Things I Bring When I’m a Guest for a Weekend (or Week)

A while back, someone posed the question on Twitter, asking it was okay to bring your own knives if you’re a houseguest for the weekend. It’s a question I didn’t think was all that odd, since I do it all the time. Then a friend of mine also noted recently that, like me, he brings red pepper powder with him, when he’s cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. Which got me thinking about the mini-arsenal of equipment and foodstuffs I tote along with me when heading out to the country to stay with friends or family.

I try to be a good guest and bring food to take some of the burden off my hosts. I’ll usually prepare and freeze a few rolls of cookie dough, or maybe a disk of tart dough, which I’ll bring along to make a tart. I might take along a marinated lamb or pork shoulder (or loin) studded with garlic and rubbed with spices, ready to roast off with little fuss. And I always bring a couple of loaves of bread from Paris since it can be a challenge to find good bread in the countryside. (And I don’t like eating baguettes that can be tied in a knot.) And I always arrive with a couple of bottles of wine, because I don’t want to be known as the guest who drank his hosts out of house and home.

So here is a general list of some of the things I bring along so I can pitch in with the cooking and remain a happy camper:

chopping parsley

Cleaver

Years ago when working in an Asian restaurant, chef Martin Yan came into the kitchen and asked me why I wasn’t using one of his cleavers. So I told him to send me one – which he did! And I find a cleaver a great general-purpose knife, and I pack my up to avoid the pleasure (or displeasure) of trying to make dinner with someone’s steak knife that they inherited from their grandmother who got it thirty-five years ago at the bank when they were giving away knives if you opened an account.

With a cleaver, you can slice and chop vegetables, fruits, herbs, garlic and meat easily. I’ve had this one for about twenty years and it’s still almost as sharp as new. Most Asian markets carry very good cleavers that cost relatively little. The heft of such a knife also makes it good in case anyone is giving you a hard time in the kitchen. Raise it high above you, and I can guarantee, that you’ll instantly gain the respect of everyone else in the kitchen. (Although you might not gain an invitation to come back.)

two essential knives

A Good, Cheap Paring Knife and Serrated Knife

I’ve already extolled the virtues of my favorite serrated knife, which is useful for slicing tomatoes, onions, and fruits, and is cheap enough so that if someone pilfers it or runs it through the dishwasher, I won’t flip out. (Well, not too much…) I was recently at a Migros supermarket in Switzerland and they were selling similar knives of good-quality for about $5 – and believe me, I stocked up.

A small, inexpensive paring knife is another must. As an ex-restaurant worker, I dislike hate letting anyone else use any of my knives unless I am 110% certain they will, 1) Bring it back to me when done with it, and 2) Assure me that they will not use my knife to open a jumbo can of olive oil. I don’t let my favorite one out of my sight kitchen because after losing it for ten years, and having a dishwasher at Chez Panisse find it in a silverware rack ten years later (yes, really) – I hold on to it for all it’s worth. And it’s worth a lot more than five dollars.

zip-top bags

Zip-Top Freezer Bags

I stow a few of these amongst my things as they take almost zero room and are great for storing stuff and marinating chicken and meat. At home, I reuse them a zillion times over, but on vacation, I’m sorry to say that I am happy to have one less thing to stand over the sink and wash.

Although I get teased mercilessly for loving zip-top bags, and bringing them back from the states by the suitcase-load…who’s drinking a chilled glass of rosé under the shade of the trees when everyone else is hunched over the sink up to their elbows in soapy water?

rubber spatulas

Silicone Spatulas

I could scream when I go to people’s houses and they have aged, stiff, spatulas whose rubber heads are so petrified they’re good for…well, nothing. (Above, left.) I lower my stress level considerably by bringing my own. My silicone spatulas are heatproof so I don’t have to worry about them getting ruined and I use them for everything. (I kind of am obsessed with the Le Creuset spoon spatulas, in spite of telling me that I need to move on, and give others a try.)

vegetable peeler

Vegetable Peeler

Not 100% essential, since you can make do with a paring knife instead. But there is nothing more frustrating than trying to use a dull, rusty vegetable peeler that you find at the bottom of their long-forgotten utensil drawer. (And in France, everything needs to be peeled. Although I draw the line at tomatoes.) I bring a good one along. And while Europeans seem to like the Y—style peelers better, the sharpness of the Oxo ones can’t be beat. I often leave one behind as a gift, and find that on my next visit, the y-style ones are still in the drawer and everyone is peeling their tomatoes with their shiny new vegetable peeler.

green lentils

Green Lentils

I tote along a bag or box of green lentils since no matter how well-equipped, or badly equipped, the kitchen is, you can simmer a pot of lentils in 25 minutes, toss them with some peeled and diced carrots and onions that you’ve simmered with the lentils, season ‘em up with salt and vinaigrette, and have a salad that’s good with anything – either on its own, or with crumbled blue cheese in it.

moka pot

Moka Pot

This is probably the most important thing for me. If I wake up and can’t have coffee, I am a deranged, unpleasant substitute for a human being the rest of the day. And if there’s anything more irksome than waking up and trying to figure out how to make coffee in an unfamiliar kitchen while everyone else is still snoozing away the morning, can someone please tell me what it is? Okay, there are a few worse things, but let me tell you; morning is no time to mess with me until I’ve had my coffee.

(And please don’t take it personally if I don’t want to talk to you before I’ve had my morning coffee. But I do appreciate it when people shut up until I’ve had my first sip.)

