How to Cook like a Chef at Home

mise en place

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Working in a professional kitchen has taught me many things.

Chefs at the pass plating up fish on a line of plates and servers taking them to the guests.

1. You CAN stand to work in hotter temperatures than you ever thought possible. (Kitchens are NEVER air-conditioned, and if they are, the heat of the ovens/range totally overwhelm it to border-line hell temperatures.)

2. Never grab a pan with a bare hand without testing it first – it probably just came out of the oven. (A lesson I quickly learned while staging at Gramercy Tavern – I unknowingly grabbed a hot sizzle pan straight out of the oven and bit my lip to try to not cry out during a busy Saturday night service.)

3. Chefs work WAY more efficiently than cooks at home.

This is because of a few tried and true tricks that have been passed down the line from chef to chef to make our lives easier and make the kitchen flow like a well-oiled machine. Here are some of the kitchen hacks I’ve learned over the years to help you cook like a chef at home.

8 Tips on How to Cook like a Chef at Home

1. Sharpies and tape are your best friends

Two plastic pint containers of caramel sauce with labels that read "caramel 10/27".

The number one hack that helps keep a kitchen running efficiently is organization. During prep time, we prepare lots of different recipes. Therefore, we have lots of containers filled with different food made on different days. In order to keep ourselves organized, we label EVERYTHING. We use simple painter’s tape marked with a black Sharpie to label what the product is with the date. That makes reaching for ingredients super fast and efficient.

Sharpie Permanent Markers, Fine Point, Black, 12 Count

Keep a roll of tape and a marker in your top drawer next to the fridge for easy access to label things before they go away in your refrigerator. Also, use the same method for leftover dry ingredients. Need to wrap up leftover almonds but don’t want a big empty bag taking up space in your pantry? Move them to a smaller container and label with the date opened, so you know when to toss if they get too old.

3 Pack 1″ x 60 Yard STIKK Blue Painters Tape 14 Day Clean Release Trim Edge Finishing Tape (.94 in 24MM) (3 Pack)

2. Kitchen towels have more uses than you think

A chef spooning sauce on a dish from a sauce pan, holding the sauce pan with a kitchen towel to show you how to cook like a chef at home.

If you ask any chef in a kitchen about which tools they use the most often throughout the day, I would guarantee you would get the same answer – kitchen towels. To prepare for the day, the first thing to grab is your apron and your towels. I always work with three – one I wet down with hot water to wipe down counters and clean up small spills, and two I use for hot mitts (and any other use under the sun).

Utopia Towels 12 Pack Dish Towels, 15 x 25 Inches Ultra Soft Cotton Dish Cloths, Blue

Tuck one of these dry towels into your apron strings or throw it over your shoulder for easy access and keep the other on the counter to grab if you need to handle an especially heavy pot. To cook like a chef at home there’s no need for oven mitts, especially the silicone style. I find these to be too slippery to be of any use! Kitchen towels are key to moving quickly around the kitchen without stopping to look for a bulky oven mitt or wasteful paper towels to clean up small messes.

3. Plastic wrap EVERYTHING

A large sheet tray of french macarons wrapped in plastic wrap.

In order to cook like a chef at home, you need to cut down on throwing anything away due to bad storage. Air exposure is the main reason food loses flavor quickly – especially your baked goods. If they aren’t wrapped properly, cookies, breads, muffins and cakes will dry out and the flavor will be dull. To prevent this from happening, as soon as they’re cooled, they should be wrapped tightly leaving no air contact.

The best way to do this is to pull a sheet of plastic out, place the item on top and pull the sheet up and around to get a nice tight fit. Then rotate a quarter turn to cover the seam and wrap again. I always wrap twice just to make sure the seams are well covered and no air sneaks in. The best wraps are the big boxes that you can leave on the counter and pull from, not the tiny boxes you usually find at the grocery store. Grab yours below.

Plastic Food Film Seal Wrap in Cutter Dispenser, Stretch Tight, Food Service Grade, 12″ x 2000′ Square Feet Roll

4. Salt along the way

An open bamboo salt container sitting on the counter next to measuring spoons with salt.

