Western Living Magazine
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Top Western Canadian chefs share their secrets to keeping a well-stocked kitchen—everything from pantry essentials, how to store avocados and what to do with your food scraps.
We asked our gaggle of culinary pros: What ingredients do you always keep on hand?
Reducing food waste starts when you get home with your grocery haul. Follow these chef-approved storage techniques.
PRO TIP: Multiple chefs advised putting a cloth or paper towel at the bottom of your crisper drawer. (“It helps absorb moisture.”—Claire Livia Lassam, owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver)
Alex Kim, culinary director of Glowbal Restaurants in Vancouver, sings the praises of his low-budget vacuum sealer. “For less than $100 you can find a decent vacuum sealer these days. I use mine to keep my leftover food longer and fresher, but also for marinating steaks, pickling vegetables, slow-cooking some tough cuts of beef under water (sous vide!) and even just to organize my fridge and freezer.”
It’s a trick chip-hound Patrick Do (owner, Do Chay, Vancouver) swears by. “I learned this trick recently, but saving those little silica gel packs that come in those seaweed snack packs helps with preserving chips and kale crisps,” he says.
We don’t know who needs to hear this, but: your spices are ancient. Chefs agree that spices lose their potency around the six-month mark. “If you don’t remember when you bought them, it’s time to get a new batch,” says Rogelio Herrera, chef/owner of Alloy in Calgary. Give that bag of cumin a whiff: if it doesn’t smell like much, it’s not going to taste like much, either.
How do you reduce your spice waste? Buy in small quantities, toast before storage and store in sealed containers (toss the bag!).
PRO TIP: “Buy whole spices and grind small amounts as needed.”—Alex Kim, culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver
Just as important as a good chef’s knife? A smart storage system. Here’s what the pros use to pack up prepped ingredients and leftover lunches.
“I’m a fan of using commercial restaurant storage containers at home, like Cambro.”—Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver
“Mason jars! Just try not to have too many different shapes, otherwise you’ll go crazy stacking and storing everything.”—Phong Vo, executive chef, Laowai and Bagheera, Vancouver
“Deli cups with lids are always the ultimate to store small quantities.”—Alexandre Carrière, chef, Au Comptoir, Vancouver
Wherever you stand on the “tomatoes are a fruit” debate, the fact is that these puppies do not belong in the fridge. “Tomatoes shouldn’t be stored in the fridge—even the subpar winter greenhouse ones,” warns Bryan Satterford, chef/owner of Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room in Vancouver warns. “Leave them out and use them quickly.” If you fail to heed his warning, prepare for a mushy caprese salad.
“If your avocados are perfectly ripe and you’re not going to eat them anytime soon, then you can freeze them to prevent over-ripening.”—Phong Vo, executive chef, Laowai and Bagheera, Vancouver
“I hate chopping garlic,” admits Lawren Moneta, a food stylist in Vancouver. “I will chop a whole bunch of garlic in a food processor at the beginning of the month, place it in a Ziploc and section out little squares before placing in the freezer. I break off a piece or two of frozen garlic when I need it.”
“The concept of mise en place has been practiced in my home, along with labelling with masking tape and a marker,” says Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver
Bryan Satterford (chef/owner, Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room, Vancouver) is another advocate for comprehensive labelling after you open a product: “Everything is taken out of its package and placed in a separate labelled and dated container. From dry goods to fridge and freezer. And if you are labelling with tape, for the love of god, please cut the tape on the labels. Don’t tear it off the roll like a Neanderthal.”
“Ginger skin is very flavourful and just as nutritious. Save the skin,” says Phong Vo, executive chef of Vancouver’s Laowai and Bagheera. (Another food we have been wasting time peeling our whole lives? Kiwis.)
“After washing and peeling purple beets, you can use the scraps to colour your pickled vegetables by adding some into your pickling jars.”—Alex Kim, culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver
“Take trim from fish or meat to make croquettes or meatballs.”—Ben Berwick, chef, Dachi, Vancouver
“I make croutons with stale bread, and use coffee grounds as plant fertilizer.”—Dawn Doucette, chef/owner, Douce Diner, North Vancouver
“Apple peels have tons of flavour and make great syrups. Cilantro stems are also full of flavour and make exceptional sauces.”—Clark Deutscher, owner, Nowhere *a Restaurant and Hanks *a Restaurant, Victoria
“Carrot, beet or radish tops can be made into pesto.”—Lawren Moneta, food stylist, Vancouver
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