Sure, it pays to have friends in high places, but we think it’s even more useful to have friends in hot places, too—namely, the kitchen. We grilled 28 chefs from across Western Canada for their pro tips, kitchen hacks and pantry essentials, and boy did they deliver. What follows is a culinary crash course: dozens of morsels of advice sure to elevate your home-cook game. Eat up.

Use more salt, we beg you

“Salt. Most home cooks do not season adequately. Seasoning during the cooking process helps to build levels of flavour.”—Andrew Richardson, executive chef, Elisa and CinCin, Vancouver

Add these three ingredients to your arsenal

Anchovies. “I use so many anchovies at home. Comical amounts. They have the magical effect of giving simple, quickly cooked meals so much oomph. I love to overload them in most things, but if you’re unsure, just get a small jar and melt them into olive oil and garlic over low heat, then wilt in some greens and season with a dash of red wine vinegar. It’s the perfect side dish, or magnificent tossed with spaghetti. When I’m tired I’ll just eat them on buttered baguettes with a squeeze of lemon. Heaven.” —Claire Livia Lassam, owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver

Fish sauce. “You don’t need much to make a difference in a dish—it adds a depth of flavour to most things you make at home. You don’t want to use enough that someone can say, ‘Hey there is fish sauce in there,’ but you want them to feel like something is missing if it isn’t there.”Clark Deutscher, owner, Nowhere *a Restaurant and Hanks *a Restaurant, Victoria

Full fat everything. “You’ll end up using less to achieve body and fuller flavour in your dishes.”—Dawn Doucette, chef/owner, Douce Diner, North Vancouver

Even the pros ask the pros

At farmers’ markets, at butcher shops, at the cheesemonger: the number-one tip our elite panel had was to ask the experts. “Just talk to a butcher,” advises Blair Lebsack, chef /co-owner, RGE RD and the Butchery by RGE RD, Edmonton. “If you can tell them how you plan to cook the meat, how long you want to take to prepare it, then there are multiple cuts they can point you to. Some are obvious, but most may be unknown to you and are typically less expensive that the prime cuts.”

Chanthy Yen, executive chef of Nightshade Restaurant in Vancouver, seconds the motion: “Be open minded to cuts that are considered a ‘butcher’s secret’ and ask for advice on how to process it.”

The same goes for the veggie pros, too. “At the farmers’ market, find a farmer when they have a minute of ‘down time’ and ask them about different products, where they’re grown and the practices they use. They like it! Maybe you’ll even get to snack on a free carrot or apple,” says Devon Latte, head chef, Acorn, Vancouver.

Build a grocery store Google map

Knowing where to source specialty ingredients is half the battle—a battle Phong Vo, executive chef of Vancouver’s Laowai and Bagheera, doesn’t go into unprepared. “Build a Google map of your regional markets or destination spots for specific culinary ingredients,” he says. “My list includes Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian and farmers’ markets, and Granville Island in Vancouver.” 

Sometimes, brand name matters…

There are times to cheap out, and then there are times to splash out on the Kewpie. These are the brand-name grocery staples our chefs insist on.

  • Elman’s mustard
  • Yamasa soy
  • Golden Boy fish sauce
  • Kewpie
  • Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
  • Heinz ketchup
  • Herdez guacamole
  • McClure’s pickles
  • Aroy-D coconut milk
  • Valentina hot sauce
  • Maille cornichons
  • Amora Dijon mustard

…and sometimes, generic is just fine

When it comes to some ingredients, only the best won’t do. Here are the staples you don’t need to overthink, according to chefs: canned beans, canola oil, chocolate chips, dried pasta, canned tomatoes, flour, sugar, oats, white vinegar. (PRO TIP: “Don’t ignore the bulk aisle. You can get the right amount to fill up your storage containers.”—Joshua Chilton, chef, Clive’s Classic Lounge, Victoria)

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 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

Make your stock in the oven

The secret to not boiling your stock? Take it off the stovetop altogether. “Cook it in the oven,” says Bryan Satterford, chef/owner of Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room in Vancouver. “That way it never boils hard and you will have a clearer stock.”

Cook a perfect omelette

Start with great ingredients. “You need to start with fresh eggs,” says Dawn Doucette, chef/owner, Douce Diner, North Vancouver.

And a great pan. “Go non-stick,” advises Alexandre Carrière, chef, Au Comptoir, Vancouver.

Add a splash of water. “Just a little bit!” says Nico Schuermans, chef/owner, Chambar Restaurant, Vancouver.

Don’t skimp on the butter. “Butter. Like, a lot of butter. When it’s done and rolled, reshape it with a towel and rub room temperature butter on top of it again,” says Clark Deutscher, owner, Nowhere *a Restaurant and Hanks *a Restaurant, Victoria.

Heat it low and take it slow. “Keep the cooking temperature low and stir with a spatula,” says Ashley Kurtz, chef de cuisine, Bar Susu, Vancouver.

Stop cooking it earlier than you think. “Stop cooking before the eggs are fully cooked; keep them nice and wet,” Kurtz adds.