I’ve fiddled with everyone’s fancy-schmancy espresso makers or tried to figure out those idiotic electric coffee makers with fifteen buttons to program it to do seemingly everything – except make a simple cup of coffee. While my hosts are dozing the morning away, I’m turning into a ball of frustration, which isn’t exactly the way I want to start my day.

Bialetti moka pot

I love my moka pot; you simply fill it with water, add coffee, and heat it up on the stovetop. But I am always sure to ask the night before how to turn on the stove, because another pet peeve of mine is complicated ovens and stoves. Why can’t they all just be on/off models, with simple knobs you turn? And what’s up with those electronic touch pads that require you to read the instruction booklet? Note: Stoves require, 1) On/Off switches, 2) Temperature adjustment knobs. And that’s it.

gingersnaps cookies

Insulated Baking Sheets

Cookie dough is one of the easiest things to bring when you’re a houseguest, and who doesn’t love cookies? Well, they’re hard to love when they’re burnt on the bottom. Many home ovens have irregular heating patterns. And even the best ovens have quirks. So I slide a cookie sheets with an insulated bottom (those with a cushion of air sandwiched between the pan and the heat of the oven) to gently diffuse and moderate the heat, so your cookies are always tops. (With no burnt backsides.)

harissa

Harissa

A tube of spicy harissa, North African hot sauce, makes a great base for a fast marinade mixed with white wine or olive oil, and perhaps some mustard, garlic, or herbs. Harissa enlivens braises when a generous dab is added to the cooking liquid. And it can used to make an instant pasta sauce – albeit rather spicy – as well as a simple appetizer, mixed up with brined or cured olives.

sardines and mackerel

Tinned Sardines or Mackerel

Another quick appetizer is to open a can of sardines or mackerel, remove any bones, and mash the cute little fishies up with a bit of soft butter, salt and pepper, a squirt of lemon juice, and some chopped capers. It’s a very tasty (and healthy) spread on crackers or bread. And it’ll keep for a few days, too.

ancho chile powder

Red Pepper Powder

I don’t mean to complain, again, but did you ever get to someone’s house and find that their ground pepper was purchased at least ten years ago? I know it’s hard to keep up with expiration dates on pepper, but I don’t think anyone should be deprived of the pleasures of freshly ground black pepper. Nor have to eat pre-ground black pepper, no matter how new – or old – it is.

black pepper

I’m a fan of ancho, chipotle, cayenne, piment d’Espelette, and Korean pepper (called Gochugaru), and always arrive with a little jar for seasoning soups, stews, or even a simple plate of hard-cooked eggs with anchovies draped over them, which can be made in any kitchen.

salt

Salt

Aside from bittersweet chocolate, coconut ice cream, toasted pecans, tortilla chips, späetzle, Boston cream pie, fried chicken, patty melts, espresso in Italy, duck confit, French fries with spicy peanut sauce, and the hot corned beef grinders they used to serve at the probably long-gone Dino’s pizza in Connecticut*, I am crazy about salt. I bring two kinds. One is a large grain sea salt, for cooking, and the other is a finishing salt, such as Maldon or Fleur de sel de Guérande, which is best dusted over salads and other foods right before eating.

capers

Capers

Capers are great. And even the supermarket brands, like the one shown that I picked up in a mini-mart out in the countryside, are just fine for most uses. They add a little pickled je ne sais quoi to everything from dips to tomato-based pasta sauces. For a quick sauce, heat some in hot olive oil (watch out since they may sputter!), add slices of fresh garlic and cook until the garlic starts to brown gently. Remove from heat and toss hot pasta and salt in it. Add a knob of butter or a bit more olive oil if you want to at the last-minute, and top with lots of grated Parmesan cheese (that you brought, too), and freshly ground pepper, that you also were kind enough to bring as well. (That’s not on my list, but sometimes I’ll toss in a pepper mill as well. However I tend to use more red pepper powder theses days than black pepper, though.)

All Clad pan

A Good All-Purpose Pan

Grrrr! As a restaurant cook for most of my life, there is nothing that makes me happier than having a good pan to cook with. Flimsy cookware sucks and the people who make it deserve whatever fate is doled out to those who intentionally inflict misery on others. I got this All-Clad pan many moons ago (which goes by the fancy name, a saucier), which a friend of mine who worked at the company gave me to try out, and I fell in love with it. It holds about 3 qts (3l), can be used for anything, from jam-making to frying up some scrambled eggs to surprise your hosts when they finally wake up and find you drinking a good cup of coffee in their kitchen, along with toast made from good, Parisian bread. It cleans up easily and is hard to ruin. So I’ve started bringing it with me when I take trips away. But unlike all the other things I tote along, it’s the one thing that I make sure comes back with me.


A few other things I often bring with me; a bag of crisp topping to make an impromptu dessert, an ice cream scoop (and if I’m not going far, I’ll bring ice cream), a measuring cup or scale, garlic and shallots, unscented laundry detergent (the highly perfumed French stuff overpowers me and makes my eyes look like goji berries), a rasp-style cheese grater, ground coffee (always appreciated by hosts, especially those with guests who are big coffee drinkers), some homemade jam as a gift (also appreciated by hosts, especially French ones), a loaf of bread or two, and some decent olive oil and butter.

What do you bring?


*I found that the restaurant does still exist, but in a different location. And corned beef grinders, sadly, are no longer are on the menu.

