Pantries are windows into the kitchens, and therefore the chefs, of the world. They vary widely in content, subjective in their meanings and uses in the home. Some people focus on the basics: hot sauce and a few old cans of soup to serve up last-minute saves on cold and rainy nights by the television. For the romantics, those select few who have never uttered the words “store-bought crust”, pantries are a more serious arena, filled with souvenirs from travels abroad — olive oil from Spain, spices from Morocco, chai tea from India — and domestic treasures found right around the corner at farmers markets or their neighbors’ gardens. Most home cooks fall somewhere in between.

Even for the best chefs and restaurateurs — like the five we’ve interviewed here — it might be hard to describe the spirit of an entire pantry. Instead we asked each person to pick the one essential they just can’t cook without. Here’s what they said.

EASY RECIPES: Duck Confit Salad | Trout with Bacon Brussels Sprouts | The Pappy Van Winkle Old Fashioned

Koshihikari Short Grain Rice

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Ed Schoenfeld, RedFarm, Decoy: “They grow a lot of this rice in California. When we opened RedFarm I brought a bunch of it to [the chef] Joe and I said, ‘Joe, fuck that Chinese stuff. Here’s some Koshihikari rice here.’ Now we mix short- and long-grain rice.”

Q: What’s one tip you can offer to home cooks?
“When making fried rice, you want to start with rice that’s already cooked and then chilled. If you get hot, fresh rice and try to fry it, it will get gummy on you. You want the proteins on the outside of the grains to get cold and they’ll gelatinize. It keeps them from being sticky.”

Maldon Sea Salt

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Dominique Ansel, Dominique Ansel Bakery: “This sea salt is perfect to sprinkle on something to finish it off with just a bit of that salty contrast. It’s not meant to be dissolved or used to season a hot stew. Just place a pinch on top [of food].”

Q: What’s one tip you can offer to home cooks?
“For pastries, it’s really about knowing what part of the recipe to follow exactly and what part not to. You have to be accurate with the measurements, but also understand you cannot always be accurate with times and temperatures as your oven varies. Use your common sense and don’t get intimidated — if something looks like it’s burning, it is, no matter how many minutes the recipe says you should leave it in the oven for.”

Tabasco Hot Sauce

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David Myers, Sola Tokyo, David Myers Cafe: “I just can’t say enough about this. It’s my go-to when finishing a dish like a late night pasta, or even adding it on a sandwich to spice it up. I love the spice and acidic note to it.”

Q: What’s one tip you can offer to home cooks?
“Have lemon on hand at all times. It is super simple and an incredibly effective way to make a dish go from good to amazing. Whether it’s the last little squeeze on top of some freshly grilled fish or adding it over some grilled steak and lettuce and olive oil for impromptu salad.”

La Bella San Marzano Tomatoes

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Sean Brock, Husk, McCrady’s: “These tomatoes are a great way to get that fresh taste of summer any time of the year. Quickly throw together a dish whether it’s pasta or a casserole.”

Q: What’s one tip you can offer to home cooks?
“Buy a digital thermometer and use it to train yourself on proper meat cookery. Look up the desired temperatures of different proteins you’re cooking and cook the protein to that temperature, but pay attention the whole way through so you know what it should look and feel like. Eventually you won’t need the thermometer. It’s a great way to not ruin meat when you’re trying to learn how to cook proteins.”

Karawan Tahini

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Einat Admony, Taïm, Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat: “I use this quite a lot in my restaurants, for both the crème brûlée dessert and our everyday cauliflower.”

Q: What’s one tip you can offer to home cooks?
“If you want to get fish or garlic or any other stinky smell off your hand, just take a stainless steel knife, put your fingertips on the blade, and wash under cold water. The smell disappears.”