We know our way around the kitchen, but we definitely have more in common with the contestants of Nailed It than Top Chef Masters. Which means that we’re inevitably making some mistakes when we cook. To find the errors of our ways, we checked in with 12 professional chefs from around the country for the one thing they wish amateurs would stop doing.
Making a difficult menu. “A lot of the cookbooks that are on the market are very nice for chefs, but totally not suitable for the home cook. I think the key is keeping it simple, making sure you have the time to join your guests or getting them involved (something I always do myself when I invite friends over). Master a classic, not-too-difficult dish and you won’t stress on the outcome.” — Dieter Samijn, Executive Chef at Bar Boulud in NYC
Mindlessly choosing ingredients. “I wish that people would put more love and care into the ingredients they choose and how they treat them. This makes for a very special dish and experience.” — Shimon Maman, Chef and Co-Owner of Shoo Shoo in NYC
Following recipes too strictly. “If you’re a beginner, recipes are of course very useful, but cooking is about using your senses and intuition to become a better chef. The key is to understand what the recipe is asking for. If you don’t like something about it, don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients or seasonings. Trust your personal preferences and you are sure to create a delicious dish.” — Parke Ulrich, Executive Chef at Waterbar and EPIC Steak in San Francisco
Making the same chicken breast every night. “I admit this is a strange pet peeve for a pastry chef! Using a recipe is a good guide, but the dish should be your creation. I encourage home cooks to experiment and change things up a little, try different spices, proteins and ingredients.” — Leah Morrow, Executive Pastry Chef at The Williamsburg Hotel and Brooklyn Bread Lab in NYC
Under- or over-seasoning. “Many people have a skewed perception of salt and how to use it. First, you should be using kosher salt, some type of coarse finishing salt or a combination of the two. You can forget about regular table salt. There is a very fine line you should walk when seasoning a dish. We like to say that a dish should taste under-seasoned and over-seasoned at the same time. You’re looking for that sweet spot. A dish is well-seasoned when you feel that if you added one more grain of salt, it would be too salty.” — Nick Tamburo, Chef de Cuisine at Momofuku Nishi in NYC
Not seasoning to taste. “Although recipes will call for a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, there’s a chance that whatever you’re seasoning may need more or less salt than the recipe calls for. Unless you’re curing something or making a brine, the amount of salt used in any recipe is more or less arbitrary. ” — Chris Morgan, Co-Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Maydan and Compass Rose in Washington, D.C.
Overusing cinnamon. “People don’t understand how careful you must be when using a strong spice. (Yes, cinnamon is a spice, not an ingredient.) You can’t let one spice overpower the other flavors of your dishes. I would recommend that when using spices, keep in mind that the flavor takes time to make a noticeable impact on your dish. Add the suggested amount, and then wait a couple hours to taste.” — Srijith Gopinathan, Executive Chef at Campton Place Restaurant in San Francisco
Throwing random spices into your dishes. “It won’t taste good. Know your spices and learn how to use them properly.” — Sylvain Aubry, Chef at La Cafette in NYC
Storing herbs and mushrooms improperly. “Plastic bags are the worst for both mushrooms and herbs, as it just makes them soggy (not to mention they’re terrible for the environment). Use paper bags to store your mushrooms, or even newspaper. For herbs, line a Tupperware with paper towels or a paper bag and store them in there.” —Dianna Daoheung, Executive Chef at Black Seed Bagels in NYC
Waiting until you’re done cooking to clean. “Home cooks do not clean as they go—you may think it might be faster and easier to clean up after you cook, that is not true. It is a lot easier if you clean as you go, that way you are far more organized.” — Jonathan Benno, Chef and Owner of Benno in NYC
Leaving knives in the sink or running them through the dishwasher. “It’s not only dangerous, but it’s also the number-one way to dull your knife and shorten its lifespan. That’s particularly heartbreaking when home cooks spend a lot of money on high-performing, high-quality knives.” — Simone Tong, Chef and Owner of Little Tong Noodle Shop in NYC
Shaking your pans. “Amateur cooks tend to shake their pans a lot because they see chefs doing that on TV. Shaking a pan to move things around actually cools down whatever you are cooking and prevents caramelization. Instead of getting a nice sear that’s crispy, you can end up steaming your food. Leave that pan alone!” —Ben Daitz, Chef and Co-Founder of Num Pang Kitchen in NYC