Do it again. “Make one every morning for a month—you will dial it in,” says Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson, executive chef, Published on Main, Vancouver.

How to course correct a cooking mistake

If it’s too spicy: Add a sprinkle of sugar, a splash of vinegar or something fatty. Or, as more than one chef advised: crack a beer and learn to love the heat. “Look at it as training for the next time you travel.”—Bryan Satterford, chef/owner, Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room, Vancouver

If it’s too salty: Acid to the rescue! Try lemon juice, apple cider or vinegar. Alternatively, add more liquid, or double the batch (without salt this time) and combine. “Start again.”—Rogelio Herrera, chef/owner, Alloy, Calgary

Elevate any dish in under two minutes by…

Chef Robbie Robinson: “Add butter.”

Chef Nico Schuermans: “Add a pop of colour.”

Chef Tommy Shorthouse: “Cut food uniformly.”

Chef Bryan Satterford: “A hit of acid, vinegar or citrus.”

Chef Dawn Doucette: “Use tongs to twirl your pasta while plating.”

Chef Alexandre Carrière: “Add Maldon salt on your dessert.”

Chef Alex Kim: “Finish with a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.”

The case for: Having 5 vinegars on hand at all times

“Vinegar is so underused in most homes, but in restaurants nearly everything is finished with an acid. I keep a decent red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, black Chinese vinegar and Japanese rice wine vinegar on my countertop for easy grabbing at home.”—Claire Livia Lassam, owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver

The case for: Cooking everything in a wok

“The wok is my personal favourite because it’s large and functions as either a pot or a pan! They make stir frys fun. (Try flipping the vegetables or omelette in them.) Chopsticks are a close second because they are so multifunctional—they can be used in place of tongs, fork, whisk—and even hold up your hair?!”—Lý Thị Nguyễn, executive chef, Anh and Chi, Vancouver

3 ways to make a vegetable dish sing

Serve the same veg in different ways, says Julien Salomoni, pastry chef instructor, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Vancouver. “For example, smashed carrot with curry and turmeric, young yellow carrots cooked in oven and toasted, then some chips dehydrated in the oven overnight, or even a pistou of carrot stems. Your friends will be amazed.”

Do the ol’ roast-and-toss, suggests Jason Kleinfeld, executive chef, Cardero’s in Vancouver. “Roast it, then toss with a dash of red wine vinegar and olive oil. Add something crunchy (nuts, toasted garlic, fried shallots or seasoned and toasted chickpeas).”

Reach for the salt, advises Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver. “Salt-bake your root vegetables to discover a new level of richness in flavour.”

11 chef-approved marinades to try at your next barbecue

Chef Robbie Robinson Salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic
Chef Dawn Doucette Fresh herbs, orange juice, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and a splash of soy sauce
Chef Alex Kim Honey, soy, garlic, ginger
Chef Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson Yogurt, garlic, lemon, paprika, onion and garlic powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, black pepper and mustard
Chef Ashley Kurtz Herbs, oil and citrus
Chef Patrick Do Lemongrass, garlic and chili
Chef Nico Schuermans Fig, orange
Chef Phong Vo Oyster sauce, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice
Chef Baker Hsu Fish sauce, ginger, garlic and chili
Chef Bryan Satterford Sweet and spicy soy
Chef Rogelio Herrera Achiote, pineapple and orange

Recipe: Bryan Satterford’s Grandma’s Salad Dressing

“Honey, grainy mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil, shallot, chopped herbs—all placed in a mason jar and shaken vigorously.”

Recipe: Phong Vo’s Go-To Vegetable Side Dish

“Quick-blanch your vegetables in salted boiling water. Take out when they turn vibrant but are still firm. Ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain. Sauté with mushrooms, garlic and sea salt.”

Recipe: Dawn Doucette’s Kitchen Pantry Puttanesca

“Sauté minced garlic and capers for 1 to 2 minutes on medium heat. Add store-bought pickled veggies (such as roast pepper strips and eggplant in their oils), along with anchovy paste. Continue to cook. Separately, purée a can of pitted black olives, then add to the pan along with marinated artichokes, canned tuna, chili flakes and a touch of tomato purée. Allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and, bam! Puttanesca served with linguini… easy peasy.”

How chefs hack instant ramen…

Chef Robbie Robinson (executive chef, Five Sails, Vancouver) cracks in two eggs and whisks in a dollop of miso and a knob of butter, while chef Ashley Kurtz makes a beurre monte (emulsified finishing sauce) with butter and the ramen spice mix. Chef Baker Hsu (chef de cuisine, Torafuku, Vancouver) swears by white pepper, green onion and a poached egg, while chef Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson (executive chef, Published on Main, Vancouver) happily adds the whole kitchen sink to his noodles: a knob of butter, a Kraft single, spice packs, leftover meat, scallion and a scrambled egg.

Add a poached egg, enoki mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, tofu puffs or frozen dumplings and sprinkle with thinly sliced green onions, and voilà! Have leftover BBQ duck or roast chicken? Throw it in too!”—Lý Thị Nguyễn, executive chef, Anh and Chi, Vancouver

…and level-up their Kraft dinner.

