See that? Those are some of my favorite cookware items, a 12-inch stainless steel skillet that's nice and heavy and doesn't burn my food, and a 9-1/2" cast-iron skillet that crisps up corned beef hash and makes a beautiful frittata. The funky whisk sweeps into the corners of both pans (and all my other cookware), and the white spoon is ideal for skimming off foam from gurgling chicken stock.
Why should you care? Because nondescript, high-quality, inexpensive generics like this are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
These four items are among a bevy of cookware Colin and I bought when we first moved in together in 1993. They've lasted 18 years, and may very well last 18 more. They were not endorsed by Bobby Flay or Emeril Legasse or Rachel Ray or Fabio Viviani or Mario Batali or Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver or Paula Deen, all of whom have branded cookware lines. My cookware came from Ikea in something called a Kitchen Starter Box and cost me $99 for an enormous set of everything I needed for my pre-conjugal apartment. And I got to eat Swedish meatballs with lingonberries after buying it.
Two weeks ago, a New York Times article titled From Newsstand to Cooktop announced that Bon Appetit magazine, in partnership with the Home Shopping Network, will start selling its own line of branded cookware. So a magazine is now entering a field already crowded past saturation with both A and B-list celebrities. Does this change the game, or is it simply a continuation of the trajectory we've been on all along? Will the magazine's recipes for Boeuf Bourguignon now call for browning the beef not in a Dutch oven, but in a "Bon Appetit Dutch Oven ($179 on HSN)"?
And what, if anything, does it say about our consumer culture, where if something isn't branded by a Top Chef or a MasterChef or a Naked Chef or a Food Magazine, it may get pushed completely out of the marketplace?
To young couples looking to outfit their very first kitchens: good luck sifting through the options and finding what you need.
It's a jungle out there.