249 comments

  • But if you bring the coffee machine then you always need to bring the right coffee for it too? Anything more frustrating than having that and only instant coffee in your host kitchen?
    A word of advice, capers in salt are so much better! When I was little, I used to just pick them from the plant and put them in a jar with some coarse salt in it, and that was it. But that was in Sicily. No washing them first either!
    I think a big chunk of parmigiano is a good idea. And good vegetable/fruit, if you have a garden.

  • I’m Canadian so I bring a two-four (case of beer) and several bottles of wine. We usually took turns making meals so you’d bring up your meal and prepare it. Cottages have this reputation for being places you take stuff that is no longer good enough for the city house, so I understand your knife/peeler/pot frustration. You know what’s even worse? A boat! My husband sails and there isn’t even an oven. Grrr!

  • Great list, David, though we usually just settle for wine, cheese and coffee – the rest of the car is full of things you might need when travelling for the weekend with three small kids (that’s most of their stuff, just in case). However, I must admit I did miss my knife and spice rack last weekend, when staying with friends on their summer cottage. A dusty black pepper is no substitute for freshly ground one, and the dishes just taste wrong when using stuff like that :(

  • If someone showed up at my house for a weekend stay carrying baggies of raw meat and a knife collection, I would turn them away at the door and possibly call the police. I guess things are different in France. :)

  • My OXO citrus squeezer. This thing is like my iPhone of the kitchen – I feel naked without it. The few times I’ve forgotten this on trips I always regret it. Thanks for the great list!

  • Wow you’re like the cooking & food equivalent of a boy scout – always prepared. I bet people love having you as a houseguest.

  • I can see why you’re often invited back. :-)

  • Our lists are surprisingly similar, minus the cookie sheet, knives and coffee pot for me. We bring most of these items when we go on vacation and rent a house or small villa. I love the very small baggies you can pick up at craft stores, for storing spice rubs that I make at home, plus some cinnamon and sugar mixture (elevates plain toast with butter to something so delicious) and a mixture of bread/cornflake/panko crumbs for savory gratins and coating fresh fish. I also bring a small jar of anchovies, good quality dried pasta, a couple of cans of imported tuna, and maybe a small jar of marinated artichoke hearts.

  • Good Lord! Is there room for clothes in your suitcase David? Essentials for me are simply chocolate and books. Which granted, also takes up a lot of space!

    • Hey David Maldon salt comes in a small metal tin as a sample/lunchbox size and is great for travel. Maybe you should have a link to this in your website. Cheers, a

      • I’ve seen those Maldon ‘pinch’ tins although they’re kind of (er, very) spendy. I like those little Japanese containers (which I got in Japan, but I’ve seen them in Japantown in San Francisco selling for about 50 cents each) and they do pretty well. I do have a great, tin little wooden box for Fleur de sel with a sliding lid that I got when I visited that region, but they don’t sell them online anywhere or ship them. So I hang on to mine – tightly!

  • Alessandra: I usually pack along some coffee as well. Fortunately Bialetti pots do well with various grind of coffee.

    Pille: A good knife is a must! : )

    Danika: I can pack all this stuff into one large, handled tote bag. We often travel by car, which is admittedly, a lot easier.

  • The guest room is waiting! How many sherpas do you travel with?

  • Not only do my husband and I take knives when we visit his parents (and a potato peeler – they want everything peeled but they do not own a peeler), we take our own food. They do not eat lunch and do not believe in providing for guests, apparently.

    We even bought them a nice knife for Christmas a few years ago – theirs are 40 years old and have never been sharpened – but they didn’t want to use it.

    That was the year they gave us a cast-iron cat as a present: http://diaryofagolddigger.blogspot.com/2010/01/in-which-we-get-worse-presents-than.html

  • That looks very good! I think you are a highly appreciated guest. Unfortunately we don’t have a spare bedroom for guests otherwise you would be invited!

    When I go out and share a holiday house with family, I bring
    - my knife & cutting board
    - olive oil, wine vinegar and mustard
    - salt & peper
    - organic stock cubes

  • I bring my moka pot and ground coffee every where, too! I always wake up early on trips, and I also need good coffee immediately.

  • I suppose if your presence was combined with our want for you to take over our kitchen this list is okay. But I have to agree with Suzanne, if you showed up with unannounced or unrequested poultry in a bag, your knives (we have high quality knives) your own seasonings because ours aren’t good enough (ours are fresh and amazing) we would be put out and shut you down.

    A good bottle of wine or some beer, some cheeses and meats and olives and a good loaf of bread will suffice. Like a hostess gift. We invited YOU as a guest, not free help.

    • I agree. You are a guest. You do it my way and I have the pleasure if cooking for you. How would you feel if, for example, I turned up at your house with instant cider and sliced white bread because I don’t like what you have on offer? As for checking the date of the pepper in someone’s house…..

  • Kitchen Shears!! Who can run a kitchen without a decent pair. I too bring the coffee – beans and grinder all. And I’m showing this list to my wife, so she doesn’t think I’m so strange. :) A great list and lots of good suggestions, thanks.

  • This is hilarious. I always want to bring a long list of items with me but am sure that I’d be insulting my hosts by doing so. Have you ever run into that problem?

  • I travel much lighter than you do, but there are a few things I like to take with me: piment d’espelette — I can live it hour it, my teapot, loose leaf tea, strainer, and electric kettle, and cookies or tea cake. Harissa is often on my packing list, as is homemade sriracha. A bread knife and wee cutting board were packed and used extensively in Paris.

