First time I landed at a restaurant kitchen when test-driving my idea of having my own I was shocked by the harsh truths of the professional cooking world. I had a somewhat romantic notion of food, a fruit of creative labors, and much idealistic image of people making it. It is only when I saw the extreme sweat, frugality and organization at the real restaurant kitchen I understood that restaurant as a business and cooking as a profession.
Cooking at the restaurant kitchen has inevitable influenced how I cook now even at home. It comes downs to how you organize your space, prepare the ingredients before you even start cooking and use up your stock (and leftovers). Today, let me start with organization.
A former office worker I didn’t question the need to keep my desk clean, folders in my computer organized and priorities for the day clear but it never occurred to me to treat my kitchen in the same way. My kitchen has long been my creative space where things got treated and mixed in the indescribable fashion and well, sometimes the alchemy got documented in a recipe.
In time I have learned that professional kitchen can be more stressful than a high-stake client meeting and you can succeed only if organized. There is no other way of getting the meal ready on time, getting less tired and leaving less mess to clean afterwards. Here are a few useful cooking tips from a restaurant kitchen worth taking home.
1. Invest in the time-saving kitchen utensils
With all our kitchen experiments we pretty much stick to a certain repertoire of dishes. With yours in mind you should make a list of essential kitchen utensils which help you be more efficient within that repertoire. If you bake, get that stand mixer; if you are a serious carnivore invest in a meat cleaver. And if you cook a lot from a particular cuisine ease your kitchen life with a pressure cooker for Indian and pasta machine for Italian.
Yet be sure to separate romance from practical wisdom. After spending some time at my mother-in-law’s restaurant kitchen I had a good idea of the essential Turkish cooking utensils to get for mine. Yet while a humongous mezzaluna knife is an impressive thing that can grace a Turkish kitchen I knew it would be more of a museum exhibit on mine so I passed on that one.
2. Assign space to each kitchen utensil
Lots of things at the kitchen are done mechanically and it’s a great help to assign a logical spot to each kitchen utensil and make sure that after being used and washed it gets back there. Just like we have ladles hanging off the ventilation hood at our restaurant kitchen I have a jar with frequently used spatulas and wooden spoons next to the stove-top so I can automatically reach out for one I need urgently need to stir my onions sauteing full steam.
Think how you can minimize the moving around the kitchen when completing a certain task and arrange your utensils accordingly. Measuring cups next to the mixing bowls, baking clay pots on the shelf under the stove, grater next to the vegetable peeler. And if you want to make me furious take that spatula away from the baking kit.
3. Find the quickest way to trash the food waste
This is the coolest thing I have learned at the restaurant kitchen: keep a trash bin handy to clean your working surface fast. I use a 5L plastic bowl to dispose food waste and keep it on the kitchen counter next to the sink where lots of the peeling naturally happens. Once it is full I empty it to the large garbage bowl.
Another practical solution is a hole in the kitchen counter and a garbage bowl under it which we have next to the dishwashing section. The chef in Saraevo I worked with had a huge trash bin right next to the working table so the trimmed ends or peeled skins would go right into that bin with a wide stroke of a his huge knife.
4. Keep your cooking condiments ready for immediate use
Ideally, once you are done with preparation you should be able to add all the flavorful condiments without moving away from the stove top. In our restaurant kitchen large ceramic pots with tea, sugar, red pepper flakes and thyme are lined next to the stove as they are the most frequently used condiments in the dishes we cook there.
This is when you need to separate storage and usage spaces. For instance, I buy my cooking oils in large canisters and store then at the bottom shelf of my kitchen cabinet. But I transfer required amount of oil into clean wine bottles with top pourers (like they use in the bars) which I keep next to the stove so I can boldly poor oil right into the pan without worrying to over-doze.
5. Wash as you go
Maybe with the exception of baking it is a useful habit to wash kitchen utensils after you complete a task. Peeled potatoes – wash the peeler and the bowl. Cut onions – rinse the knife and the cutting board. And put them back. I have developed complete appreciation of that practice at my cooking classes where we use so many mixing bowls and cooking pots that if I did not wash them as we go we would have indulged our lunches in front of the pile of dirty dishes.
I always marvel Ömer, my husband’s young cousin and aspiring chef, when he comes to help at out kitchen during the school breaks. He would peel fish by the sink and then wash every single utensil he had used, clean the sink and the floor around! Now, this is a useful skill to carry to a home kitchen which dramatically decreases the mess and the cleaning time after the cooking is done. Because the whole point of being organized is to have more time to enjoy that fabulous meal you will cook.