BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Cooking is more important than eating.At least one might get that impression when looking at what experts say adds value to a home. Scan listings for sales in your area and odds are you'll see the kitchen getting far more focus than the dining room. In an era of foodie magazines and eat-centric cable channels, more and more people want to be an at-home variation of Bobby Flay or Paula Dean. But while the Emerils of the world have their pick of restaurants or sponsor-equipped TV kitchens to whisk, dice and saute in, most of us have more limited means. There are still plenty of ways to craft and remodel a kitchen worthy of your gourmet aspirations, though. Here are some suggestions for a kitchen that offers both "wow factor" and useful amenities. They may not make you a better cook, but they will make you a more impressive one:
Last year, the National Association of Home Builders surveyed builders, designers, architects, manufacturers and marketing specialists to glean their thoughts of what the "Home of 2015" would look like. The kitchen of the future, it found, would include such things as a double sink, recessed lighting and table space for eating. A separate survey revealed other features consumers wanted: 86% want a walk-in pantry, 80% an island work area and 66% "special use storage" custom made for appliances. Seventy-two percent made their pitch for a built-in microwave and 69% said a drinking-water filtration system is a must-have. While pipe dreaming about the latest in big appliances, homeowners can easily overlook the little flourishes that mean a lot. The sink, for example, will be used almost constantly. Don't skimp on size -- make sure to choose one that can accommodate your larger pots. Even if you have a dishwasher (another top convenience) you'll need a place to cool, empty and rinse cookware. A small prep sink near your stove or primary workspace can be both impressive and useful. A variety of modern faucets and soap dispensers allow you to wash your hands by merely waving them under a sensor, eliminating the need to press your raw-chicken-covered fingers against a handle or button that then also has to be cleaned to kill bacteria. Even the best meal is a disaster if your guests suffer the ravages of salmonella.
If money is no object, there are some extravagant additions a homeowner can look to for a kitchen designed to impress. While not technically an indoor appliance, a barbecue fanatic might want to buy their own smoker to add flavor to hearty dishes. A Masterbuilt Electric Smokehouse -- a large window for chefs who can't help peeking is a selling point -- goes for as low as $350. If you're keen on a kitchen that's 10 times as interesting, the perfect gift for a would-be Jose Andres could be the nearly $3,500 Pacojet. The maker says it enables chefs "to 'micro-puree' deep-frozen foods into an ultra-light mousse, cream or sauce without thawing -- capturing the natural flavors and nutrients in individual, ready-to-serve portions." The system deep-freezes food; a high-precision blade, spinning at 2,000 rpm, shaves off micro-thin layers as desired. Some want still more from their kitchens. The Internet Home Alliance, which includes members companies such as Cisco ( CSCO) and Procter & Gamble ( PG), conducted a survey on "the digital kitchen" with 602 homeowners. It found "the kitchen functions as the nerve center of the house, with most families doing much more than just cooking and eating there." The kitchen is also for entertaining friends, watching TV, doing homework, paying bills, talking on the phone, planning schedules and events and leaving messages and reminders for other family members. The survey suggested a wish list to fulfill these needs. Digital calendar: Those surveyed reported wanting a calendar on a large screen that allows users to add appointments and post notes everyone in the household can see and access, whether from the kitchen or via the Internet. Recipe projection system: Eight in 10 of those surveyed said they cook for enjoyment, and 64% do so at least several times per week. What they dreamed of was a wireless recipe projection system that would allow them to look up a recipe online, or even say aloud what they want to cook, and have the recipe projected onto a surface in the kitchen from a small cabinet-mounted device. Internet access: Twenty-nine percent of homeowners and 43% of those remodeling their homes want to surf the Web while in the kitchen. Just 5% of homeowners said they wanted wired Internet access in their kitchen, with the overwhelming majority opting for wireless. At the very least, we might suggest investing in a stand or case that allows cooks to consult recipes on an iPad or other tablet device.
When it comes to ovens, cooks will undoubtedly have a checklist they go through before buying a unit. How many burners? How many BTUs can it produce? Is there a double oven? There are also some modern twists today's cooks are seeking out. GE ( GE) has been leading the charge on induction cooking. Induction cooking involves a specialized cooking area and compatible cookware. Using an electromagnetic element under the smooth stove surface, current passes through the cooktop and heats the pan to cook the food inside. Nearly all the energy is transferred directly to the magnetic cookware and the food and there is no residual heat from burners. GE boasts that "cooking adjustments are nearly instantaneous and precise" and that the systems can "boil a quart of water in approximately 101 seconds while remaining comfortably cool to the touch, making them faster, more efficient and safer than gas or electric." The cost of a typical induction system: roughly $2,000. A smaller-scale application of cooking tech comes in Black & Decker's ( SWK) line of InfraWave Speed-Cooking countertop ovens. These units, which sell for under $200 (and often half that suggested retail price online) use infrared-light technology to cook rotisserie style. The company boasts that they cook up to 50% faster than a conventional oven, with no pre-heating or thawing needed, and many dishes can be cooked in 20 minutes or less. To get all experimental up in your kitchen, between $300 and $500 will get you a sous-vide system that lets you indulge your mad scientist urges by cooking food for as long as 72 hours at a time in vacuum-sealed pouches.
You can judge a serious cook by the knives they keep. If you are still using an old set of cutlery you picked up on the cheap from Wal-Mart ( WMT) or making due with a set of Ginsu knives you ordered off TV, getting a quality set can be a godsend. Among the more popular knives that can serve as your calling card are the ultrasharp ceramic knives made by Kyocera ( KYO) and other companies. Even the $20 Yoshi Blade that can be ordered off TV commercials and bought in such retailers as Walgreens ( WAG) perform exceptionally well and have those eye-catching white blades. Beware, however, that these knives shouldn't be used with any meat with bones intact, as it will chip the blade. The pro line of knives by Henckels may set you back $500 or more for a set, but you will be getting top-of-the-line quality, a brand chefs have trusted for years and tools that will likely last you a lifetime.
A tiny dorm fridge may have served you well in your first apartment, but for the ideal kitchen, bigger is better. Double-door units with plenty of freezer capacity will give you plenty of storage options. Easily adjustable shelves will give you the flexibility needed for larger pots, key if you -- for example -- need to stash away large lobsters or brine a full-sized turkey. As with other appliances, modern technology and social media obsessions have given the simple fridge futuristic ambitions. GE, Samsung, LG and Whirlpool ( WHR) have all introduced variations of the "smart" refrigerator. One Samsung model is Internet ready with weather updates, recipe searches and even a Twitter interface. LG's Thinq models, unveiled this year, can control their energy use, self-diagnose mechanical problems and, by entering data on the foods (and their expiration dates) even send out phone alerts when you need to pick up fresh groceries on the way home from work. And we used to think the ice maker was so cool. -- Written by Joe Mont in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more stock ideas and investing advice on our sister site, Stockpickr.com.