  • I always bring good bagels, muffins or cinnamon rolls and my own tea. People always have decade old teabags in the cabinet and a $300 coffee maker. But David, I have everything on your list except the coffee pot, will you come and visit me? I have a little french press you can use.

  • Andrea, Suzanne, and Heather: People generally know that I will bringing a few things, especially if I know they have a kitchen and I will be cooking in it. (Folks in France don’t normally have strangers over for the weekend!) If in doubt, I’ll ask either what can I bring, or tell them I’d like to bring certain things (like cookies, etc) and make sure it’s okay. Especially things like full courses.

    But most people are happy to know that someone is coming, to take the load off of them. And it’s nicer, and you get a better reception, than if you showed up empty-handed! : )

  • In love this- have definitely run into the same greivances, but I agree with PP- has anyone ever been slightly insulted that you bring so much stuff along, in case their own equipment is crap?
    Although I have a hard time leaving the house without a decent paring knife, and the moka pot is a great idea, too…

  • You may visit us anytime!

  • That’s so me. :) I tought that I’m a bit compulsive by doing this, so it’s nice (and as so often funny) to read about someone else handling this like me. Saddly I can’t bring my pan or a roast with me, because I never ever travel by car.

  • It’s funny, because I am becoming a food geek myself (not that I am implying that you are… well, maybe I am…). And have tons of equipment I couldn’t leave without (scale, Aeropress, knives of course, etc…), however I still feel the fun of vacations in a foreign house, is to make things work with what you have on hand.

    The small house I rented in Britanny had only shitty equipment, and we ate the best galettes (with locally smoked salmon) and incredible mussels there. I find it really fun to actually make things with tools I’m not used to. I’m feeling a bit McGyver-ish.

    I am now leaving for the Pyrénées, and am looking forward to improvising with whatever I can find in the small village I’m heading to.
    I’ll let you know when I return if I have regretted my decision.

  • I, too, bring my stove-top espresso maker, a mini one I use just for travel and the occasional affogato

  • Our group recently visited Santa Barbara County wine area and we stayed in a 5-bedroom house with an adequately equipped kitchen. We planned a couple of homecooked meals, so I brought along my flat salter kitchen scale (I bake using grams), parchment paper, a cherry pitter (it was cherry season), thermometer, a silicone spatula, and a small offset spatula. Since there was no rolling pin, we improvised by using a wine bottle. Freshly roasted coffee is always a must, just in case it’s difficult to find.

  • I nearly spit out my breakfast laughing from reading the part on not having coffee in the morning. I completely agree, a morning without coffee is a morning not to be had! My students are fully aware of when I have had my caffeine in the morning (or not) simply by my morning interactions with them (some probably do a little prayer everyday that they walk into the classroom with me holding my espresso cup).
    Speaking of students, it is the first week where I am going to set up my classroom and I am listing the many items that I must bring or purchase for the classroom. I am filled with nerves and stress, but this post relaxed me and I just wanted to thank you for your humor and your very organized list!

  • How are those insulated baking sheets at giving a nice brown crisp edges to cookies? I’ve seen them around, but never bothered with them much.

  • If I know I’ll be cooking, even for just a day visit, I do bring my own knives, good salt and spices, and a few others things – including a pot/pan… depending on what I will be making. Always easier working with familiar items – and my host/hostess need not run around looking for things I might need that they may not have!

  • I always bring my own knives if I expect to cook somewhere… last week we stayed in a holiday house in Bavaria, that was the first time I found sharp knives in a rental place. Depending on what I’m planning to make I bring spices and ingredients which may not be available in a normal shop.
    Canned sardines or mackerel are great – can be turned into an Asian appetizer with some chopped garlic, scallions, a dash of soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil.

  • You can absolutely find good bread in the countryside. And you don’t have to deal with unpleasant Parisian shopkeepers to get it.

  • Tea (always). And spices (sometimes). Food from Italy if somewhere else.

  • I guess I’m a very boring guest. I do bring treats that I know the host/hostess will appreciate. Licorice for the licorice-addict, chocolate for the chocoholic, or just something that I’ve made at home. A jar of this years romtopf or a jar of jam. And I always report, rather happily, for kitchen duty.

  • And I always bring tea since I’m sorta tea-snobbish.

  • A. how can you bring all that? Does it require a second suitcase? B. You should come visit me! and C. I am exactly the same with the coffee. I have several traumatic memories of being trapped in someone’s house in the morning with no coffee or bad coffee while they talked incessantly at me.

  • David- I would pack several of the things on your list, though this summer, my trip was by plane with carry-on only, so I couldn’t bring knives, but I did bring my little AccuSharp knife sharpener, which made my stay at the two places MUCH more bearable after a little work. As I make charcuterie, we had a small cooler of sausages and cured ham instead of the dessert items, and some frozen pestos. The heatproof spatulas will definitely be in the bag next time, and some salt.

  • I am so glad I am not the only one who brings so much kitchen/food related items on trips!
    I always carry my little Bialetti and coffee and if I know I will be doing baking/cooking at my destination (which happens a lot) I bring a spatula and kitchen scales (have I mentioned I bake a lot?). If I am not travelling by plane I also bring my favourite kitchen knife.
    Oh and I should also mention that my cake carrier has a specific/designated spot in the car which ensures the safe arrival of its content. See here: http://instagram.com/p/WMYuXnDmDf/#
    Like I said… I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one. :)
    Also David, if you ever wish to stay somewhere in Germany, you’re very welcome at my place ;)

  • Please visit us; our summer house is by a mountain lake in northern Utah. Our guests were not nearly as well prepared this year as you obviously are.

