BACK in the day, you bought pots in sets, or so it seemed to me until I consulted chef Andrew Radford, founder of Timberyard in Edinburgh. Chefs select different pots and pans for different tasks, he explained. No single brand does everything well. This was revelatory for me, and liberating. A homogeneous batterie de cuisine is for prettying up the kitchen pictures in estate agents’ brochures. Serious cooks tailor their equipment to a specific purpose.

Andrew’s advice was to treat each pot and pan you use as an investment item. Enduring, well-designed cooking kit is generally pretty expensive, so keep your collection lean, build it up gradually, and go for the best you can afford at the time. Cheap fixes are a waste of time and ultimately money, he warned. Plastic handles, for instance, are a no-no: it’s only a matter of time until they they break off. Choose steel handles instead. Apart from anything they give you the option of starting off something on the hob – a thick fish like cod or duck breast, for instance, then finishing it off in the oven, all using just one pan.

Stainless steel pots are useless for anything other than boiling unless they have a thick aluminium (cheaper), alloy, or copper (more expensive) ‘sandwich’ between the layers of steel at the base; food sticks to them otherwise. You’ll know the sandwich is thick enough by the weight of the pot; heavier is better. Non-stick – those light metal pots and pans with a black coating – can scratch and flake toxins into your food almost the minute you use them. Steer well clear.

Over the years I have built up my collection following Andrew’s principles, but experimenting with newer technology as it appears. What works for you is an individual thing, and for most of us there will always be competing factors: design, function, weight, and ease of maintenance. So here are a few of my star acquisitions.

For indestructible pots, I wouldn’t look past Le Pentole, a time-honoured brand that is made in Italy. Their stainless steel pans have great lids that fit snugly on the rim, and solid aluminium, steel and alloy bases that conduct heat evenly. They’re pricey – upwards of £59 for a milk pan – but on the bright side, seem to be cheaper than they used to be.

I cherish my old Le Pentole frypan, although you need to give it time for the base to heat up gently (10 mins or more) to have it perform at its non-adherent best. Yet ever since I discovered the skillets made by Netherton Foundry in Shropshire, it has taken a back seat. Netherton Foundry’s spun iron frying pans are miraculous: sleek, light in the hand, they come already “seasoned" at very high temperatures with flax oil, so they’re non-stick without any chemical coating. Even egg doesn’t stick.

The only issue is that Netherton’s pans can’t go in the dishwasher. All I do is wash mine in hot water – soap would spoil their surface – and dry them off, either with a tea towel, or better still, on a low flame for a few minutes. A big 36 cm skillet costs around £68, a bargain for something that will last forever if you look after it, and give you pleasure every time you use it.

I’ve toured the immortal Le Creuset factory at St Quentin in northern France where they make the real deal, enamel-coated cast iron cookware. Their casseroles weigh a ton, cost a frightening amount – around £200 for a large one – gradually lose their enamel surface, but even so, for a melting stew, they’re peerless. Le Creuset gratin dishes, with their time-honoured designs, are hard to beat too.

And finally, after years of struggling with a cumbersome, deep-sided steel roasting pan I’m a convert to the cheap, lightweight, enamel-covered tin equivalent from Falconware. This nostalgic blue-rimmed brand loses its heat almost instantly, which makes it easy to handle from the oven. It roasts potatoes, or vegetables, producing those highly desirable crusty brown extremities, especially if you line it with baking parchment. It comes up a treat in the dishwasher. One large enough to take a plump chicken and veg recently cost me £14. Something highly effective, but cheap. How wonderful!