How Being Home These Last Few Months Changed the Way These Professional Chefs Grocery Shop

updated Jun 5, 2020
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Woman pushing a shopping cart filled with groceries
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With most restaurants across the country closed or operating in an adjusted capacity, many professional chefs have been spending more time in their home kitchens than ever before. Much like regular home cooks, they’re cooking three meals a day without a team of sous chefs and line cooks to help source, prep, and plate.

(Note: We strongly recommend reaching out to your favorite restaurants to see how you can best support them during this time. Additionally, here’s a list of places accepting donations to help affected industry workers.)

If anyone knows what they’re doing at the grocery store, it’s professional chefs. (Yes, chefs grocery shop too. They’re just like us!). So we were curious: How has the coronavirus and all this time (and all these meals!) at home changed how these pros shop? Are they going less often? What are they shopping for? What do they know that we don’t?

We asked chefs from all around the U.S. to share how their grocery shopping habits have changed over the past few months. Here’s what they had to say.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: CC Buckley

1. They’re shopping in bulk online.

While most chefs (including the ones we spoke to) are used to ordering ahead in bulk for their restaurants, it’s not something they usually do for their home fridges and pantries. Instead, many of them shop at grocery stores, local markets, or even their restaurants a few times a week. Now, they’re placing virtual bulk orders for their personal use.

Akhtar Nawab, chef/owner of Alta Calidad in Brooklyn, New York, and Otra Vez in New Orleans, Louisiana, has been ordering enough food to last him and his daughter, Ela, more than a week at a time. He focuses on versatile, long-lasting items (like quinoa, rice, and nuts), plus fruits and vegetables “with skin that can be thoroughly washed without being damaged” (like apples, bananas, mangoes, zucchini, and carrots). “The current situation definitely has me planning further in advance than I used to, and also made me even more conscious not to waste any food.”

Greg Rales, founder and baker of Red Gate Bakery in New York City, has adopted the same strategy. “We’re extremely lucky that in New York so many restaurant supply chains have pivoted to home delivery, granting access to foods that we wouldn’t normally be able to get at the corner market,” Rales says.

Related: The Best (and Most Ethical) Way to Actually Get a Grocery Delivery Right Now

“As a New Yorker with limited fridge and pantry space, who eats out many times a week, and travels for work often, I’m used to shopping for maybe three or four days’ worth of food at a time max,” says Gail Simmons, cookbook author and Top Chef judge. Instead, life in quarantine has forced Simmons to rethink her family’s grocery routine. Simmons is now ordering most of her groceries (including everyday staples like bread, cheese, pasta, flour, bananas, and butter) online in bulk quantities with the goal to make it last as long as possible.

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2. They’re getting creative to avoid supermarket crowds.

Chef Glenn Rolnick, corporate chef of Alicart Restaurant Group (Carmine’s and Virgil’s Real BBQ in New York City), does the grocery shopping for his household and he often goes late at night right before close. That’s when he says his local store usually restocks items to shelves. “I always go in prepared and know what I need, and try to move through the aisles quickly, only grabbing what I need,” Rolnick says.

Related: The Super-Easy Way to Figure Out When Your Grocery Store Is the Least Busy

Chef Rales is not only minimizing trips to the store, but he’s also minimizing the time he spends inside the store. At this point, he has the general layout of his local market memorized: “I make my list, organize it based on each item’s location, and then, as efficiently as possible, sprint through each aisle.”

3. They’re supporting small businesses and farmers markets.

Ray Garcia, chef/owner of LA’s Broken Spanish, say’s that he’s trying to avoid traditional supermarkets and instead buy from farmers markets, CSA boxes, and butcher shops. “This allows me to support my favorite growers while avoiding much of the stress that comes along with shopping larger stores.”

Chef Rales echoes this, urging people to support their local bodegas and other smaller shops: “They’re small businesses that need our help and I’ve found that mine is better stocked than any chain I’ve encountered.”

Chef Nawab has also been making an effort to help out smaller vendors and suppliers wherever he can. “I have been ordering massive boxes of farm produce from Chef’s Garden to support small farmers, which last quite a while,” he says.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Your Local Farmers Markets and CSAs During the Coronavirus

Credit: AT Video

4. They’re prioritizing good-for-you ingredients.

Chef David Santos, the chef and founder of Um Segredo Supper Club, stresses the importance of buying fresh fruit and veggies to support both mental and physical health. He also recommends looking for “good tinned items like canned Portuguese fish.” His reasoning? “If we are going to be quarantined and have our daily lives rocked the way they’ve been, it’s more important than ever to get healthy vitamins and minerals through the food we eat.”

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

5. They’re making sure to treat themselves too.

Simmons noted that she’s shopping for snacks to enjoy while spending more time at home with her family, including salt and vinegar chips, marshmallows (“for s’mores and Rice Krispies treats”), and licorice. 

“I also think it’s important to have a couple items now and then to treat yourself,” Santos says. For him, Spam is a favorite. “I love musubi and my roommate grew up on Spam as part of her household, so every now and then we throw in some fun Spam musubi for dinner.”

How have your grocery shopping habits changed over the past few months?