When he’s not working in developer relations for a video game app, Andy Lunique bonds over one of his all-time passions: cooking meals with others and, in the process, coaching friends on how to create winning kitchen workspaces.
He creates five-star feasts with gamers he visits during work-sponsored travels and has performed magic in kitchens of all shapes and sizes, from commercial caverns while studying in culinary school to small urban homes. His goal is always to bring out the best from even the most timid home chef, and he loves to post videos and photos on social media as encouragement.
“There’s a lot of people who throw out their inability to cook,” he said. “That’s a lie. Everyone has a dish they can make a special way.”
In our busy lives, it can seem more convenient to spend hard-earned money on delivery or take-out. But our expert chefs share time-saving tips that will upgrade your kitchen workspace so you can more easily make mouthwatering, wholesome meals for yourself or your whole crew.
Mise en Place: Your Kitchen Sorted
Most people don’t realize how easy it can be to improve their kitchen layout when they want to work towards more efficient cooking, said Lunique. Just move basic ingredients and prep tools out of cupboards and within arm’s reach.
“I have a cutting board out all the time, pots and pans ready to go,” said Lunique, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who spent more than a decade working for catering companies and restaurants. “If it takes you five to 10 minutes longer to make scrambled eggs because your stuff is all over the place, you will be less inclined to cook.”
This practice of having cooking items ready is so ingrained, the French have a term for it: “mise en place” or “everything in its place.”
For many chefs, this translates to working from left to right across the cutting board. On the left there’s an area of unprepared, raw ingredients. In the middle is the cutting board and knife, and on the right is everything that’s cut and is ready for cooking, aka the landing zone.
“The cutting board is such an omnipotent spot because just about every important piece of food is going to cross that cutting board at one point or another,” said John Reilly, a professor at The Culinary Institute of America.
Every home chef customizes. Above his cutting board, Reilly keeps basic ingredients like salt, pepper, flour, and oil, plus a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a vegetable peeler.
To be ready every time, always read through a recipe before you start cooking, said Keith Dresser, executive food editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, published by America's Test Kitchen. Gather all the needed ingredients and also equipment.
“Don’t rummage around through cabinets looking for an ingredient, or a drawer looking for a piece of equipment, while something is overcooking,” he said.
And don’t forget underrated items such as an apron, kitchen towel and paper towels, too!
Tools for the ideal mise en place kitchen don’t have to cost much. Lunique bought all the pans, knives, and cutting board he needed to set up his home kitchen for less than $200, thanks to clearance sales.
The Kitchen Work Triangle
If you can, it is also ideal to also adopt another popular practice: the kitchen work triangle layout, aka the “magic triangle,” said Reilly. You want to create roughly the same distance between your stove, your refrigerator and your sink.
“It’s that beautiful area you’re going to migrate between and do your work,” he said. “It should only be a few steps from the fridge to the sink, and the range to the sink. You’re not walking all the way across the room.”
That ease of mobility is going to be so helpful if you don’t have a lot of time or energy to cook and want an easier meal after a long work day.
“If I have all my ingredients ready to go, if those three pieces are close together, I find I don’t really have to move,” said Dresser, who added that he also puts the garbage can in the triangle area for easy cleanups.
Clean Your Kitchen Workspace As You Go
Wiping down surfaces and cleaning as you move within your kitchen triangle makes the experience much more enjoyable. And you can get through your cooking faster and enjoy the evening more.
“It keeps your work surface uncluttered,” Dresser said. “It’s safer, especially if you are working with raw meat. You also don’t have a huge mound of dishes after dinner.”
For a lot of people, this is a big challenge, Reilly said. But it makes cooking more fun.
“You’re not tripping over yourself,” he said. “Something as simple as simple as putting your oven mitt and kitchen towel back in the same area every time makes a big difference.”
Upkeep is important so you’re cooking the right way. And beyond organization, cooking is also about having the right attitude.
“Have fun, be in the moment and cook with other people,” Dresser said.