I am frequently asked — no told — that I must enjoy amazing home-cooked meals all the time first as a former full-time food journalist with industry friends and now living with a chef. But while I have been treated to some off-menu items on occasion in restaurants, home cooking isn't always a chef's thing.
There is and will always be a difference between home cooking and slinging food behind a professional pass. And while there are some tips to be learned from chefs in restaurant kitchens (wear gloves, unsalted butter, don't waste anything, etc.), there are also certain nuances to cooking at home that some chefs just don't understand.
Don't get me wrong, there are chefs with 20-plus years in the industry and even cooks who are just starting out that do enjoy and have perfected the transition from the line to the apartment four-burner. And there are chefs who still set off the fire alarm — this is for the latter.
High Heat Isn't Always an Option
Yes, we all love a good sear, and chefs will tell you not to be afraid of heat and that higher is better when you want that golden brown.
But high heat isn't always an option in the average home kitchen. While sometimes it's the source that's the issue (good luck ever woking something correctly at home), it's often the emissions. In a professional kitchen, there is plenty of ventilation to disperse smoke, in a house or better yet an apartment, searing off a steak could also mean setting off that smoke alarm (you know, the one that's hardwired into the ceiling so it doesn't matter if you remove that battery).
Clean Up Means You Clean Up
I was raised by a stay-at-home mother to three who always said that as you cook, you clean. Nothing is fun about a sink load of dishes at the end of a meal. So when you're done using a bowl, you wash it. If something spills, you wipe it before it dries. It's not a new concept.
In professional kitchens you have bussers, dishwashers and the wonderful saying, “If you have time to lean, you got time to clean.”
Time in a restaurant is in between ticket loads, whereas at home you've got all the time in the world, which you would think would mean cleaning time. But that's the thing, chefs are so used to the fast pace that cooking at home means no ticket loads just pure cooking. It's wonderful, freeing and sparks creativity but, as a result, there's not so much cleaning as you go.
So, unless you're blessed with a great dish washing machine, less mess is better. You really don't need to grab a fresh spoon every time. Wash and reuse.
There Aren't a Million Spoons (or Awesome Appliances)
Cooking at home means cooking at home. There are just some things that come in a fully equipped restaurant kitchen that you won't find at home or have handy.
Home cooks know, you just improvise.
When a recipe calls for piping, unless you're a baking fanatic, you probably won't have a pastry bag or feel inclined to purchase that pack of 25 disposable ones. But who needs a pastry bag when you have a sandwich bag? Sandwich bags are always handy and (if we've learned anything from Alton Brown) multipurpose. And who needs an ice cream machine when you have ice cube trays and a food processor? (Think about it.)
There's No Counter Space
The average 10-by-10 kitchen is limited by counter space even when paired with an island.
Home kitchens, unlike restaurant kitchens, house all your cooking tools, appliances, dishes, cups, sinks, storage, decor, etc. in one area. There's no separate space for a walk-in fridge or different room for washing dishes. Everything is in that tiny space including that iPhone charging station or mail sorting area or knick knack your mom left behind because she thought it was “cute” and “so you.”
Inevitably, things end up on the counter.
Time Is Not Limited
At home, you're not on a seating rotation or being critically reviewed by Yelpers with apps at their fingertips. So as long as you and your dining companions aren't starving, cooking doesn't have to be a race.
There's no need for the hustle and bustle that results in the frantic mentions of “behind” and “open oven.”
Relax. Have a glass of wine. And forget about perfectly cut potato squares.