Happy New Year! If you’re like me, you’re exhausted from the holiday hubbub but looking forward to the challenges of the coming year. So, it’s a great time to take stock of what’s in your kitchen, get rid of some old stuff and at least make a list of what you need to replace.
Most restaurants have to do an inventory every month of the perishable food products on hand for accounting purposes but really do an equipment inventory only once or twice a year. If you hosted holiday meals or made a lot of baked goods for gift-giving, you’ve already got a head start on knowing what’s worn out, what’s missing and what needs to be refurbished or replaced, because you’ve been in the back of those cabinets. Take advantage of that recent knowledge before you forget.
Take a look at all your cookware. If you’ve been skipping over a nonstick sauté pan because the coating’s flaking, get rid of it. It doesn’t deserve the cabinet real estate it’s taking up. If there’s an heirloom cast iron pan that your cousin lovingly washed with soap and water while you were supervising the kids one night, it may have a patina of rust. It’s not ruined forever. Put it in a project box and spend a weekend looking up how to bring it back to life.
Remember last week when you wished you had a lidded casserole of a specific size for a certain recipe? Put it on your procurement list. And speaking of lids: You know those three lids in your lid rack or drawer that you don’t have the pans for anymore? Say goodbye and put them in a garage-sale or church-donation jumble pile in the garage. And climb that mountain of plasticware. If it doesn’t have a corresponding lid, give it the heave-ho. And vice versa. An item of unmatched plasticware is just a drawer hog in sheep’s clothing.
Address your utensil crock and drawer. If I’ve got eight rubber spatulas, at least one has a chip on the corner, and I never reach for it. Say adios to that guy and three of the metal spatulas you’ve had since college. Now invest in a few, nice wooden ones of various sizes. That whisk with one of its metal loops detached at the handle end? Sayonara. And empty and clean that utensil crock! You won’t believe what’s lurking down at the bottom of it.
Warped sheet pans are an abomination. They don’t stack or cook well. (Also: You know why they warp? Someone’s putting them in a sink full of water while they’re still warm.) A good one isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it, and you need only a few of various sizes most of the year.
As I said last column, get your knives sharpened, at least your chef’s knife and paring knives. Lose the one with the broken handle and replace it — or don’t, if you haven’t been missing it. You can operate a kitchen with just a few knives as long as they’re sharp and well cared for.
Buy some food-grade mineral oil and oil your wooden cutting boards. If you use a plastic one, and it’s stained, it’s not necessarily a loss. You can put it in the project box (with that rusty cast iron) and use the circular sander you bought 20 years ago to bring it back to life some weekend.
And while you’re at it, throw away those three envelopes of expired instant oatmeal you’re saving for the zombie apocalypse and go through your spice cabinet. That container of creole seasoning wasn’t meant to last five years and won’t make much of a dent in a zombie’s forehead. Whole dried peppercorns might look like they’re still good, but are they, really? They lose their potency after a few years in that hot cabinet next to the stove top.
In the restaurant world, there’s just never enough room to store broken or worn-out equipment that isn’t being used. Have your own annual Purge — but kill useless items that take up valuable space instead of killing your neighbors. It’s almost as fun and the result will be a clean, organized, functioning kitchen that will be a pleasure to cook in all year long. You don’t have to do it all in one day. Just break the project into categories and do a little each night or weekend for a big win.
What are you waiting for — the zombie apocalypse? •
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.