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Other Writings and Recipes

Clear the Clutter? Not in my kitchen.

Vidhi Dattani

Organization is a key tenet of professional kitchens.  In the home it is, too, but here it plays out differently.


Guided by a new year’s charge to both cook more at home and take control in the kitchen, home cooks heed the following well-intentioned though questionable advice:

Keep your counters clear.  But what purpose does putting away daily use items, like olive oil, salt, and a favorite spice serve, other than to interrupt movement at the kitchen counter or stove?  If that new spice you bought for last weekend’s dinner is back in the cabinet, when will you think to use it again?  Make it into a spice salt for fair play.

Store appliances you don’t use.  Except if these appliances are little used, precisely because they are placed too out of reach to be called on at whim. If you never use your food processor, see if putting it next to your toaster gets you to make pesto from leftover holiday nuts.

Wash your dishes as you go.  But sometimes it makes more sense to set up an out-of-the-way bus tub to collect dirty items, leaving the sink and work counters clear.  The bus tub turns to a washtub at the end.

Label your spices. Except when doing so forces you into an alphabetical arrangement unnatural to the way you pair tastes.  Caraway and fennel make great partners for bread and meat, but they won’t knock up against each other on the rack.

Get your knives newly sharpened.  But first, learn how to use their companion sharpening steel, and take a knife lesson to undo dangerous habits formed by using long-dull knives.

People recognize “a chef’s kitchen” not by the quantity or quality of its equipment, but that it looks like it gets great use.  A kitchen staged to look professional (see all this stainless steel!) does more to sell appliances, than tell us what its residents like to eat.

I relate to my kitchen, layered with stacked bowls and pans, framed by ladles and strainers, as to a room of friends, because when I cook, I am in conversation with my space and my tools to make a meal work.

It’s nice to have a kitchen that is tidy but I’d prefer one that works and gets worked, that is reliable, and always ready, eager and on-hand, that says not “I’ve got it together,” but rather “c’mon, let’s do this thing.”