Cooking

How to Organize Your Kitchen like a Professional Chef

Restaurant cooks share their secrets of efficiency
How to Organize Your Kitchen like a Chef
Photo: Bellecour

You know that friend who has complete mastery of her own kitchen? The home cook who can whip up a meal on autopilot, seemingly without even looking at what she's doing? She may be a really talented cook, but the command of her work space is likely due more to excellent organization than it is to some sort of unusual intuition.

Here's how you can be that friend: by taking cues from professional chefs when it comes to organizing your home kitchen.

The golden rule of kitchen organization: Eliminate physical steps.

How should a home cook begin to think about organizing his or her work space? "Reduce the number of steps you take," Ryan Peters, chef/owner of Pittsburgh's Brunoise, says. Chefs set up their spaces to reduce movement during service; equipping your home kitchen so that you don't have to take many steps while cooking is the secret to making it feel functional and organized.   

Think about your kitchen in stations.

A commercial kitchen has a prep area, several cooking stations, a pass and a dishwashing station. Your home kitchen also has analogous areas: prep space, a range and oven, a sink, dry and cold storage in your pantry and refrigerator, and space where you plate food or put hot dishes. You also likely have something like a beverage station or bar and a kitchen table or seating area, plus the plates and silverware that go on top of it. 

 

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Now get your flow right.

Food funnels in a professional kitchen from storage to prep to line to pass, and that's what it should do in your home kitchen. Almost every home kitchen is designed around a triangle, which connects the fridge, sink and range: It enables good flow while you're working.

Facilitate movement by keeping anything you're not using for cooking—your junk drawer, water glasses, serving platters—outside of the cooking triangle, but proximal to where they'll be used: Glasses go in a cabinet near your water-dispensing fridge; dishware lives near your table.

Group together what you'll need for key processes. For example, "Have your prep area as close to your fire as possible," Patrick Kelly, who runs the kitchen at Denver's Wayward, suggests. And place your trash on one side of your sink and the dishwasher on the other, so you can easily scrape, rinse and fill.

Equip your stations.

Once you've designated areas of your kitchen to specific types of work, equip those areas accordingly, storing the correct tools within reach. "You don't need a knife near the stove," executive chef Laetitia Rouabah of Benoit in NYC points out, but you do need one near your prep area. Cutting boards belong there, too.

"Pots and pans should be within super-easy access of your stove," Kelly says, whether that means on a rack above it or in a cabinet below it. Kelly's home kitchen also has separate drawers for sweet and savory prep, and he stores plating spoons and tweezers close to where he actually plates. 

Be sure everything you own gets a home: "If your tools don't have a home, they will end up anywhere you can fit them," Jonathan Searle, the Lexington, Kentucky-based executive chef of Lockbox, says.

And don't forget that equipping your stations includes easy access to seasoning you use frequently: "I have salt and pepper everywhere," Kelly says. 

Master your food storage.

The key to feeling like you've got every ingredient at your fingertips? Stacked storage and proper labeling. "Invest in a set of like-sized stackable plastic containers," Searle says. "This will allow you to keep your dry pantry clean and organized." Kelly extends that mantra to his fridge, storing prepped ingredients in clamshell containers with clear plastic lids.

Once you've filled those containers, "label absolutely everything," Peters says. "If you're properly organized, everything is labeled and facing out when you look in your cupboard."

Laura Shunk is a food and travel writer and noodle addict who spent a year researching Asia's food culture. Follow her on Instagram at @laurashunk.

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