Agree with all the comments to date. Would like to add a little to a few of the points made so far, and provide some URLs. Knives: the brands mentioned are all top quality; your choice should also include the feel of the knife, how it fits your hand etc. There are two basic shapes to tranditional knives: French and German. The French blades are rather triangluar in shape; the German blades have some curve to them. There are some other differences too that affect how it feels. I started with an 8" German (Wusthoff) chef's knife, but now use a 10" French chef's knife. It allows for more of a slicing action when working with food than a rocking or chopping. Note - you might also find German shapes from Sabatier, so don't go on the country of origin alone. Cutlerly.com (aka Professional Cutlery Direct)
is a good source of information, knives, and other cookware. There's also a Sabatier outlet in South Carolina, their number is 800-525-6399 - they carry virtually any size and style you need, in full carbon and high carbon/stainless as well as accessories. I don't believe they have a website. Re: ingredients, for spices and dried herbs, I've relied on Penzey's Spices
for years now. Much better than any supermarket brands, you even have a choice of several kinds of cinnamon, for example. Cooking classes - that's a great idea. Viking Ranges opened a number of kitchen supply stores where they also teach classes. Some are hands-on, others are demonstration. They have short series as well as one-night deals on a single topic, you get to test drive a Viking and usually get a discount in the kitchen supply store - where they have the usual gadgets, pots, pans, etc. Viking cooking school info.
Cookware - it does pay to invest for the long term. Department stores like Bloomies have good sales on sets from companies like All Clad, etc. Ask about being dishwasher-safe if that's important to you; many anodized finishes can't go in the dishwasher. For a good reference on anything for the kitchen, I suggest "The Well Tooled Kitchen" by Bridge/Tippets. And of course a trip to Bridge Kitchenware in NY...Marshalls, though, has good deals on individual pieces, including knives from time to time. To the main topic, beginning/starting cookbooks, let me suggest: "Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America" - good instructions on technique (with pictures), ingredients, and the recipes are a bit more modern/contemporary than many other books. "The Essential Kitchen" by Christine McFadden has a lot of info on kitchen tools, techniques but only a few recipes. Good info and lots of eye candy. For the primal male cooking experience - grilling - Weber's Art of the Grill is great. Haven't had a bad result from anything in the book, and it helps with complete menus, too. For reference and answers to "what the heck is that ingredient" try "Food Lovers Companion" from Barrons, a small book arranged like a dictionary. If your shelf can handle it "Larousse Gastronomique" (in English) bills itself as the "world's greatest culinary encyclopedia." It is massive and describes just about anything food-related and food-service related you can imagine (even has sections on wines), but the I can't say the recipes are for beginners. Finally, an on-line cook book specialist store is Jessica's Cookbooks