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Secrets of a Professional Chef

Robby Melvin of the Southern Living Test Kitchen tells us what cooking techniques are worth learning and what ingredients he always has on hand

When Robby Melvin talks, we listen. As the director of the Southern Living Test Kitchen, he knows a thing or two about cooking great food—and he’s sharing his secrets with us. #lucky

Q: How do your professional skills translate to cooking at home?

A: I like to keep it pretty similar. I’m a firm believer in the classic and basic techniques, which can be used across the board, no matter how simple or advanced of a cook you are. Take a little time to learn how to chop and dice properly, how best to brown meat—these things will pay off.

Q: Do you cook differently at home than at work?

A: Well, I have two kids, so time is always of the essence. I try to keep it simple and fresh both professionally and at home, though. I’m always inspired by the things that my grandmother cooked, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping it simple like that. You can build upon those skills and take it to the next level, which many Southern chefs have done, but most of us started off at grandma’s apron strings.

Q: What tools and ingredients should every chef have on hand?

A: First off, a good set of knives—ones that you are comfortable with. Start with a good chef’s knife, a serrated edge knife and boning knife and build from there. Chopping skills come with practice. No one is born with the knowledge of how to properly dice an onion. But good knives will make your life a lot easier. When it comes to ingredients, I always keep garlic, onions and fresh herbs on hand. These little things can make a big difference. And oils! Extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil are always in my kitchen.

Q: If you could share one tip with other chefs, what would it be?

A: Get to know your soul from a cooking standpoint. And follow that. When you start thinking too much, you get away from the soul of your cooking style. And make more lists! I’m always trying to be more organized, so it’s advice for myself, too.