This may seem like an odd topic given you’re here because you want to learn to cook better. But, in order to move cooking from work to enjoyment, why not set yourself up like an artisan?
Look at this clean, but boring setup! It’s a pretty nice kitchen (why thank you, we just had it renovated!), but it has that “please don’t dirty me” feel rather than inspiring that “let’s get cooking mood.”
But think of an artist’s studio with paints, brushes, and easel all laid out. It evokes that artisanal “use me to your heart’s content” feeling.
Don’t you want a kitchen like that? A place you love to play in? Famous celebrity chef Julia Child sure did!
So let’s get that same feeling out of our kitchen!
The great news about modern kitchens is that they’re bigger and more open. They’re the “heart” of the home again. So why not cook in it wholeheartedly? Without inhibition? Without fear of getting your floor a bit dirty?
You just won’t have the luxury of all the helpers Julia had.
We all think that stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and amazing cabinetry are what make a kitchen “sexy”. But to a chef or artisan cook, it’s the little things that matter. Having the tools and ingredients involved in cooking readily available, not stored away in cupboards and drawers.
Let’s start with the obvious: your knife.
Where is it? If it’s in a drawer clacking around with other utensils, that’s bad news. You’re dulling and neglecting it.
So why isn’t your knife where you cook? Let’s not forget that 80% of cooking actually happens with the knife. A knife on a wall or in a knife block is better than one buried in a drawer. It’s better for the knives and encourages you to use them more!
If there’s a honing rod nearby, that’s good news too. If the knife is sharp, well, now we’re talking. But we’ll get into sharpening your knife in Fundamentals 101.
And let’s talk about that 80% of cooking we mentioned above…
It happens on a cutting board. And if that’s put away it means you’re not cooking as much as you can. And a wonderful sharp knife needs a wonderful LARGE cutting board.
Most people not only have dull knives, but tiny cutting boards that do not do justice to their kitchen (remember that picture from above with that tiny cutting board and tiny knife?)
Here’s the thing: your cutting board is THE most important surface in the kitchen.
Architecturally, kitchens are classically designed with the triangle philosophy of fridge, sink and stove.
But that’s not how a chef would ergonomically layout the perfect kitchen. Once ingredients come out of the fridge and/or pantry, the cutting board takes over.
The cutting board, sink, stove triangle philosophy best suits the performance of cooking. Architects are not chefs. If they were they’d understand the ergonomics of this holy triangle
By the way, for those interested, we will be doing a podcast series about choosing your next knife and renovating your kitchen.
So what’s the ideal cutting board?
Well, the larger the better, like this 18 x 24, so you have more real estate for all your cuts.
Woods like maple or cherry work best because they are gentle on the knife.
End grain cutting boards are even better (and more beautiful) than edge-grain boards. They are gentler on your knife because the knife cuts INTO rather than AGAINST the grain.
And there are other key tools to talk about. Like a bench scraper to scoop up your knife cuts (no, your mise en place – see how we snuck a cooking term in there) in one fell swoop.
How about an attractive compost bucket? Keeping one nearby is also an indicator that you’re cutting using fresh ingredients.
Or how about a look at the pots and pans that make up a great kitchen? We start with the classic cast iron (used for centuries as a primary cooking tool in most homes). Its more modern replacement, stainless steel, is a staple in most kitchens. The challenge with both is how to cook properly with them. We spend a lot of time showing you key techniques to avoid the frustrations many have with these pans (hint: Google the Leidenfrost Effect…or better yet, wait to learn about it in our Fundamentals 101 course!).
As well let’s talk briefly about the best non-stick option. Try to stay away from Teflon (which contains the carcinogenic PFOA) and move toward other quality options. We LOVE the deBuyer non-sticks. They’re durable and long-lasting. In our courses and in our upcoming book, The Northwest Method Handbook, we talk about the best ways to use non-stick (the proper heat, least damaging utensils, and best cleaning methods).
Our Fundamentals 101 graduates get much greater detail about how to choose the perfect combination and our own personal favourites. And, believe me, we’ve gone through LOTS of different brands over the years between all ten chef-instructors.
What other tools need to be within reach?
- Wooden Spoons
- Microplanes, etc.
Also salt, pepper, oils, and a drawer with a collection of spices But we’ll get more into that as our courses go along.
Oh, and you’ll need plenty of towels, ideally hanging from handles near your stove or dishwasher. One dry to use as a glove and the other for wiping.
So what does my perfect kitchen look like?
It has a big beautiful cutting board, a knife block, my essential pans on the stove, and everything I need (including that sourdough starter over by the mixer!) at my fingertips.
There’s no reason you can’t set yours up to be that perfect studio…just like I did.
So that’s it for today.
But just wait until tomorrow…Tony is back and he’s going to be talking a little bit about how we go about foraging for the best information we can get.
He’s going to debunk an old chef’s tale and talk more about how to get the most out of your kitchen experience.
Until next time,
Co-Founder and Co-Curator, Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver and The Northwest Method
P.S. Fundamentals 101 is available now. If you want to get in on the ground floor and actually influence the direction of our work, please consider joining us.