12 Small (But Important) Habits I Picked Up In Restaurant Kitchens
Work smarter, not harder.
Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed
If there’s anyone who knows how to get stuff done quickly, it’s restaurant workers.
First of all, set up your station with everything in arm’s reach so you’re not wasting time running around the kitchen.
Most cooks have their own special way of setting up their station, but the one thing they all have in common is that they keep their essentials in arm's reach. Now, when I cook at home, I make sure to set up my cutting board next to all of my essentials: salt, pepper, towels, and whatever else I need. This way I'm not running around grabbing things and can work quickly and efficiently. (Oh, and always make sure to place a wet paper towel under your board to keep it from sliding around — it'll save you both time and injuries!)
Write yourself a simple prep list of things to do and in what order.
Now, you don't have to get as detailed as the ones used in restaurants, but if you make a mental list of the things you have to do, and in the order you have to do them, your efficiency will go way up. For example, if you're making pasta, the very first thing you should do is boil your water. Overlooking this can set you back about 20 minutes, and making a simple list can save you some serious time.
For smaller round objects (like grapes, cherry tomatoes, or tiny potatoes), slice them in half between two lids instead of cutting each one individually.
Listen, if you're cutting hundreds of cherry tomatoes in half, you find a way to do it faster — and the method that I liked best was to place them between two lids and run your knife between 'em to slice them in half. The technique can take a bit of practice to get just right, and it's important you don't press too hard (you don't want smashed tomatoes!), but this trick saved me some serious time versus cutting each one individually. Learn how to do it here.
Instead of picking individual leaves off of parsley stems, use your knife to gently “shave” them all off.
If you need chopped herbs for a recipe (and don't mind having a few stems in them), one way to quickly remove them from their stems is to literally “shave” them right off with a knife. To do it, just hold the stems in one hand and use the other to gently cut the leaves off. In restaurants we would do this to an entire case of herbs before picking through for any remaining stems — and compared to the time-intensive act of picking leaves one by one, it truly comes in handy. Learn how to do it here.
To quickly cool liquids off, transfer them into an ice bath. For solids (like cooked grains), spread them onto a sheet tray in a single layer.
This might not be something you do often, but when you really need to cool something quickly (say, rice for a grain salad you procrastinated on making), it comes in handy. For liquids, just transfer them into a bowl and place them in a sink full of ice water. Stir them every now and then and they'll be cool in no time. For solid items (like rice, quinoa, or blanched veggies) just spread them onto a sheet tray in a single layer — the larger surface area will cool them down much quicker.
Peel a whole head of garlic by shaking it between two metal bowls.
For those days when we accidentally ordered whole garlic instead of peeled garlic, we developed a clever method of peeling it in a flash. Simply break up the bulb a bit, place it between two metal bowls, and shake it up. You'll notice that the sound changes from a dull clunking to a louder banging — this is how you know the skins have separated from the cloves. See how to do it here.
Do everything in stages and work from left to right like an assembly line.
Restaurant cooks are some of the most efficient people around, and they set up their daily tasks by motion. For example, if you're peeling asparagus, wash it all first, then peel it, then cut it — do everything in stages and don't jump from task to task. Line cooks also always work left to right — this makes it easy for someone to jump in and help and also keeps you organized.
Alexandra Iakovleva / Getty Images
To quickly defrost something, run it under cold running water.
Restaurants cooks sometimes forget to defrost things they need for service (we are humans too!) — and in moments like this we turn to the running water method of defrosting. Many people know that submerging items in cold water is the fastest way of defrosting, but actually keeping the water running (even if just a little bit) can speed up this process even more. It may not be the most water-conscious approach to defrosting, but in emergencies it can defrost your frozen steak in a matter of minutes.
Read about all the other methods of safely defrosting food here.
Bibica / Getty Images
Use kitchen shears to quickly chop small batches of things instead of dealing with a bulky knife.
For individual salads that need just a few springs of herbs (or for trimming up unsightly rosemary), kitchen shears are the go-to tool. They make cutting things faster and easier, and they're small enough to keep on your station (unlike a bulky knife). Need just a few strips of bacon cut? Grab the shears. Need a few snips of chives? Use your shears.
Get a pair on Amazon for $12.99.
Work with the equipment you have and learn how to use the attachments.
Yeah, yeah, I know — your food processor is probably shoved in the back of your cabinet and really inconvenient to grab — but this needs to change! If you need to shred a block of cheese, chop a ton of garlic, or even slice carrots, your food processor can probably do that. Most food processors come with attachments that can do just about anything, and they really do come in handy. In restaurants we used them for literally everything, and they really do save you time once you learn how to use them.
Learn how to use the most popular attachments here.
Premix dry ingredients to make cooking and baking super speedy.
I once worked in a restaurant that made horchata every night. To make things easier, we would premeasure everything into Ziploc baggies and just dump it in water before we left. Pastry chefs sometimes use this method and measure out their dry ingredients into baggies to make baking easier — that way they just add their wet ingredients and it's ready to go. If there's a recipe you make over and over again, try premeasuring everything out and save yourself some time the day of.
Garysfrp / Getty Images
Quickly peel peaches and other thin-skinned fruits by blanching them in boiling water.
This technique works for all kinds of fruits including grapes, peaches, and even tomatoes. For larger fruits, score a small X on the bottom before boiling them to help loosen their skin, then just dunk them in boiling water for a few seconds, transfer them into an ice bath, and peel the skin right off. This will save you the hassle of trying to peel delicate fruit with a paring knife — a process that takes quite some time.
Let’s get cooking!