Stock your pantry like a chef

We asked our gaggle of culinary pros: What ingredients do you always keep on hand?

  • “Popping corn.”—Blair Lebsack, chef /co-owner, RGE RD and the Butchery by RGE RD, Edmonton
  • “Instant Korean noodles for a late-night dinner.”—Joshua Chilton, chef, Clive’s Classic Lounge, Victoria
  • “Great quality extra-virgin olive oil, sherry and balsamic vinegar always add great finishing touches.”—Alex Kim, culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver
  • “Kelp powder. When cooking vegetarian, dried kelp really helps to develop deep flavours in soups and stocks quickly.”—Patrick Do, owner, Do Chay, Vancouver
  • “Legal documents. And apple cider vinegar.”—Justin Ell Lee, chef, Elephant, Vancouver
  • “Good canned olive-oil packed tuna, and white beans: both canned when I’m in a pinch, and dried for when I’m planning better.”—Claire Livia Lassam, owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver
  • “Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.”—Nico Schuermans, chef/owner, Chambar Restaurant, Vancouver
  • “White jasmine rice.”—Lý Thị Nguyễn, executive chef, Anh and Chi, Vancouver
  • “Capers, tuna packed in oil, tomato passata.”—Phyllis Tanga, advanced culinary instructor, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Vancouver
  • “Loads of maple syrup.”—Devon Latte, head chef, Acorn, Vancouver

Stop storing these things wrong

Reducing food waste starts when you get home with your grocery haul. Follow these chef-approved storage techniques.

  • Nuts, grains and legumes → Store in glass jars (“For maximum freshness, keep all nuts in the fridge.”—Phyllis Tanga, advanced culinary instructor, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Vancouver)
  • Cheese → Wrap in wax paper (“Leave the cheese out of the fridge! It will be ready anytime when you are back home.”—Alexandre Carrière, chef, Au Comptoir, Vancouver)
  • Greens → An open container with a dry cloth on the bottom and a damp cloth on top
  • Herbs → Rinse in cold water and wrap in a damp paper towel or cloth
  • Veggies → Take them out of their plastic bag (“They won’t sweat, so they’ll live longer.”—Carrière)
  • Berries → Soak for a few minutes in an apple cider vinegar bath (3 cups water, 2 tbsp vinegar) before drying and transferring to an airtight container (“I find this significantly increases the life of my strawberries, blueberries and grapes.”—Lawren Moneta, food stylist, Vancouver)

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)

Treat yourself to a vacuum sealer

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.”

Keep your chips fresh with… silica gel?

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.

Replace your spices twice a year

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

Level up your Tupperware game

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

Tomatoes belong in the fruit bowl

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.

Freeze your avocados

“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

…and your pre-chopped garlic, too

“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.”

A garlic isolated on white background, watercolor illustration

A marker and masking tape are essential chef tools

“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.”

Shred, grate and grind like a pro

To do this… Use this… Or so says this chef…
Mince garlic cloves Microplane “It gives you the best minced texture (finer than the garlic press).”—Alex Kim, culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver
Cube butter Box grater “Use cold butter.”—Dawn Doucette, chef/owner, Douce Diner, North Vancouver
Grate cheese Vegetable peeler “Nobody likes washing a box grater.”—Joshua Chilton, chef, Clive’s Classic Lounge, Victoria
Mash potatoes Resting rack “Cook the potatoes unpeeled in aluminum foil, cut them in two, then push them through the rack! Like that, you won’t have to peel it.”—Alexandre Carrière, chef, Au Comptoir, Vancouver
Core apples and pears Measuring spoons “The spoon is usually sturdy enough and the different sizes let me adjust according to the size of the fruit.”—Lawren Moneta, food stylist, Vancouver

Public service announcement: you don’t have to peel ginger

“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.)

Ask a chef: What should I do with my food scraps?

“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