Had trouble drawing the line at essential, since many of these are items I've gotten so used to, they're like arm extensions. (And @ChrisK / good idea. Thanks for asking.)
  1. Super sharp chef knife that feels great in your hand and makes clean slices with wind-like sound effect
  2. Spring-loaded tongs that you can maneuver w one hand
  3. Whisks of all sizes
  4. Wooden spoons
  5. Sturdy vegetable peeler
  6. Scissors
  7. Pastry scraper
  8. Cutting boards
    Plural, because you should have a dedicated one for onions and garlic. Plus it's a good idea to keep fruit and vegetables separate too.
  9. A couple other knives (also v sharp) - paring size
  10. Small strong metal spatula that can seriously get in there to scrape the delicious bits that stuck to the pan
  11. Strainers, large & small
  12. Colanders, large & medium
  13. Soup pot
  14. 10-inch skillet
  15. 6-inch omelet pan
  16. Medium saucepan w lid
  17. Ladle
  18. Lots of towels
  19. Rubber spatulas
  20. Citrus juicer of some sort
  21. Stacking bowls (I love Pyrex ones w lids)
  22. A collection of leftover containers, stored sanely
  23. Full set of dry measuring cups, liquid measuring cups (2-cup and 4-cup capacity) & measuring spoons