One word. Knives.
Go to a department store and try out some Henckles, Wusthof, and Shun knives. Wusthof Classic is my favorite, but it is a matter of preference. Feel for a knife that is heavy (the weight will do a lot of work for you) but not uncomfortable and that fits your hand. A well balanced knife will just feel like an extension of your hand. Buy forged, not pressed steel. Forged is more expensive but worth it in quality. If you have a good cutlery or gourmet store where you live, buy them there and take classes on how to use them.
Have them professionally sharpened when they need it and only wash them by hand. They will serve you better than any other tool.
You need a 8 inch or more chef's or santoku knife, a 9 inch or more bread knife and a pairing knife. You can get more, but you don't really need them.
If my house was on fire and I could only grab one thing, it would be my knives, I swear.
I was coming to post this exact thing. Except my knife flavor was the Shun knives. Just go somewhere and try all 3 and pick the one that you feel the most comfortable with. This is a total fit thing per user. I have an 8 inch Chef, 6.5 inch Santoku, 5 inch utility, 5 inch tomato (I grow my own maters so this is a necessity), and a paring knife. No Shun bread knife. I have my grandfather's bread knife and the guy made mean bread in his day. It's junk but it works and it's a sentimental thing.
I also got a whet stone. Really helps to keep them razor sharp. Got some nicks in the blade though so they will be going off for the professional sharpening soon.
Do not keep a knife in a wooden block. If the blade slides down the edge of the slot for the knife it will dull faster than if kept on a magnetic strip (also is a cool effect)
Some other things to get:
Good pots and pans. Find what you like but don't buy for the look. Copper is definitely out unless you plan on just using them for decoration. Do not by a set. Buy what you need. Same for the knives. If you buy sets you will find that you use the same 3 or 4 things over and over and the rest is wasted.
Tongs. Good grips make great grill and indoor tongs.
A microplane. Fantastic for shaving hard cheeses (parm, asiago, romano) and zesting.
A good Mandolin Slicer
A small coffee grinder for grinding up fresh herbs and spices
A couple of really good cutting boards. I have 4. One gigantic one (about 3'X2') that can accommodate 4 whole slabs of ribs, a large round one (about 24 inches), a medium rectangular (18"X14") and a small bamboo board (9"X4"). Bamboo is the best material if you are into the environment as it is easily replenished. These make great serving platters for things like cheeses and antipasto.
A baking stone (never use soap on it)
A cast iron skillet
Couple spatulas and wooden spoons and a nice container to put on the counter to hold all of this stuff.
And I cannot stress enough that you get a pepper grinder. Outside of dessert, I can't think of a meal that I don't use mine. I have two. One with white and one with black pepper.