In an Men's Health article titled "The Minimalist Kitchen," Alton Brown (someone in here's favorite, that's why I mention the name), the self-professed king of multitasking kitchen gadgets, proposed these items:
8- or 10-inch chef's knife (Shun Classic 10-inch shown)
a stainless steel saute pan (2 quart All-Clad shown)
Cast iron skillet (12-inch Lodge shown)
Stainless steel stock pot (6 quart Calphalon shown)
A hand blender, a.k.a boat motor (Toastmaster model 1740 shown)
That's it. He went on to say "I'd rather have one good knife and a few quality pans, than a bunch of crap! I can set up a really good guy's kitchen for under $500.00, soup to nuts."
To tell you the truth, I disagree with his assessment, if it's a single person or a young couple just starting out. I also don't agree that you should spend big bucks on a few long lasting items rather than spending a minimal amount on some servicable pieces that will wear out in a few years. In a few years the couple will either be gone their separate ways (currently, 2 out of 3 marriages end in divorce!) or they will be well enough off financially to afford the good stuff themselves, if they really have an interest in cooking. When my son and his girl friend (now his wife) first moved in to their own little one bedroom apartment, I bought them The Chef Mark Kitchen Essentails Set
from Fingerhut. I bought them the combined set at the bottom of the page because they had absolutely nothing to start with.
Now (according to them), she doesn't know how to cook, and he knows how but doesn't usually have the time, so I am glad I didn't waste $400 to $600 on kitchenware for them to use for display. These pieces will see them through until they can afford really good cookware if one or both of them decide to start doing some serious cooking, and my 401k is still intact if they don't.