Isn’t it amazing when you walk in a boutique patisserie, everything looks so perfect. When you watch chefs work their stations in an open kitchen with yellow lights shining through their benches like spotlight in a theatre show, it all seems so easy. But its never that simple at home is it? It does not have to be hard either.
Here are the 10 things professionals do differently in the kitchen. I’ve shared these points to help home cooks put things in perspective. We, chefs do have our advantages but some habits can be applied at home and will make a difference in your kitchen experiences. Cooking is an act of love and a work in progress. Lots of small good habits combined will make a big difference.
1) We have a mentor, boss, supervisor, head chef who watches us all the time.
We have someone whom we are accountable for. This person gives us a pat on the back if we did a good job and straightens us up if we’re not up to standards. This person keeps us on our toes and and helps us troubleshoot our kitchen mishaps as well. We get better at what we do because there is someone who teaches us how to fix it and tell us what we are doing wrong right there and then. So we get to solve the problem straight away. Attend baking classes, read lots of books and join baking groups for fun and engaging food discussions. Ask lots of questions to family and friends who’s done it before and who might be willing to share a tip here and there.
2) If it doesn’t reach the standards, it doesn’t go out.
There is a reason why when you walk in a boutique patisserie, the pastry display looks so perfect or when a waiter serves you a plate in a restaurant it almost looks like art. Everything is even, aligned and very visually appealing. It is because if the glaze had a bit of a nick on the side, the the cake isn’t cut to the correct size, the sauce got smudged along the way or the garnish decides to fall off the plate, it just doesn’t go out. Chefs also make mistakes once in a while, but since we are in the business of serving good food, we simply just don’t give it to you if its not good enough. At home, its okey to relax but if your a bit serious in improving your skills, gradually working on the ratio of the good ones to the not-so-perfect ones is the way to go. You’ll get there soon.
3) We use weight over volume measurement.
Some recipes for home cooks call for cups and teaspoons rather than weights, it is then followed by instructions wether it is sifted, packed or spooned lightly. Through this method, there are inconsistencies. In the professional’s kitchen we weigh our ingredients. We have scales that can weigh up to 10 kilos to ones that can measure up to 0.001 increments. It is a faster, more accurate way to measure ingredients. After all, one hundred grams of flour will still be a hundred grams sifted or not.
4) We look at it as a process, emotions aside.
As much as we started off becoming a chef because we love it, once we became the professionals that you know of, we take a step back and detach with our emotions. To master and perfect our craft, we get feedback on a daily basis, we ask questions like what can be done to make it better, faster, easier. It feels good to be able to create a beautiful dish but while we are in the process of perfecting it, we analyse and criticise. At the end of the day, we still love what we do but just approach it in a different way.
5) We organise our tasks a day or two ahead ( for chocolates I organise up to a week ahead).
We know what can be done in a day and we split tasks so that we don’t waste time. Chilling, resting, proofing, setting and freezing times are all taken into consideration. While our pastries, doughs and batters are going into hibernation, or while the chicken is marinating in the refrigerator, we chefs, do something else or simply do the next step the following day. It saves us time, reduces stress and keeps everything running like a well oiled machine. So the next time you try to make something that needs to be rested, chilled or set. Ask yourself if you could do it a day in advance and simply finish to serve.
6) We clean as we go.
We put aside dishes, ingredients and equipments not in use before we go to the next task. This keeps our work all organised, hygienic and gives us more bench space. Enough space to move in the kitchen is very important, it allows you to work seamlessly. The next time you’re making something at home. Take a few minutes once in a while to just pop that bowl in the dishwasher instead of the sink or give that chopping board a wash before starting another task that requires your full attention. You will realise that at the end of your cooking spree, you won’t need to clean lots of dishes anymore.
7) For pastry chefs we literally watch what we are baking in the oven the first time we do it ( or someone else did previously).
And that is why we don’t stand and watch it all the time anymore. For example, you read a recipe and it says preheat your oven to 180 °C and bake your cake for 30 minutes, and you did just that. Then what comes out is a cake with one dark side and the other half lacking in colour. You wonder why. You see, the first time we bake something in our oven, we watch it closely. Quarter way through baking we peek through the oven window and make sure its rising okey, the oven isn’t too hot and not too low either. Halfway through we check again to see if our the pan needs turning. Then just before its almost done,we check again for colour and evenness. The last few minutes we look at it and make sure that everything is just right. Yes, when we test a recipe for the first time we do all that. The second, third and fourth time around is easy because we know already, and we just leave it to do its thing while we do other tasks. We even get a sixth sense that we know when to turn it or pull it out of the oven a split second before the alarm rings. I suggest you do this at home too. Make sure you have an accurate oven thermometer and watch it the first time you do it. Record your baking procedure so the next time you make the same recipe, its going to be easy-peasy!
8) We know when to stop and go
Yes we have tricks up our sleeves to work faster but we also know when to wait. For example, we never fill a warm tart shell with any filling because we know its going to be soggy. Neither do we attempt to roll and cut our shortbread cookie dough with out chilling it, and we always cut brownies and cheesecakes chilled or semi- frozen to get that perfect slice. Doing it fast is great but sometimes its worth the wait.
9) We’ve got the power
We’ve got Hobarts, Kitchen Aids, Robot Coups and Bravo Tritticos in our kitchen. All powerful machines that make our lives easier. Where as what you have at home are designed for domestic use. It wouldn’t be as fast, and strong as what we have. So be mindful of the visual cues when reading a recipe rather than basing it on time suggestions. Not all kitchen equipments are created equal. Get to know your tools and make the best of it.
10) We do this 5 days a week and usually more than 8 hours a day
Practice makes perfect. The only reason that pastry chefs can create consistently delicious and good results is because we do it every day, it looks easy because it already is for us. We started off not knowing too and have gone through a learning curve as well. But through practice, it became second nature. If you have a recipe that you have been wanting to perfect. Just keep on trying, ask questions and keep on tweaking it until you get the results you want. Its the only way to go.