Cook like a pro in your kitchen
“Today’s kitchens are the heart of entertaining and family life. Many have televisions and computers in addition to numerous must-have cooking gadgets. Planning your own kitchen just the way you’d like it-pure heaven” Walsh, 2010, pg. 59.
The organization of a limited kitchen can make or break it for you as a home cook. A home cook must optimize their kitchen for efficiency in order to make healthy, delicious and beautiful food. In a restaurant’s kitchen all of the magic happens on “the line” (the cooks in front of the stove, grill and fryer). Now, a home cook doesn’t have a team of people on “a line” to help them, so in order to cook gourmet meals, the home cook needs to create a manageable cooking space. I have devised a system of organizing a home kitchen designed to help the home cook reach gourmet level cooking, and I have outlined it below.
The first thing to consider is what I would like to call the “Right Angle Cooking Space,” also known as the RAC Space, which provides access to everything you need within a 90-degree right angle. Next I have broken the RAC Space into five necessary cooking/cleaning angles (cooking, prepping, cleaning, baking and tea & coffee) that will help you efficiently set up your kitchen to maximize your kitchen. Your Cooking RAC Space includes a clear area of counter top which I like to refer to as your “Cooking Counter” with your sink to one side and your stove to the other. The closer the sink and the stove are to your Cooking Counter the more efficient cooking will be. So if you are cooking over your stove, then your sink, cooking utensils and ingredients should all be within your Cooking RAC Space. If you are standing next to your dishwasher, then plates, glasses, silverware detergent, etc. should be within the Cleaning RAC Space. Everything you need to complete the tasks of prepping, cooking, cleaning, baking and tea & coffee should always be within reach of those RAC Spaces.
While cooking, you’ll need to use both the sink and the stove frequently, so you eliminate extra cooking steps (such as walking away to grab another pot), and save time, space, and stress by working between the two. To help you organize your kitchen, I have outlined several common RAC Spaces below, along with the items that should be in them.
The Right Angle Cooking (RAC) Spaces
Here are a few RAC spaces you can create to help optimize your kitchen:
- Cooking RAC Space- This space is used for cooking all of your hot foods. Includes: Cooking Counter, Stove, sink, refrigerator, cooking utensils, pots and pans.
- Prepping RAC Space- This space used for prepping ingredients, this is usually the same as the Cooking Space, but if your kitchen isn’t designed with your stove next to your sink then the two spaces would be different. Includes: Cooking Counter, Sink, oils, vinegars, herbs spices, cutting board, small trash bag, etc.
- Plating RAC Space- This space is a cleared counter used for preparing all of the plates and trays before they are served. Includes: Large empty counter space.
- Cleaning RAC Space- This space is used for housing all of your cleaning needs and storage of daily utensils, dishware and glasses. Dishwasher, detergent, sink, cabinets and drawers with utensils, plates and glasses.
- Beverages, Coffee & Tea RAC Space- This space is self explanatory, but if you’re unsure it’s where hot beverages are made and usually require equipment. Includes: Coffee pot, coffee, water dispenser, refrigerator, spoons, cups, jars to keep teas, sugars, coffee (spoons can be kept in a jar with the Coffee RAC Space)
- Baking RAC Space- This space is for muffins, cakes and anything else that requires baking. It can usually double with the Cooking RAC space, but if you have a large kitchen you may be able to give it its own area. Includes: Cooking Counter, Oven, sink, bowls, cookie sheets, spatulas, mixers
After you’ve created your RAC Spaces, then it’s time to move on to organizing your kitchen by acquiring and arranging the proper tools. With a few helpful tips you’ll be able to organize and optimize your kitchen as follows:
Glasses, plates and silverware
These items should all be very close together and as close as they can get to the dishwasher or stove.
If you’re in a hurry, it’s no fun to run around the kitchen putting up your dishes or trying to grab all of the necessary utensils to set the table with glasses, plates and silverware all over the kitchen.
If you are designing a kitchen, keep the dishwasher to the right or the left of the sink.
My personal preference is to place the dishwasher to the right of the sink because I’m right-handed, but choose whatever is best for you.
Cooking spoons, spatulas and tongs
Next to the stove, keep a non-flammable ceramic or metal container with your essential cooking tools.
Other utensils should be kept in a drawer next to your stove for easy reach at a second’s notice. You can keep two, and sometimes three, containers of all your favorite kitchen tools.
These can be next to, over or under the refrigerator. Also try and keep them within the Baking RAC Space.
A bowl can help pile everything in from the refrigerator to prep for a meal, be a useful tool to mix up pizza dough or toss a delicious salad.
Cookie sheets and baking pans
These can be kept by the oven but please not in the broiler (Discard rusty and old cookie sheets)
Cookie sheets and baking pans find their way into the broiler, unfortunately they are forgotten and then the broiler isn’t used because it’s too much trouble to remove everything.
Plastic wrap, foil, plastic bags, parchment paper and containers
These items are great to keep in an island or under an open counter space so when you’re packaging the goods, you have enough room to lay the food out. These can also be included in the Plating RAC Space.
Know brands that will fit comfortably in your drawer. It is ok to buy generic brands; as long as they’ll do what you want there is no reason to spend extra money.
Store your cutting boards on top of the counter and lean them against a wall. Keep them near the stove, but far away enough that they wont melt/catch on fire, and also next to your Cooking Counter.
Cutting boards can be color coded to match what you’re cooking (green-vegetables, yellow-chicken, red-meats and white for everything cooked). Cutting boards should be cleaned and changed out regularly (approximately every year), so it’s up to you to decide to invest in a few different colors, for ease of use, or to keep it simple with a few white ones.
Keep your knives in a wooden block close to the cutting boards and your Prepping RAC Space.
Before buying knives make sure to take them out and test them. Hold them in your hand, feel the weight, texture, and blade. Knives are like shoes – they’re all different, and the right fit for one person is not the right fit for all. Begin your knife collection with a Chef’s knife. When you are able to afford more, add the bread knife, then the pairing knife, next the boning, and after that it’s a personal preference.
Pots and pans
As simple as this sounds keep pots and pans close in your Cooking RAC Space, i.e. next to the stove, either under, over, or next to it for easy access.
By keeping the pots and pans close you remove extra steps for preparing a meal.
Keep them to the left or the right of the stove in the upper cabinets in your Cooking RAC space
The oven is hot and you don’t want your spices to become flavorless and bitter. By keeping them within reach, but not directly above the stove you will prevent them from spoiling.
Oils and vinegars
These should be on a tray close to your Cooking RAC space, usually next to the containers with the kitchen utensils.
The utensils protect the oils and vinegars from getting too hot, which is important because heat will ruin your oils and vinegars. At the same time, keeping them close to your Cooking RAC space makes them accessible for all of your cooking needs.
Chef Mary’s Notes
Some of these ideas may seem obvious, but, in all honesty, it amazes me when I walk into a kitchen and find that pots and pans are in the pantry or cutting boards are on the other side of the kitchen in a random drawer or an important electrical kitchen appliance kept in the basement in the original box, and the worst part is it’s used on a regular basis.