Chef Justin Ell Lee (chef, Elephant, Vancouver) grates red Leicester cheese on top, and Chef Patrick Do sprinkles on blitzed wasabi peas and blistered shishito peppers. Chef Alex Kim (culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver), meanwhile, elevates his KD with cooked, chopped prawns and sriracha.

“The addition of some brie, gruyere or Boursin cheese and some freshly cracked pepper could completely change a basic Kraft dinner into something wonderful.”—Tommy Shorthouse, chef, Fanny Bay Oyster Co., Vancouver 

No butter? No problem

“Whenever I don’t have butter around for a cake recipe, I use cream or sour cream as a substitute. It works nearly every time.”—Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver

Cleaning hack: Fill ’er up

Pro chefs love having a sink of soapy water ready to go while they’re prepping and cooking to make it simple to wash as you go.

Cleaning hack: Sort those scraps

Chef Patrick Do (owner, Do Chay, Vancouver) preps with three one-litre deli cups in front of him: one for saving stock, one for compost and one for garbage.

Cleaning hack: Buy Bar Keepers Friend in bulk

Chef Claire Lassam (owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver) is a die-hard fan of the heavy-duty cleaning cream. “The best cleaning product ever made; recipe unchanged for over 100 years.”

Cleaning hack: Baking soda is a pan saver

Rescue burned-on pans by boiling baking soda and water in them, scraping off bits as you go.

“So weird it’s good”

Chefs reveal their favourite oddball food-and-drink pairings.

  • “Cheddar chips and riesling.”—Rogelio Herrera, chef/owner, Alloy, Calgary
  • “Bourbon and apple pie.”—Jason Kleinfeld, executive chef, Cardero’s, Vancouver
  • “Foie gras and sweet wine.”—Alexandre Carrière, chef, Au Comptoir, Vancouver

“I recall making a grilled cheese using brioche and Kraft cheese. Alongside we drank a bottle of Alex Gambal Chassagne Montrachet… a match made in heaven.”—Andrew Richardson, executive chef, Elisa and CinCin, Vancouver

Get yourself a mandolin…

It’s a favourite tool of the pros; source a Japanese-style ultra-thin one if you can.

…and a microplane

If you love to grate, it’s great. The perfect tool for adding a dusting of nutmeg, lemon zest or parm to a dish. “They’re incredibly helpful for home cooking,” says Betty Hung, owner of Beaucoup Bakery, Vancouver. “Finely grating garlic and other vegetables, whole spices and cheese with ease helps to speed up the cooking process and allows you to stuff your face full of food on the couch quicker.”

Drink like a chef: Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson’s “crushable” boulevardier

To make SB’s go-to four-ingredient cocktail, combine equal parts bourbon, Cinzano and Campari over ice. Dilute slightly with a few drops of water and add some orange rind.

Expand your cookbook library

A few of the classic cookbooks our surveyed chefs said they couldn’t live without.

  • The Science of Good Cooking
  • The French Laundry Cookbook
  • Kỹ Thuật Nấu Nướng
  • Da Vittorio: Recipes from the Legendary Italian Restaurant
  • Michel Bras: Essential Cuisine
  • Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine
  • Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes
  • Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking
  • The Flavor Bible
  • Plenty
  • Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire
  • Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way
  • Maggie’s Harvest

Survey says…

We polled our chefs for definitive answers to some of the kitchen’s most pressing questions. Numbers don’t lie.

Butter: salted or unsalted?
30% salted
70% unsalted

Microwaves: yay or nay?
Yay 41% “People who say no are pretentious.”
Nay 54% “Only at mom’s for leftovers.”
Depends 5% “Just for popcorn.”

Air fryers: Yay or nay?
Yay 40%
Nay 60%

Instant Pots: Yay or nay?
Yay 35%
Nay 60%
On the fence 5%

Garlic press: yay or nay?
Yay 23% “That was one of my tasks to help my mum cooking, so it’s always a great memory.”
Nay 77% “Absolute rubbish.”

Cast iron: soap or wipe out?
Wipe it out 68%
Soap, please 32%

Rice cooker or stovetop?
In a pot on the stove 32%
Rice cooker 56%
Both 12%

Of the 20 chefs who said they always wear an apron to cook, 2 agreed with the statement “I’d feel naked without it.” 

The next big trendy ingredient is…
Sea truffles
Plant-based steak
Nutritional yeast
Food made with food waste products
Tonka bean
Yuzu and spicy honey
Fish sauce
Toban djan

Most popular hot sauce, according to chefs: sriracha
Runners up: chili oil, Valentina, homemade

What are you listening to when you’re cooking?
Audiobook  4%
Music 82%
Podcasts 10%
Silence 4%

Most popular spice, according to chefs: black peppercorn
Runners up: star anise, chili, cumin

Best cooking oil?
Avocado 16%
Grapeseed  11%
Canola 32%
Olive 11%
Rice bran oil 15%
Tea oil 5%
Afraid to commit 10%