6 Organizing Tips I Stole from Professional Restaurant Kitchens to Use at Home
When the pandemic hit, I had to turn my small Brooklyn rental kitchen into a semi-professional working kitchen. (In order to still be able to do my job for Kitchn!) I put much thought into how I was going to proceed with my organization. I knew I needed certain things. I needed to have a better idea of my inventory because I found that I was ordering items that I already had. I needed a sanitary environment to keep dust, pets, and pests away. I needed a place to store and access all my tools and gadgets. How to accomplish all of this? I found that my best bet was to draw upon my time spent in restaurant kitchens and think about how pro chefs set themselves up for success.
There are many steps involved in getting good food on a plate, but the first step begins with good organizational skills. In restaurant kitchens, the bottom line is very important. Ingredients and supplies should be labeled and visible to keep from over-ordering or losing ingredients (aka losing money). You should be able to easily take inventory and know exactly what you need. You should be able to pull out that blender or food processor if you need it in a pinch. Even more important than the bottom line is the health and safety of diners. Restaurants should be organized where food products are safe from the elements.
With all of that in mind, here are six organizing tips I stole from professional kitchens to use at home. My time in restaurants was brief but the organizing lessons are forever.
1. Use (lots of!) plastic storage containers.
In some restaurant storage rooms, they have exposed shelving and on the shelves are plastic, multi-use boxes called lexans. They come in various shapes and sizes to fit various ingredients and spaces. They are great because they have an inverted lid that seals shut, keeping dust, bugs, and pests out. Some are see-through, allowing you to see what is inside, which is helpful when you are quickly searching for an ingredient. You can use them to store dry ingredients, produce, and prepped ingredients. You can even fill them with ice and keep fish on it. The uses are endless!
In my home, lexans are a little too big for my shelving unit. Instead, I found these Sterilite Clearview Latch Boxes. They fit my IKEA shelving unit perfectly. I keep them organized by “department.” One box holds beans, grains, and legumes; another has various international ingredients; another keeps excess baking ingredients; another has extra spices, nuts, and seeds. I am able to easily locate ingredients when I need them. And because everything goes back into its designated box, I am able to easily take inventory and I hardly ever over-order ingredients anymore.
2. Add counter space that also adds storage space.
I really took a page out of my time in restaurants and purchased a stainless steel work table with storage shelves. This is a common table found in restaurant kitchens. This doubled my counter space and gave me a stable flat work surface to use. Underneath my work surface, I store my larger cooking equipment like food processors, blenders, large stockpots, etc.
3. Use baking sheets as organizers.
Also taking space on one of the shelves of my stainless table is a sheet tray lined with parchment paper where I store my oils and vinegars in one place. The tray helps to corral all the bottles and will contain any leaks, should there be any drips or messes. The sheet tray is kept on the corner opposite from my stove and window to keep the integrity of my more delicate oils and vinegars.
4. Keep go-to tools out in the open, within reach.
I keep most of my tools on my Julia Child-esque pegboard walls. Most of my more used utensils are kept in the lower, easy-to-grab section of the walls. (That’s where my tongs live, for example.) But for the other tools that I’d like easy constant access to, I keep those in an accessible bain marie. (Restaurant cooks usually have a bain, which they use to carry their personal tools in and I still use some to this day. I even bring a bain with me when I travel in other Airbnbs to keep my personal tools separate from the house tools.) Between the pegboard and the crocks, my spatulas, whisks, spoons, and tongs are always within reach so that I can easily grab something at a moment’s notice. No need to frantically dig around in a drawer!
5. Embrace deli containers.
In restaurants we use deli containers for a myriad of reasons. We store mise en place (prepared ingredients) in them, we use them for leftovers, and we use them to store dry ingredients, stock, dressings, etc. These containers come in set sizes — 1 quart, 1 pint, or 1 cup — and that makes it easy to store specific amounts or also use as a measuring cup in a pinch. Plus, the lids are interchangeable, so whatever you grab will be sure to work.
6. Label and date every thing.
Label your storage containers so you know what is inside. It’s also important to put “best used by” dates for prepared ingredients and dates on certain items you opened, like a box of stock or half-used can of coconut milk. Knowing the freshness of your ingredients can keep someone from having food poisoning down the line. A worthy task, if you ask me!