1. A seriously cushioned gel mat in front of the sink.
Sure you have beautiful hardwood floors and nobody wants their kitchen to look schlocky. Who remembers their grandmother standing on a towel when they washed dishes, hoping to avoid any splashes and drips from the sink? But then along came absorbent sink mats, somewhat kitsch, somewhat practical. More recently, the ante got upped on those as well and now we have gel mats.
By the time you are 40, you will come to regard a nice padded gel mat in front of the sink as a lifesaver. OK, it's at least a leg and foot saver. Not inexpensive, but Wellness Mats and Gel Pro mats are the brand leaders in the field. Good luck convincing the dog this isn't his new bed.
2. Nomex Burn Guard oven mitts.
No, this is not just any old oven mitt. Nomex is the material that firefighters clothing is made from. It's also the material of choice for uniforms worn by workers in petrochemical and gas refineries. The folks who climb up on poles to fix downed power wires are also big fans.
Everyone knows what dangerous places kitchens can be. Yet when it comes to moving the hot stuff, too many of us grab the nearest dish towel as burn protection. Just don't. You are, literally, playing with fire.
And FWIW, not all oven mitts are created equal. Many are more decorative than functional. For safety's sake, get yourself a Nomex Burn Guard pair of oven mitts. They protect your hands against up to 450-degrees Fahrenheit of either wet or dry heat. It's what chefs in commercial restaurants use and who knows better than them?
3. A non-electric can opener.
Sometimes, you just can't build a better mousetrap. For decades, fancy electric can openers have been a staple on wedding registries. And for what, we ask? Truth is: They take up valuable counter space, are harder to clean, and they fail you big-time during power outages. Treat yourself to a space-saving, inexpensive, rinse-it-off-and-you're-done can opener. Not all high-end, high-tech kitchen gadgets are worth it, electric can openers among them.
4. Chafing dishes.
Nothing says "party" like chafing dishes. Chafing dishes are those fancy tray-pans you see in restaurant buffet lines that keep the food hot. You use them when you have a lot of people coming over. They are the kind of thing that you will curse at every time you walk past them taking up storage space in your garage 363 days of the year. And on the other two days, you will be thrilled at how they enable you to have so many dinner guests at once and tell everybody how they need to get them and you don't know how you ever lived without them. Yes, chafing dishes do that to you.
A reasonable person would assume that you should be able to rent chafing dishes for less than it costs to buy them. Oddly, that's not the case. At the very least, there should be a chafing dish time-share program among neighbors. In the meantime, that's them over there in the garage corner next to the stupid electric can opener we never use.
5. Backup corkscrews.
While there are many compelling reasons not to have two of everything in your kitchen, there is no good reason not to have multiple corkscrews. Corkscrews have a way of disappearing, much the way left socks do. It's there one weekend and then gone MIA the very next. Even fancy corkscrews don't stick around very long. Throw one big party and you'll never see it again. Or it'll show up some place weird like inside your snow boots. Who knows why?
Surely there is a corkscrew heaven where they all wind up, but until we know where that is, just do yourself a favor and stash a few extras in with the chafing dishes you have in the garage.
6. A knowledge of cookware and materials.
In your 20s, you may not be able to fully distinguish a crockpot from a Dutch oven. Both are big and heavy, after all, and both were likely castoffs from your mom. But if you spend any time at all in the kitchen, it behooves you to educate yourself not just about pots -- the difference between a frying pan and a saute pan, anyone? -- but also about what they are made of. Start with learning which is best for you: reactive vs. nonreactive. And if we can just slip a plug in here: Consider buying a clay pot. While few will accuse you of being on trend with a clay pot, we swear by ours.
7. A window box of fresh herbs.
Technically, it's fine for you to grow herbs outside your kitchen if you have the space and live in a climate where they will grow. But even Manhattanites should have ready access to fresh basil, rosemary, chives and oregano. The ability to grab and cut changes you as a cook, for the better.