“It just doesn’t come out the same when I make it at home!” That is one of the most common complaints people have about cooking at home and I think the culprit is…..salt! Or lack of it. Most people grossly underestimate the amount of salt that goes into a recipe when they cook at home. Salt is the one ingredient that doesn’t change the flavor of what you add it to, it simply enhances it. Therefore, (except when baking or making a reduction) you want to salt each ingredient along the way to really pull out the flavor of each component in the dish.

jalz jalz Salt Box Spice Pinch Pot Black Marble Base Wood Cover Salt Keeper Pepper Canister Salt Cellar Salt Jar

Keep a small salt dish on your counter to throw in a pinch every now and then when needed. The one below is super cute and comes in different colors to match your other Le Creuset items. Compliments to the chef on a job well done when the table doesn’t need to be set with a salt shaker.

5. First in, First out

six organic eggs and whisk

Do you have a habit of opening more than one container of the same ingredient that eventually goes bad and you need to toss? FiFo! First in, first out. Make it easy on yourself when putting away groceries and put the newer stuff directly behind the older stuff to be easily grabbed. Keep your fridge neat so that you never again end up opening another container of sour cream, when you already had one sneaking in the back behind the milk. You’ll save loads of time, money and reduce waste in the long run – all while making your kitchen run as efficiently as a chef does.

6. Clean as you go

photo of vegetable salad in bowls

Nothing is worse than finishing up a bomb meal and realizing you have a massive bomb of a mess left in the kitchen to clean. The solution? Clean as you go! It makes the job way less tedious to put things away as soon as you’re done using them.

Try to use bowls and tools that have multiple uses that you can rinse and reuse. Prep everything out, then tidy up before you begin the actual cooking. It will help clear your mind and refocus your attention on what you’re doing. This leads to less accidental burning, overcooking and general mishaps that happen with distractions. And wouldn’t you rather have that extra glass of wine after dinner instead of rushing off to the dishes?

7. Mise en Place

A cutting board of jalapeno peppers basil, and lime or mise en place to help you cook like a chef at home.

One of our golden rules in the kitchen is the French phrase for “everything in its place”. The philosophy is that you prep and measure everything you need for a recipe before you begin, so that you can execute perfectly. For example, making a cake? Crack the eggs, weigh out the flour, baking powder, salt, measure the milk and oils, BEFORE you start to beat the butter. If you don’t, you might be halfway through the recipe before you realize you’re out of flour!

I love small bowls to put all my ingredients in to. These ramekins are great for the smaller portions. Get a fun matching set and not only will your baking be smoother but your kitchen cuter too.

8. Plan ahead

The oven preset to 350 degrees to cook like a chef at home

To a baker, it is especially important to plan ahead. You want to make sure that your oven is at the right temperature to bake with and also make sure your ingredients are the right temperature before you begin.

Every morning I would take the eggs and butter out of the walk-in to temp up for whatever recipes I was making that day. Most of my cakes, cookies and buttercreams called for room temperature butter, so sometimes in the winter I would even take it out the day before. This would ensure that the butter was nice and soft and ready to be whipped.

Cook like a chef at home

As much as you plan, accidents do happen and you WILL forget to take it out ahead of time. (I surely have!) But no worries! There are ways to fix it. Cube it up and spread it into a single layer on the counter to speed up the process. Depending on how warm it is in your kitchen, it should be ready to go in about 30 minutes. And then you’ll be back on track in no time.

You can cook like a chef at home with these easy tips!

As many hours as I’ve logged in the kitchen, its no comparison to the knowledge I’ve gained. You honestly learn something new everyday from every new chef that walks through the door. It’s a constant evolution of how to work to make things faster, easier and more efficient. And I think everyone (professionally or at home) can benefit from that knowledge.

A donut filled with whipped cream and topped with a bruleed banana and fresh berries with dried flower petals.

Who doesn’t want to make awesome goodies in the kitchen in less time with better flavor? Save that extra time for enjoying food with your friends and family, because that’s what its really all about.

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2 Comments

  1. Stephanie Sadowski

    Love these tips! Especially about pre-measuring. I’ve run out of ingredients a time or two mid-way through a recipe. So annoying to have to stop and run out for an ingredient during cooking!

    1. I’m so glad! Thanks for reading!

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