  • Don’t forget the coffee to bring with the moka! Good coffee is hard to find!!

  • what a GREAT post – oh gosh, the ‘Grandmother’s steak knife’ story made me burst out with laughter! A cleaver is the only kitchen utensil I’ve never had so far….
    When invited I nearly always (maybe only for this reason!!) bring either along enough French wine to drown them… or bring my planned cooking along – but I never was quite clever enough (until lately, when I started cooking at my mom-in-law’s place….) to also bring the ‘tools’ with me. Point taken.
    I also always try to remember what the family I stay with and their various members like especially from the country I come from… It’s lovely to have friends in so many countries; it means I am always most welcome with (presently) French delicacies, or English tea etc….. When I visit England, I bring (when travelling by car) French wine, Swiss raclette cheese AND Emmental (not to confound with any cheese calling itself that name but not coming from the Emmental in Switzerland!) and of course Swiss chocolate. Aaah the joys of inviting, being invited and having the ‘tools and produce of trade’. Thanks for another excellent post.

  • 50% thoughtfulness
    50& Control freak

  • That should be

    50% Thoughtfulness
    50% Control Freak

  • This is so incredibly liberating – I live in southern France, and am often invited to the country home of various of my husband’s cousins. And in true French fashion, these are big drafty houses that have been in the families for eons, but are badly invariably (but incongruously) badly maintained, meagerly furnished and devoid of the necessities that make a decent meal possible! It never occurred to me that I could bring my own stuff, but if it works for you it will for me – yeah! In addition to coffee, the odd decent pan and things to cut with, can I also bring my own blankets and pillows?

    If only it was possible to bring your own mattress!

    • Yes, a lot of the older (and some of the newer) places aren’t so well-equipped, to put it nicely. If you ask for a saucepan, they might dig out one that’s raw aluminum and all pitted. And there might be a bowl or a spoon to cook with, or there might not. Then they want or expect you (or me) to make something, like a cake – and I’m like, “Well, I need some flour (that’s from this century), a cake pan, a spatula to mix the batter…etc.” So I just find it’s better to bring it all along. Love the idea of leaving behind some bbq sauce!

  • I understand bringing food, drink, and even the coffee pot, but cooking well using someone else’s implements (or lack thereof) is part of the fun for me. Of course I also enjoy camping…

  • Haha! So nice to know that I’m not the only person who brings a suitcase full of food/kitchen stuff when I travel! I bring pretty much everything on your list, but would add to that my portable knife sharpener- I always sharpen my hosts knives as a thank you- and a good microplane. Works so much better than a big grater. And- since I’m celiac- I also travel with my own blend of flour to make pastries/etc while I’m visiting.
    Lastly- since I live in the land of great BBQ- I always bring two jars of the world’s best BBQ sauce to leave as a thank you!

  • I always bring a bottle of Clear Creek Pear Brandy (eau de vie in France: our Oregon liquor laws are so weird) and whatever is fresh from my garden (basil, fava beans, snap peas, even garlic) in the summer. If someone is really lucky, they’ll invite me in June when Hood strawberries are in season. At any rate, I NEVER have guests like you, David. I love my friends dearly but they always want ME to cook (they do bring wine, so I cannot fault them) but YOU can come stay anytime!

  • I travel light – a few bottles of wine and snacks for cocktail hour…and a few of my own handmade ceramic pinch pots to put the snacks in, and to leave behind as a hostess gift – great for olives, spice, condiments.

  • Definitely knives, PG Tips black tea, (also decaf), Splenda, my micro grater, good wine,
    and zip-lock bags. I recently made the mistake of forgetting to bring my good knife, on the assumption that the person I was renting a house from was a good cook and I remembered her having good knives…BUT NO, she took hers with her on her vacation!

    Any time you want to visit Provence…come on down. With your treats you must be a welcomed guest everywhere.

  • David, you are welcome at our cottage any time! Loved your list of essentials. At least three things I am going to add to my home kitchen. Would love to see am inventory of your must-have home kitchen items in a future blog.

  • May I add that I don’t bring the coffee machine (with one exception – again mom in law… everybody has got an espresso machine) when invited but take my own espresso machine to every place I go on holidays – by car, that is…. it really changed things in a good way. I have an extra espresso machine just for this purpose.
    And I surely would love to bring my own matress to nearly all the places I’ve ever been… but that’s not a kitchen issue.
    I also always bring along baking sheets from Switzerland – can’t understand why that’s not a universally available commodity.

  • I love this post! Just came back from a visit to friends on Martha’s Vineyard and I realize that I tend to take over the kitchen and cook whenever I’m a guest…which is much appreciated, usually, by my hosts, but it can be very challenging without good tools. Never thought about packing an equipment and ingredient bag…though I will from now on! Saves time and money buying stuff in expensive vacation areas too!

  • I’m about to take a road trip from SF to a little cabin in the Sawtooth Mts. Great suggestions!

  • I always carry a paring knife when I travel. It’s so useful for impromptu picnics and so on. I have taken knives to Europe but now I’m asking myself why I didn’t just buy some good ones while I was there? Oh, and a corkscrew. When can we expect you?

  • When are you free?

  • As a flower of the (American) South I find that my homemade pimiento cheese is always welcomed. It’s a wonderful appetizer. Makes a great sandwich-especially if homegrown tomatoes are in season. And can top a variety of other dishes such as hamburgers and baked potatoes. My other frequent traveling companion is Pepper Jelly.Delicious with a cheese tray, a wonderful glaze for steamed carrots and a killer sandwich along with bacon and …..pimiento cheese!!!

