If you've ever opened your pantry certain you'll find fodder for dinner, only to gawk, unseeingly, at a mess of ingredients that could never become a meal, you should peek inside Geoffrey Zakarian's aspirational larder to see how it's organized.
Zakarian, culinary director at The Plaza and chef at The Lambs Club in New York City, maintains a home pantry so dynamic he can craft Creamy Rice and Mushroom Casserole and Supercharged Granola—two of the 150 recipes in his new book, My Perfect Pantry (Clarkson Potter, $30)—with barely a minute's notice.
But filling your cupboard with Zakarian's 50 essentials, from instant espresso to soy sauce, is only the start. You'll also need to arrange your sugar and tuna so you can see what you've got, and actually cook from that perfect pantry. Here's the chef's advice.
Don't overstuff. A crammed collection is as bad for cooking mojo as an anemic one. If you have a small space, "buy less more frequently," Zakarian says. Notice the rates at which you go through your stashes. "If you cook daily, you'll gauge your use more easily."
Streamline your collection. You might be tempted to load up every artisanal vinegar on the market. Resist. Instead, seek out the versatile, workhorse ingredients—skip the spelt flour in favor of all purpose, which is aptly named. And stick to one or two of a kind: Stock one kind of jam, two go-to pasta shapes and three nuts, not seven.
Store in similar containers. Since each ingredient comes in its own style of packaging, a stocked cabinet can look chaotic. To streamline the display, Zakarian suggests using eye-level shelves to store spices in identical glass jars. In Zakarian's kitchen, larger items like flour and other dry ingredients that are sold in unwieldy bags or un-resealable boxes go in square plastic airtight containers lower down, while cans live at the bottom.
Clear shelf space for your darlings. Still, "if it's something I use a lot, I might have several varieties," Zakarian admits. After you buy your basics, it's okay to "adjust based on your taste and the complexity of recipes you might try," he says. If there's an ingredient you adore or are intrigued by, make room, even if it means straying from someone else's pantry guide.
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