Kitchen Organization – Like a Pro
If you have ever looked behind the scenes at a restaurant kitchen, you know that professional cooks work at a harrowing pace, responding to orders, and handling hot pans. Their ingredients, equipment, and seasonings are all right within arm’s reach. Quick, efficient, and productive, these cooks “make it look easy.” I think any home cook, whether beginner or expert, can benefit from approaching their kitchen like a professional.
How to Organize Your Kitchen:
Get task oriented. When organizing your kitchen, imagine how it would be to complete common tasks such as baking and chopping vegetables. For instance, I keep my mixer on the counter above a large pull out cabinet that houses all of my baking ingredients. In the drawer below the mixer are measuring cups, measuring spoons, rolling pins, spatulas, and portion scoops. I keep color-coded cutting boards in a drawer right beneath my counter where I like to chop and prepare vegetables, right near my sink. In another drawer, I keep knives and sharpening tools for every day use including an 8” chef’s knife, paring knives, a knife sharpener and honing steel – all of which I picked up at my local Sears store. Under the sink is my compost bin for vegetable scraps. Dry goods are all in the pantry. Cupboards are reserved for dishes and glasses, pots and pans. Whether your kitchen is large or small, organizing it in terms of tasks makes it that much easier to find something when you need it.
Clear the counters. It is difficult to work in a kitchen with cluttered counters. Even kitchens with limited counter space don’t need to be cluttered. Find another place to tuck away the equipment you rarely use. Why keep a toaster or an espresso machine on the counter if you never really use it? Find another place to park your cell phone, newspaper, and mail tomake room for the equipment you use all the time like your food processor, a favorite cookbook, or knife block. With easy access to your most-used tools and clutter-free counters, you will find cooking more enjoyable and clean up that much easier.
Speaking of clean up…clean as you go! This habit is drilled into cooks from the beginning. It is important that you maintain a clean workspace, not only for your sanity, but also for your safety. Mop up drips and spills in order to avoid slipping. Wash down counters and boards between tasks to prevent cross contamination between raw and cooked ingredients or among common food allergens. Do not leave items that should be refrigerated sitting out for hours while you work on something else. Do not let the dishes pile up in the sink, because when you need to use them again, they will be dirty. Do take a break between tasks to wash pots, pans, dishes and utensils. Set them aside to dry. If you do not use them again, they will be dry and ready to put away by the time you are finished.
Read a recipe first. The last thing you want to do when you start making a dish is to have to run to the store, or find that you do not have the right kind of pan, or discover that the chicken for the recipe is supposed to be cooked, not raw. Imagine you are the chef on a cooking show. All of the equipment and ingredients for their recipes are prepped, measured and ready to go. The oven is heated, the baking sheets are covered in parchment, and the bananas are mashed. (Note: ovens can be tricky. I use an oven thermometer to confirm that my oven is at my desired temperature.) The act of preparing equipment and ingredients in advance of starting a recipe is called “mise en place,” which is French for “putting in place.” Preparing mise en place is second nature for professional cooks and can make anyone’s life in the kitchen easier.
Label and date. In restaurant kitchens, everything in the cold locker or freezer is labeled with the name of the contents and the date it was opened, prepared, or frozen. I keep a roll of masking tape and permanent markers in a kitchen drawer for this purpose. Any time I transfer something from its original container to a storage container, I label and date it. Whenever I make pesto or tomato sauce or chicken broth, I label and date it. This practice simply helps you keep track of what you have on hand and helps reduce waste.
Finally – dress the part. Get yourself an apron, some clean dish towels, and some closed-toe non-skid shoes. When your guests arrive, lose the apron and change your shoes. They will marvel at how you make it look so easy! – Kristen Desmond
Read Kristen’s Recent Blogs & Guides
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° Ways to Create the Best Salads – Not Just For Lunch
° How to Cook Tomatoes – The Chef’s Way
° Kitchen Organization – Like a Pro
° Pantry Staples – The Essentials for your Kitchen Cupboard – Part II
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