16 Lessons We Can Learn from Professional Kitchens
Have you ever peeked into the engine room of a busy restaurant, with all its steam, smoke, clatter, and buzz? Producing sometimes hundreds of dishes a day requires a kitchen that can take the pressure, facilitate speed, and ensure the safety of those in its midst. So what are the secrets of a functional commercial cook space, and how can we adapt some of them to our own busy kitchens?
1. Direct traffic. Commercial kitchen layouts are planned for accident-free traffic among multiple cooks. This is a prime consideration for domestic kitchens too, particularly if cooking is a shared activity. Easy movement around work zones is essential to avoid collisions when carrying hot, heavy or sharp items. A minimum aisle width should be about 3 feet, but squeeze what you can out of your space, going as wide as about 5 feet if possible.
Tip: Many restaurant kitchens are designed with a long countertop, known as the line, where several chefs can work side by side.
2. Keep it open. Commercial kitchens use open shelves for grab-and-go convenience. Sticky hands make a mess of cupboard doors and drawers, so open shelving for storing your most-used items is worth considering. Open shelves are also easier to clean than deep cupboards and drawers. Hang your go-to utensils within easy reach for ultra-convenient cooking.
3. Get a leg up. Have you ever seen what’s behind and under a stove when it’s moved out of its spot? Many commercial ranges stand on short legs to allow complete sweeping and mopping underneath. This ensures that dropped food and spills can be cleaned up properly.
4. Steel yourself. Commercial kitchens are stainless steel for good reason. Cookware taken straight from the oven can be plunked straight onto it without damaging the surface, and pastry can be rolled directly on it with no need for a board.
Like most other countertop materials, steel needs to be maintained with a wipedown; stainless steel cleaner does the job in an instant. Stainless steel is hygienic and practically indestructible, which is why it can be a bit pricey. Chopping on steel will blunt knives, though, so be sure to use cutting boards.
5. Tap into convenience. A tall, restaurant-style, high-pressure faucet with a long, flexible hose is worth its weight in chrome. It rinses food from dishes, cleans sinks and can be extended past the sink to fill large containers such as stockpots and buckets.
6. Whisk it away. Restaurant countertops often have disposal holes with bins positioned beneath them so scraps can be swept straight into the trash without having to open a cupboard or lift a lid with dirty hands — highly convenient if you have the counter space. It can even look neat and stylish.
7. Embrace boards. Wooden cutting boards have proven their value for longevity and hygiene. Oiling them isn’t necessary, but if you do, avoid vegetable oils, which can become rancid over time. Food-grade mineral oil for boards is available.
Garlic-flavored chocolate mousse anyone? To avoid such flavor clashes, try to keep separate boards for different tasks: one for meat preparation; a “smelly” board for onions, chives and garlic; and one for sweet tasks, such as chopping chocolate or slicing strawberries. Label them with a dot of colored paint or an initial on the side.
Tip: Don’t chop raw meats and cooked meats on the same board, to avoid cross-contamination. Boards used for raw meat, especially poultry, should be promptly scrubbed with very hot soapy water.
8. Get silicone. Picking up sizzling pans with a thin fabric oven mitt is asking for burns, as many mitts aren’t up to the job. Opt instead for silicone mitts that extend past the wrist. It’s not just the heat of a pan handle that burns, but splashes from boiling water, steam that billows out when you remove a pot lid, or the racks of a hot oven. Gloves with fingers enable greater dexterity than do mitts, and silicone withstands temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
Tip: Never grab a hot dish with a damp cloth — the heat will travel through it quickly.
9. Splurge to save. Many appliances for the domestic cook have plastic parts and less-than-powerful motors, which means they underperform and don’t last very long. If you make pasta only twice a year, buy a basic pasta maker rather than a high-end one and put what you save into a durable, commercial-grade appliance you’ll use daily. Go to a commercial kitchen supply store or check out auction houses that deal in secondhand equipment and utensils.
10. Equip yourself. A restaurant’s batterie de cuisine is the range of cookware and utensils used as a chef’s artillery. Speed counts for chefs, so pans that go from stove to oven, with oven-proof handles, are a must; heavy-grade aluminum and cast iron are popular choices.
Copper also gets the vote of many chefs. It’s highly conductive, distributes the heat evenly and releases food particles quickly for cleaning. Copper for cooking is always lined with stainless steel to prevent heat-induced toxicity. A copper bowl for whisking egg whites is not lined; it gives more volume and a stable foam that’s harder to overbeat. Just don’t use an unlined copper bowl to cook in.
11. Treat your feet. It’s vital that high-traffic, commercial floors are nonslip and easy to clean. In domestic kitchens, cork and linoleum check these boxes and also absorb some impact underfoot. If you like the look of harder flooring materials, reduce leg fatigue by wearing well-padded shoes. Most restaurants stipulate that kitchen workers wear closed-toe shoes, because hot liquids and dropped knives play havoc with exposed feet.
Tip: Why do many chefs wear clogs? They support the arches, add height for reaching up and can be slipped off easily. Consider leaving a pair of orthopedically designed slip-on shoes in the kitchen for long cooking stints.
12. Slice and dice safely. Do you marvel at the knife skills of TV chefs? It’s not just about showmanship — knife control is key to safety as well. Cooking schools sometimes offer knife classes, or you can check out online tutorials. Then practice on celery sticks or carrots until you’re TV-worthy.
13. Be prepared. An essential part of restaurant food preparation is the mise en place — literally, “putting in place.” It’s the practice of measuring out and making ready all the ingredients before you start to cook. This practice prevents frequent trips to the fridge and cupboards during rush hour. Try this process before you tackle a tricky dish or complex meal — you’ll find it’s a great time and energy saver.
14. Scrub up. Cooking is a wonderfully tactile, hands-on pursuit, a bit like adult mud-pie making. But food-flaked hands can transfer bacteria, so wash your hands between messy jobs, especially when handling fresh meats and seafood, and keep hand wash or antibacterial wipes nearby.
Restaurants have separate hand-washing sinks and often use air dryers, but paper towels are a hygienic domestic solution. Remove jewelry when cooking, as ingrained food particles harbor germs — and ruin your bling.
15. Chill out. Food safety regulations on temperature control in commercial cool rooms and fridges are pages-long. Food-safe home strategies are simple: Ensure that the temperature of your refrigerator is 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower (check with a thermometer) and that the door isn’t opened more than necessary. Hot food should go through the “chill zone” (the cool-down period) as quickly as possible. Store cooked and raw foods separately, and always cover refrigerated food.
16. Put first aid first. Kitchen accidents are common, with burns and cuts the most frequent. Keep first aid supplies close at hand, particularly sterile wound pads and dressings, bandages and antiseptic.
“16 Practical Ideas to Borrow From Professional Kitchens” by Janet Dunn originally appeared on Houzz.com, where you can get professional advice on kitchen appliances before investing in a commercial-grade range hood. Photo credit: Anthony Crisafulli Photography, original photo on Houzz