In our annual poll of 100 top chefs, we asked about their kitchen essentials and cooking inspirations.

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Skill to perfect

Seasoning (36%) "When a dish is too salty, people react immediately," says chef Jason Dady of the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills in San Antonio.

Recognizing great ingredients (24%) "Good food should speak of a place and time," says Ryan Hardy of Montagna in Aspen, Colorado.

Knife skills (16%) "The first thing I ask new cooks to do is cut chives, to see if it’s something they take pride in," says Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten in La Jolla, California.

What ingredient should home cooks try?

23% said pork belly. "Americans have this love affair with bacon. Pork belly is where bacon comes from and is more versatile." —Jose Garces, Amada, Philadelphia

All-time-favorite kitchen tool?

32% said the spoon. "When I buy new wooden spoons, I soak them in mineral oil several times. Then they’re easier to clean." —Gina DePalma, Babbo, NYC

Stocking the pantry

Best Baking Chocolate

53% Valrhona Karen Barker of Durham, North Carolina’s Magnolia Grill loves the fruity Manjari.

16% Scharffen Berger "Excellent and straightforward chocolate," says Joanne Chang of Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe.

12% Guittard Matthew Gennuso of Chez Pascal in Providence likes the 72% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate.

Best Mail-Order Sites Chefs adore the wide selection, including sprayers for applying thin layers of chocolate. This smartly designed site allows users to search by region for 20 regions in Italy. Seattle chef Tom Douglas’s most extravagant purchases: signed first editions of Jacques Pépin’s cookbooks.