  • Personally, I’d just bring you!

  • Now I don’t feel so bad. I usually content myself with bringing coffee and what I refer to as my salad mobile command unit. I have insulted some people by bringing my own coffee – but they only had decaf and they’re morning people that wanted nothing more than a long, technical chat first thing in the morning. That’s a crime against humanity.

  • WIne and more wine and perhaps a good dark chocolate bar. If I bring my whole kitchen I think that’s an insult to the host and hostess. Offering to help is big and I would not presume to usurp the chef in the kitchen, I am a guest afterall!

  • David, I have most all of your list, and you are very welcome to come and visit (Colorado high mountains) and bring all your list and more if you like!

    When visiting, I always bring anything that I think is unusual and that I need in order to have a reasonably good time (seltzer water, tea, salt, spices, butter, etc.)

    I also bring:
    -A hostess gift appropriate for the home and people.
    -A stash in the car of equipment and food items that I or my family might need if the house does not have them (knives, veggie peeler, spices, canned fishes, etc.) I don’t bring them in unless necessary to avoid both work and insult in case they are tetchy as are some of your commenters.
    -And any alcohol we might consume to replace theirs so we are not unwelcome the next time.

  • You are welcome anytime! Minus the meat and poultry for the pescatarians. I think when people invite you, David, they know they are in for a treat. My kitchen in Europe is no where are well equipped as the one I had in the US, but I have learned to improvise. Our friends love it when we bring wine! I try to take along either a homemade preserve or spice rub too. Since we take the train or fly pretty much everywhere, it is difficult to take the fixings for an entire meal. But, I make a great sous, and our house rule is whoever cooks it, doesn’t clean up.

  • I ALWAYS bring salt, and often, tons of food. I try to let my hosts know how much and just exactly what I’ll be bringing, but to my surprise, my in-laws are often put out. There is a premium on fridge space, so hogging too much of it can be seen as thoughtless, I suppose, however well-intentioned. And my sister-in-law sees my salt-bringing as an insult! She comments that her iodized salt isn’t good enough for the likes of me. I don’t understand; my contributions are not meant as a criticism, but are taken as such. Perhaps a discreet package in my pocket it what I’ll bring next time!

  • David – our door is open to you and Romain anytime!! We’ll even pick you up at the airport, and you can travel lighter! I’ve got it all….

  • My crepe pan, and I carry a can of WD40 for creaky doors (often needed for creaky bathroom doors. One skwirt on the hinges and no more worries about waking up the household in the middle of the night)

    • As someone who just stayed in a house with old, creaky doors – that I kept worry about when I got up in the middle of the night – the WD40 is a good idea. If staying at a hotel, I’mm bring clothespins to keep the curtains closed. Or my Tempurpedic eye mask, which is a fabulous travel companion.

  • Wow. A whisk is also good (I stayed somewhere that’s didn’t have one! Eep!) but what you need is an excellent knife sharpener and I have not found any better than the Accusharp ones (http://www.accusharp.com/). Really, they are life changing and so easy to use. People cannot believe how sharp my knives are.

  • A wonderful list! Makes me want to cook with you (you’d have the cleaver, of course) anywhere in the world–and, of course, eat with you. Two comments:
    Do you really like those insulated /black cookie sheets? I’ve found them unpredictable at best. (I use professional grade heavy metal sheets and parchment paper, which I consider essential).
    My only adds to your list: a heavy, soft plastic cutting board (which the dull-knife people never seem to have and which which can be sterilized in the dishwasher) and a full-body heavy cotton apron. Again, the dull knife people tend to have frou frou aprons at best or –confounding as it is–none at all.

  • I love that they “peel tomatoes”.. bit confused of why but love it.

    My mom felt the same way when she visited me in the U.S. Actually, if she could, she would have packed my luggage with mortar and pestle when I left Thailand 15 years ago.

  • When we’re invited to stay overnight, we are now obliged to bring our artisanal take&bake French pastries to ensure fresh pain au chocolat and croissants warm out of the oven in the morning. The fragrance of them baking guarantees the host gets up and ensures good coffee is on to accompany them. You’re lucky in France with patisseries and boulangeries on every corner so for us, it’s a great novelty. And yes, we definitely get invited back.

  • Reading your post and drinking my first cup of coffee makes the best start of day!

  • I always bring a good variety of loose leaf teas and infusers to share and of course some tins for the hosts. Sometimes I also bring biscuits, cakes and fruits so we can enjoy a small afternoon tea.

  • OMG those Migros knives are worth their weight in gold! They are actually Victorinox-brand. They stay razor sharp ( I have given myself some unintentional manicures in between the tomatoes) and are light and very portable. We always bring a serrated one on vacation for peeling and slicing fruit on the go. I have taken to buying extras whenever we can find them (Migros Italy also carries them) and giving them to like-minded friends. In Indonesian tradition it is not allowed to give a friend a knife, so they have to buy them off me for a cent :-)

    • Yes, they have that tradition in France, or giving some money to someone who gives you a knife. (I’ve had people forget that part!) When I saw those Victorinox brand knives at Migros, I snatched up a bunch of them. Best deal in Switzerland!

  • Boy, some of these commenters sure sound ungrateful. If a well-known chef with several cookbooks to his name showed up at my house for the weekend accompanied by the tools of his trade, I would weep with happiness. Sure, I have nice knives and spices, too, but I would be more than happy to let you loose in my kitchen with the things you use in your own home!

