As I made the list out today, I started to wonder whether it was even necessary to talk about these...but then I thought about all of the silly utensils I've bought over the years that I never use, and decided if I were outfitting a kitchen today, I'd love to have a list like this to keep me from just buying one of everything I see!
Spoons - I keep a minimum of 2 wooden spoons and 2 stainless steel spoons in the kitchen. I have some other large serving spoons, but these are the ones I cook with. One of the stainless steel ones is slotted. The wooden ones are basically the same, one may be a little more narrow than the other. These are really important for using in non-stick pans and they are just so darn sturdy...I prefer them for a lot thick batters and such.
Turners - You need 2, you could use 3. Some people call these spatulas, but this is the thing you are flipping pancakes and scrapping the bits off of pans with. I recommend one stainless steel for really high heat jobs, and a silicon one that is non-stick safe for eggs and fish. Speaking of fish, if you had room for a third turner, it would be what they call a "fish spat", a very thin, flexible turner often with slots. It is nice for fish and other really delicate work. I once used two of them to remove a meringue from a pie in one piece so I could re-do the custard underneath. Not that you will need to perform many "meringueinectomies," but it was an interesting adventure and I'm glad I had that particular tool...
Spatulas - I have 2 silicon spatulas that are exactly the same. I keep 2 because I use them so much that one always seems to be dirty. I prefer the "High Heat" spatulas that are made out of one molded piece, rather than the ones with a handle and a glued on end piece.
Whisks - Having a silicon balloon whisk for scrambled eggs and other non-stick jobs is nice, then a good stiff wire whisk for everything else. There are times I suppose I wish I had a third smaller one for jobs in little bowls, but I don't think it's necessary.
Tongs - 2 sets of spring loaded tongs are an essential for my kitchen. I like the ones with the locking mechanism because they store easier. Having two is nice so you don't have to worry about cross contamination with raw and cooked meats.
Spring Loaded Dishers - Are these "necessary?" No, I guess not. But about once a month, I have some situation where I am really glad I have them. I like 3 different sizes. A #40, #20, and a #12 scoop. The #12 scoop doubles as my ice cream scoop. Why I like these for cookies, meatballs and other portioned items is that they are consistent. And whatever you are cooking, having them a consistent size is key to having them all get done at the same time!
Strainer - Three types of strainers get used in my kitchen. A spider strainer, which is essentially a small, shallow, wire mesh scoop with a long handle, is great for fishing things out of boiling water or hot oil. 2 sizes of wire mesh sieves are really nice for straining liquids. And I have a nice big colander for pastas and rinsing veggies.
Masher - You would be surprised how often a potato masher comes in handy for things other than potatoes...but the food that sees the business end of this tool the most in our kitchen is avocado...mmmm...guacamole...
Rolling Pin - Technically, the French style ones don't even have handles, they are just one long wooden dowel that is tapered at the ends. I like those better, but it doesn't really matter.
Ladle - I always have a 4-6 oz ladle for my soups. 8 oz is too big if it's your only one, 2 oz is too small. I have a big one, too, but I do enough volume cooking that it earns it's keep in my limited kitchen space.
Corkscrew & Bottle Opener - There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to find the corkscrew when you need to open a bottle of wine to cook with (or for other reasons...) I don't go for the fancy ones, just an old-fashioned bartenders fold up model for me. And we keep a magnetic bottle opener on the side of the fridge. That guy has saved me from abusing many a kitchen knife.
I'm sure I'm missing some things, but this is a pretty good start. I think you could cook for a while without really needing something else. Next week I'll quickly review bowls and food storage, then we will finish up with small appliances. If you have a tool that you cannot live without that I didn't talk about, I'd love to know about it! And feel free to leave questions as well.