We asked our team of chef instructors for prep tips they’ve learned from time spent in busy restaurant kitchens. Here are a few suggestions.
Sharp knives save time: Working with a dull knife makes kitchen work unnecessarily difficult, and the risk of having the knife slip while you’re trying to slice something makes a dull knife dangerous. Either learn how to sharpen your knives yourself, or take them to a pro. You’d be amazed at the difference a sharp knife makes.
Use a bigger cutting board: It’s hard to work quickly and safely on a small cutting board. You shouldn’t have to be constantly sweeping bits of onion or carrot into a waiting bowl as you chop it. A big board means you can chop a full carrot, then sweep it into a bowl all at once when you’re done.
Plan for the week ahead: Keep an eye on flyers, and plot out what you’re going to need for the next week, keeping in mind best-before dates and storage times. Once you’ve figured out how many peppers, onions, chicken thighs, pounds of beef and boxes of pasta you’ll need, you can shop for the week and make sure you’ve got what you need. Which brings us to …
Prep things in advance: If you’re going to need 2 cups of diced carrots today, another cup of diced carrots tomorrow evening and some carrot sticks for lunches, combine all those tasks into one prep session. Same with other veggie and meat work. Don’t do all the prep for the week at once, but do take advantage of extra minutes of free time when you have them to lighten the load later in the week when you may not have that time. Make enough vinaigrette to keep for a few days, slice cheese for lunch sandwiches, etc.
Freeze things: Not everything you eat at a restaurant was necessarily made that day. Parts of meals may be made in advance – especially sauces and soups – and then refrigerated or frozen for later finishing. For example, if you’re making spaghetti sauce, make three times as much, use a third for your meal, then freeze the rest in amounts that you would use at a time for reheating later in the week or month. “But make sure you label everything!” adds one chef.
Keep things organized: In the fridge or pantry, group things together in a logical way, and make sure nothing gets buried in the back. Label spices clearly, mark expiry dates (or date purchased) on everything, and know what you have on hand so you can avoid stressful last-minute shopping trips for ingredients you’re sure you have somewhere but can’t seem to find. An organized kitchen is an efficient kitchen, be it at home or at a restaurant.