  • David,

    Now I do not feel so crazy. I always bring a bag of food stores with me when we travel to visit family and friends. Otherwise I have to go out and buy everything that I need and already have at home. We also travel with a miniature pharmacy, as our daughter or one of us will come done with some thing along the way.

    About the coffee bit, we travel with our own little system and bring our coffee too. Nothing worse than waking up and having to drink bad coffee. Also, my husband gets up at 3:30 a.m. each morning to ride his bike. When I get up at 6ish, he arrives and will not shut up. He has learned over the years to not talk to me until after my first cup of coffee.

  • What a thought provoking post, David. When we’re houseguests we always bring a plethora of gifts for our hosts but now you’ve got me thinking about cooking for them as a gift.
    I do think that with certain hosts, talking with them ahead of time about how we might contribute by preparing a meal or two (and then bringing all the goods to do so) would be welcome by many (although not all).

    I absolutely agree with bringing a tiny coffee maker and coffee though. We’ve been stuck on more than one occasion with hosts who sleep in later than we do and then we’re dying for that first cup. Having had that happen to us though means I always show people staying with us how to work our coffee pot ahead of time although when I’m the host I’m always up early so guests rarely need to make the coffee or rattle around my kitchen on their own.

    The only way to bring as many things as you do though would be trips taken by car. For friends we visit by plane, we think taking the hosts out for a meal or two seems in order.

  • I have a plastic packing crate full of cooking supplies that I take everywhere… I get teased about it mercilessly, but I think your list is even longer than mine. I do always take an apron and latex gloves as well.

  • My God, do you take a porter along to schlepp all this stuff?! If so, please bring him or her, and come to MY house!

  • Fantastic column and justification for the extra kitchen/gifts case we schlep during our annual trip to France. I am still bringing my own unscented laundry detergent, though. What have you found?

    • You can get Ecover at natural food’s stores that doesn’t have a scent (or at least it’s a slight, natural one) and Monoprix vert isn’t bad either.

  • We arrive with ice chest full and recipes in hand. You have a standing invitation to our home,please bring all your accoutrements with the exception of the moka pot, we have several…

  • You are the ideal guest for bringing all those. I would love you to have you in my house.

    BTW, let me know if you need more zip-top freezer bags. I can bring you a ton when I go to Paris first week of October.

  • We’ve rented an apartment in Paris for the past three summers. We travel only with carry on luggage so space is at a premium. But we learned that bringing many zip lock bags from home are essential and make packing for ‘le pique-nique’ so much easier.

  • Great list. I like to bring homemade vinaigrette, local honey, my own tea, a cake that travels well, locally artisnal sausages and homemade maple baked beans. A little wine or beer and a little weed. Canadian, eh?

  • Out of curiosity given the French love of, and pride in their food, if kitchens are so badly equipped and with supplies that are out of date how do they cook?

  • I was hoping you had a recommendation for a paring knife. I find most of them too flimsy so I stick with my Old Hickory (I think is the name) Someone told me that it is known for being used in a horror film wherein the murderer stabs someone with an Old Hickory. (sometimes I want to stab the guest who ridicules my little ugly performer).
    BUT it is difficult to keep sharp. I think it is all carbon steel (which I love). I’m willing to retire it from everyday use, pulling it out only to fight off intruders, IF I CAN FIND A SUITABLE SUBSTITUTE. Help me Obiwan…

  • I can’t tell you how many times I got funny looks from Americans when I’m pulling out my Mokka to make coffee in the morning. I tote along a LOT of stuff if I’m visiting my parents :)

  • Jane: The paring knife I use, I bought nearly 30+ years ago and the brand is “Constant” but not sure if it’s made anymore or not. The best thing to do is go to a cutlery shop (which is what I did in San Francisco) and feel the different knives and see what is best for you.

    Marty: I was really excited since I was at a hypermarché and saw they had lots of zip-top bags and bought about 8 boxes of them. When I unrolled one, I was surprised at how thin they were. (I could feel my fingerprints through the plastic.) And when I dropped something in it, it ripped through the side. Will stick to more “study” brands!

  • OXO y-peeler with replaceable blades: best of both worlds. Now I’m thinking about that copper pan… maybe I have to revisit Villedieu-les-Poeles.

  • I always bring a load of food and gear to decrease the burden on my hosts. I usually do most of the cooking as well. David, the next time you are in the Bay Area, you can be my house guest! My kitchen is minuscule but well stocked!

  • I would be offended if you are my guest and you would bring all these things…

  • David, aren’t those Victorinox knives from Migros not just so totally brilliant (and dirt cheap)? Although I have several at every place I ever lived in, I bought two for at my mother in law’s place only weeks ago – and YES, she managed to open a tin with one and broke off the ‘point’…. and I DO forgive her because she doesn’t really cook anymore and I mustn’t discourage her.

    I have subscribed to comments on this post and am endlessly amused and amazed by the wonderful contributions. I’m also so glad that I’m not the only one to be crazy enough to bring much stuff along…. A friend once gave me the one and only ‘can opener’ (one arm only, a wheel and incredibly good in the hand, easy to handle and giving perfect results) I’ll ever, ever need and I don’t need it often – have to go and see what the make is; she could only buy it at a yearly household show.

