meal or shaking up a great cocktail at home, and you probably know by now that the right tools can make all the difference. They say the best gifts are things you already legitimately love yourself, so this year, I asked twelve food and beverage industry friends about the one thing in their kitchen or home bar they can’t live without.

The resulting suggestions have become my new go-to gift list.

Christina Ng, Personal Chef and Food Educator

Favorite Kitchen Item: The Benriner Mandolin from Mitsuwa Marketplace

“Do you ever wonder how restaurants make such beautiful thin, clean cuts? This gadget is the secret.  A mandolin makes all your cuts cleanly and quickly, and this one in particular is most loved by chefs because it lasts forever.  It’s simple and timeless. I’ve had mine for years and I’ve spotted the pretty, minty green of this mandolin in many a chef’s knife bag.”

Brianna Wilkerson, The Beverage Botanist / Owner

Favorite Kitchen Item: Fancy Cocktail Basics from Collins & Coupe

“You can’t make a proper cocktail without a couple necessary tools. To elevate any home bar, pick up a mixing glass, barspoon, a 1oz/2oz jigger, and a Hawthorne Strainer.”

Mary Jhun, Specialty Coffee Barista at Café Virtuoso & Painter

Favorite Kitchen Item: Well-Seasoned Wok

“I can’t live without my wok, because it’s been so integrated in my culture and home life when it comes to our food. From classic Filipino foods to Chinese, it keeps me connected to my family and especially my mom. Aside from that, it had always been my go-to for meal preps due to its size. It’s wonderful for making big meals.”

You can find woks at any cooking supply store, but really inexpensive woks are available at almost any of the Asian markets, like World Foods on Convoy.

Logan Mitchell, Owner/Chef: Cellar Door Supperclub

Favorite Kitchen Item: Extra Fine Grater/Zester, Microplane from With Love (Mission Hills)

“These graters do the type of work that absolutely cannot be done by hand. They create a fine pillow of citrus zest, chocolate, or hard cheese that no knife skills can replicate. They also work very well for garlic and ginger. I love mine and have replaced it every 2-3 years as it dulls. It’s an essential for the kitchen the home bar.”

Davin Waite, Senior Zookeeper Wrench and Rodent, The Whet Noodle, and The Plot

Favorite Kitchen Item: A Knife from Meglio or Leucadia Custom Knives

“The number one item that no food enthusiast should overlook in their kitchen is a great knife. A well made, sharp knife is crucial for anything from slicing veggies to breaking down a fish. There are a ton of local knife makers now and most of them will even make them custom for you.”

Mariah Brownwood, Burger Mama and part owner of Royale

Favorite Kitchen Item: Instant Pot

“I'm a mother, wife, business owner, and farmer. There couldn't be enough minutes in the day for me to check everything off of my ever-growing list. That’s where the Instant Pot comes in. Beef Stroganoff with an hour means a delightful (and more importantly, stress-free) family dinner.”

Giselle Wellman, Executive Chef & Garden Director at San Diego Jewish Academy

Favorite Kitchen Item: VitaMix

“My VitaMix is the workhorse of my kitchen. I make everything from dressings and sauces, to soups, juices and smoothies with it. I use my Vita Mix almost every single day.”

Kelli and Dan Major, Commercial Fishermen

Favorite Kitchen Item: A Rubber Spatula from Williams Sonoma

“A good rubber spatula is a must-have for the kitchen. I bake a lot, so I need one that holds up well in sauce pans, mixer mishaps and dishwashers. The one I have now from Williams Sonoma is super versatile, basic and sturdy.  Dan steals my spatula and uses for his honey production.”

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