Things in the kitchen that might irk you a little: a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, someone drinking straight from the milk carton, spills in the refrigerator that have been left to harden or spoil. But they aren’t what come to mind for professional chef Craig Bell, who’s more concerned about mise en place (French for “put in place”) or, rather, lack thereof. Look around your kitchen: You might see an overstuffed drawer (or two), a garbage can nowhere near the sink, a stand mixer shoved inside a cluttered cabinet—that’s the stuff that peeves Bell. Here, the four elements of your kitchen he’d improve:
Bell can spot a clumped kitchen layout a mile away. A small “working triangle” of a stove, fridge and an island with a sink can work for one cook, but a truly efficient kitchen has room to move, and areas dedicated to each task. “How much counter space do I have? Where is the dishwasher and garbage can? How can I best maximize my workflow in a space? I can usually tell these things the minute I walk through the door,” Bell says. His ideal setup? “My ovens are in the wall, eye-level and side-by-side instead of stacked. I can always take a look inside without having to bend over. My workspace is near the range and stove so I can prep and cook at the same time.”
That top drawer? You know, the one that barely closes? The one with your measuring cups and ladles and those souvenir swizzle sticks? That wouldn’t fly in a professional kitchen. “My top drawer is edited to organize the primary tools I use all of the time: three sets of tongs, three spoons and two whisks,” Bell says. “Instead of having a drawer filled with utensils making it difficult to find what I need, I keep it stocked with the tools I use daily, so I know they will always be there. “
As a rule, you shouldn’t have too much stuff on your countertops. But you also shouldn’t hide regularly used things way back in your cabinets, near items you use only occasionally (like that heirloom holiday cookie platter). Reworking your kitchen storage according to how often you actually use your supplies and ingredients keeps your kitchen running smoothly. “I have three cutting boards I never put away because they serve as permanent workstations in my kitchen. My salt and pepper is always out on the counter, along with olive oil; I use these items all the time,” Bell says.
Nobody really needs a knife block. Pare down your knife collection, and keep only the essentials safely stored but close to your kitchen’s cutting area. “I don’t have 13 knives; I don’t need them,” asserts Bell. One knife—a good, sharp chef’s knife—is all you need for 99 percent of what you do.”