habit formation: process by which new behaviours become automatic, new patterns etched into neural pathways…Chef Masse
Most chefs will tell you a kitchen is a kitchen is a kitchen and that flow and safety are as important as food. With a handful of high paced folks in an often too small space playing with fire, blades, and burning liquids, mindful action is necessary for successful efficient prep and service.
These habits are intended mostly to save fingers and faces at the highest level, but also contribute to the smooth choreography of a proper kitchen. Applying these tips to the home kitchen will up your game and ease your meal momentum.
As with professional kitchens, they are coming at you rapid fire and in no particular order so put your adaptable pants on and go with the flow.
- Buy a couple proper Chef’s knives and get them professionally sharpened. Buy a proper steel and learn how to hone them.
- A minimal proper set of knives should include a Chef’s knife, bread knife, boning knife, paring knife, and a nice slicing knife. You can keep them in a block on the counter, a magnet on the wall, or rolled away in a professional knife roll, which is also good for transportation.
- Always work with a sharp knife.
- Learn how to use a knife. Holding the blade between your pointer and your thumb while cradling the handle with your remaining fingers is the proper way to hold a knife. Break through the awkwardness to the other side and you’ll never go back. So much more control.
If you are walking behind someone in your kitchen full of hot burners, pans, boiling water, and sharp knives, say “BEHIND” as you cross their path to avoid disaster/injury. Every time. Even if they saw you.
More importantly, if you are carrying something sharp or hot behind someone say “BEHIND HOT” or “BEHIND SHARP” to cover your safety bases.
Mise en place — putting in place, setup. If following a recipe, collect and measure all ingredients and prepare equipment before starting recipe. This will never not help (the double negative just feels appropriate).
Throw out your over processed foods, including ingredients. If you use iodized salt, margarine, canola oil, PAM, or other prepared items that don’t qualify as food, set your kitchen on fire. Give up forever it’s 2018. SORRY just get rid of them. Get ready for your pantry make over.
Store all of your pantry dry goods in refillable, stackable, accessible containers, preferably transparent with measurements on the side. This makes food production more efficient, storage cleaner, and even streamlines shopping by buying bulk refills, and shows you more clearly when it is time to refill.
Alphabetize your pantry inventory. I know it’s nerdy, but it saves time. Less time looking and more time cooking! How’s that nerd level for ya…
If you can spare the second, RINSE THE DISH before you bail it into the sink. Whether you are the one doing them later or someone else is, this one quick step helps everyone and avoids dried on junk to scrape off later.
When boiling/blanching veggies:
- if they grow in the ground, start them in cold water,
- if they grow above ground, submerge in simmering water.
When using your stand mixer:
- whisk attachment for things that need air (i.e. whipped cream, cake batter, fluffy cheesecake)
- paddle attachment for things that need cutting (i.e. cookie dough, dense cheesecake)
- hook attachment is for BREADMAKING, do not use any other attachment to make bread
(trade secret sidenote: the BEST tool for the BEST cheesecake batter is your food processor with blade attachment… who knew)
SET TIMERS. Buy timers and use them. You will save many meals.
Cut/flip/pour a w a y from you. So many unnecessary war scars…
Always use a nonslip cutting board or put a damp cloth under your cutting board to make it nonslip.
When chopping anything round or cylindrical, your first cut should be to create a flat surface to safely chop remaining prep. Rolling carrots over when chopping has lost many their digits.
Prepping your ingredients for the week following shopping will make meal time breezy “I’m breezy!” (Monica Gellar’s voice- you can hear it). How else do you think we turn over an 80-seat restaurant 3 times in 1 night with 4 chefs on. Do the math. Then picture it coming out of your home kitchen. We could do it. You can do it.
Large production, portion, freeze — if you only want to dedicate 1 chunk of your time to satisfy a multitude of meals, learn this method. Cook large batch meals like stew, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, etc., set them properly for portioning, and freeze your portions for quick service style dinners.
IQF is your best friend — individual quick freeze, to avoid turning your food into ice masses doomed to hockey injury ice packs. This is done by laying your items to be frozen out in a flat even layer, usually on parchment lined sheets and left to freeze individually before being collected and bagged. Works best for things like perogies, raviolis, chopped fruit/veg, baked goods, veggie burgers, etc.
If you love music, play music while you cook, your food will taste better. If you like comedy, put on your favourite special while you cook.
If you like porn.. well…
If you’re turned on your food will be too (o)(o).. to each their own and whatnot..
Bottom line is engage. But keep it kosher…
Have an introductory moment with your ingredients, perhaps while you wash them. The more you familiarize yourself with them the better you know them, the better you’ll treat them, the better the dish will taste. That concentrated energy goes a long way with food.
Purge and clean. Proper kitchens get good overhaul cleanings once a week. No old containers of random spices, pickles, etc. make the cut. No room for unnecessary items. Treat your kitchen the same. If you find you are wasting a lot, get better at using your inventory.
Label and date everything. Keep a roll of tape and a sharpie next to the fridge. Less waste, less food poisoning.
Season and taste throughout cooking process. The more you engage with the food throughout the recipe rituals, the sooner you develop the skills to no longer depend on recipes.
Keep your work space clean! Keep a bleach bucket at your station for surfaces and utensils (1:30, bleach:water), drag your garbagio or compost over and take the lid off (change the bag if it stinks wuss) and sacrifice a kitchen towel doomed to the hamper post scrub down, don’t be afraid to use it. This should be part of your mise en place. If you don’t have rags that can get messy buy some specifically for cooking days.
Compartmentalize and clean as you go. You don’t want to start prepping multiple things at once if you can’t stay organized while doing it. Multitasking skills come after mastering those individual tasks. As they say in Stratford, “first you get good, then you get fast” so work at your skills, stay clean while doing it, and then you can juggle tasks.