    The name is only ‘sesame’ but I couldn’t find it anywhere on the web hence I do believe that this is a local ‘maker’ who sells his product only at shows (quite expensive as my friend helpfully pointed out) – I found on the web an electric Westinghouse can opener, mine however is a simple device that slides off the lid by just simply turning the wheel forward; it then slides the lid off UNDER the rim, leaving the food untouched and opening the can without any trouble, backwards… – after doing the round, you lift off the lid which is held by the opener – would make a whole new post. (and thankfully it was given to me in blue not orange!)

    If I have intrigued you enough – I can send you photos to a mail address – sorry for digressing so – all your fault :)

  • What about the kitchen sink? Kidding. I admire your list and your caliber of meticulousness (I too wash melons before cutting, and also can lids before opening on the rare occasion that I cook with something from a can). But I am not a professional as are you, so I just make do with what my hosts have – such a simpleton. Your list would be equally useful for folks living abroad or taking a long vacation someplace. Thanks for sharing!

  • A great post David which made me chuckle. I’ve just returned from a family holiday on the French Atlantic coast. Not only did I take knives, an apron, some cook books, proper English breakfast tea, a jar of marmalade and a roll of strong foil but I also took my new little pod coffee maker and milk whizzer complete with my fave cup and saucer – for my mid morning cappuccino – and then there was my Magimix food processor
    ( we enjoyed many a meal with super fresh pesto sauce or Caesar dressing)
    Oh, and I always put several bottles of cremant in for the grown ups to enjoy after a day out with the little ones.
    My suitcase was smaller than the boxes with my kitchen paraphernalia!
    When we fly abroad on holiday I take my little moka coffee pot. It needs its own passport now.

  • After one terrible morning of drinking a flavored “french vanilla” coffee, I will never show up without my coffee ( a local roaster here in Wa. state) and my own bar of bath soap. i usually cook while visiting and hunt and gather in local markets….which is always fun and can be a bit dicey.
    I would open my door anytime to a man who travels with his own loot! in fact come here where the salmon jumps out of the water and onto your plate!

  • At one time or another I’ve brought all of that (except for sardines and cookie sheet!).

    I usually throw in my big wooden cutting board because I can’t stand using those little plastic ones so many people have now cuz they’re freaked out about food safety…

  • That was a fascinating article! And I thought my visitors were OC! That said, sharp knives and interesting foodstuff are always welcomed in my kitchen. But you take the cake! Wait…..you are bringing cake, right? <3

  • Rather than cookie dough (which is impossible to get past TSA), I bring pre-mixed dry ingredients (and add-ins, like chocolate chips, oatmeal, raisins, nuts) and purchase butter and eggs locally. I also bring pure vanilla extract. And, salt + pepper grinders, my favorite small chef’s knife (pre-sharpened), paper towels (I use an embarrassing amount) zip-lock and ordinary gallon-sized plastic bags, best oven hot pad (Calphalon 100% cotton with silicone for grip and heat protection), cling film (currently, Glad wrap is my fav), French Press coffee pot, starter supply of freshly, coarse-ground Intelligentsia coffee, small ice cream scoop (works for scooping cookie dough, too), favorite tea bags, etc.

    Non-food: hand and bath soaps (allergies), kitchen sponge, extra dish towels.

    I’ll leave behind the Calphalon hot pad and kitchen towels, but never my chef’s knife.

  • Thanks for the tip, David. Perhaps the natural grocery stores are starting to understand the need for unscented products. I hope this will be the year I can use my OXO peeler only for food instead of trying to peel pieces from a bar of Le Chat soap and then trying to dissolve it for laundry use.

  • I agree with Mia. Most of my friends do quite well in the kitchen ( supplies and cooking ability) without my supplies. For a weekend, I can do quite well without my kitchen stuff. Also, I find it challanging to get on with what is availbale. Of course, I do not write a wonderful blog about food preparation.
    That said, I do bring my coffee – in bean form if I know there will be a grinder at hand. Preground if no grinder available. Also paper Melita of Chemex filter papers and a portable apparatus for same that can be placed on a cup of the host’s choice.

  • What a perfect list…mirrors mine especially when it comes to knives, local wine and coffee. When staying with friends, especially if I’m a frequent guest, I will also bring some prepped or prepared meals since I have several food related allergies and prefer organic, non-GMO foods. Since I have a large garden with fruit trees and berries I’ll also bring whatever is in season.
    I’d never had a problem until a year ago when one ‘friend’ got very angry when I gifted her with a pepper grinder. Apparently my bringing utensils/food/coffee had been an issue with her for a long time because she basically kicked me out of the house and I’m not welcome back because of my “elitist, snobbish, arrogant and controlling attitudes” about food and coffee.
    Now I ask in advance if my hosts mind if I bring some food and supplies that I consider mandatory for daily meals. 99% of hosts like that I help with food supplies, am willing to cook/bake and appreciate my thoughtfulness but beware that 1%.

  • We bring our most-used spices with us in a 7 day mediation keeper, got the idea when seeing an elder houseguest carry his into our kitchen for his morning meds. I’ve seen them in the pharmacies in Paris, but just in case here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Apex-7-Day-Organizer-Bubble-Lok-organizer/dp/B000XPV4P2
    Or here’s a link for a stackable model that comes in different sizes:
    http://www.forgettingthepill.com/products/stackable-7-day-pill-organizers-items-368-379
    Makes it so handy to BYOS!

  • o.k., i thought i was just being a control freak by carting so many things with me when visiting people’s homes. you just validated me! great list!

  • You are welcome to visit my house anytime just make sure to bring all that food on this list :-))