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10 Cooking Secrets From Great Restaurant Chefs

10 Cooking Secrets From Great Restaurant Chefs


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If you met a florist, you’d probably ask them about flowers, and if a painter crossed your path, you’d want to know what kinds of brushes they use to paint with. If you ran into a lawyer, you might ask them what to do about a recent parking ticket, and you would probably ask a doctor what to take for a current cough.

Whenever you run into a professional from a specific trade, it’s natural to ask them to share some tips to their success. Beyond being just generally talented in that specific field, these professionals practice their craft day in and day out, and so along with general pieces of knowledge, they also have tricks and secrets hiding up their sleeve for how to do that profession really well.

Click here to see 10 Secrets From Great Restaurant Chefs

Professional restaurant chefs are in the trade of cooking, and so naturally, we always want to know some of their secrets. It’s not just that we want to know how to make their famous spaghetti and meatballs (because we do), or have them tell us what kind of knives to buy (because we will), but we want to know the small, seemingly insignificant things that make them so great at what they do — things that aren’t included in a recipe, and don’t come on a description of a box of knives.

Whether we've met these chefs at an event, interviewed them for a story, or read one of their tweets, we’ve come across some pretty valuable information over time from some great restaurant chefs. Ever struggle with that firm lemon and can’t get the juice out of it? Chef Laurent Tourondel told us a trick for that once that we’ll never forget, and we’ll share it with you here. Can’t figure out how to get the rust off your cast-iron skillet? Chef Mario Batali knows what to do. And for that person out there who is always trying to master their sauces, we’ve got some pros here who know how to make them perfectly.

Chefs aren’t just great cooks, but they're resourceful ones, too, and we want them to impart some of that knowledge on us. So from chance meetings to scouring interviews, we’ve collected 10 of our favorite secrets that were given to us from restaurant chefs. These are tricks of the trade that live in our cooking tool belt, and we want you to add them to yours, too.

We've even rounded up some helpful videos from top chefs to help demonstrate their craft and give you some additional tricks. Watching chefs in action and hearing their tips first hand is a helpful way to learn these secrets and help implement them into your own cooking. Check out these videos and you'll be cooking like a pro before you know it.

Chef Ludo Lefebvre teaches us a quick trick for making flavorful French fries, the best way to sharpen a knife, and more.

Chef Michael Cimarusti takes you through the basics of sourcing fish and everything you need to know about fish from market to plate.

Learn how to rock the wok with Chef Jet Tila, who holds The Guinness World Record for largest stir fry.

Chef Jeffrey Saad teaches us a quick trick for cooking pasta sauce and how to know when fish is done.

Find out how to make the perfect meatball with Chef Vic Casanova.

Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce


Healthy Cooking Secrets from Celebrity Chefs

It seems the latest category of superstar in America is the celebrity chef. The popularity of food shows, restaurants, and cookbooks masterminded by our favorite celebrity chefs shows no sign of waning.

With that in mind, WebMD took this question to several star chefs: Do you have any secrets to pass on to those of us at home hoping to cook and eat more healthy foods?

The good news, experts say, is that one of the easiest ways to change your eating habits is to start cooking more at home. Healthier eating starts in the kitchen, where you control the ingredients, the preparation, and the serving size.

In fact, one celebrity chef -- Ellie Krieger, host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite -- has made healthy and delicious cooking her life's work.

"As you become more adventurous in the kitchen, you will quickly learn that healthy food can be delicious once you master simple techniques and become more familiar with testing recipes and ingredients," she says.

Here are tips from several celebrity chefs to demystify cooking and help you become a healthier cook.


A Top Chef’s Secret to Cooking the Perfect Steak

For many Americans, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of backyard grilling season. But before you pull out your grill and get it ready for your first big cookout, chef John Tesar has some advice that may make you rethink everything you thought you knew about cooking a steak.

Tesar’s techniques, which he developed by running acclaimed Dallas restaurant Knife, are so interesting and unorthodox that with the help of James Beard Award-winning writer Jordan Mackay, he recently wrote them down to share with professional and amateur chefs alike. The resulting book, Knife: Texas Steakhouse Meals at Home, was just released a few weeks ago and has the potential of giving pit masters across the country bad dreams until Labor Day.

For one, steady yourself: He says forget using your grill, no matter if it’s a gas or a charcoal model. He only uses direct fire for cooking large cuts of meat, but for a steak he prefers a much simpler method: a cast iron or a carbon steel pan.

Courtesy Flatiron Books

“The pan works for everything,” he swears. “It works for hamburgers. It works for filet mignon. It works for every cut of meat.”

And no matter what cut you choose, “the pan automatically sears the piece of meat immediately,” he says, which makes it extra juicy. On the other hand, “if you [use] anything else, you’re basically just putting burn marks on it and all of the juice is going into the fire.”

He does suggest buying a so-called portable gas cassette burner that allows you to cook outside. “The average person who cooks a steak in a pan will smoke out their house,” he says. “That’s why you don’t have a barbecue grill in your house.”

Tesar suggest you start by dry aging your meat yourself. It sounds complicated, but it just means keeping the meat unwrapped, lying on a bed of paper towels on a plate in your fridge for three or four days. Keep replacing the towels as they get wet and pouring off any liquids. Once you’re ready to cook, pat the steak dry and allow it warm up. “You can’t put a wet steak in a pan because then you have water in the pan and it wreaks havoc,” he cautions.

Kevin Marple

The cooking process is also fairly simple. Heat up the pan until it’s “ripping hot,” he says, and then add some canola or grapeseed oil as well as salt and pepper. Tesar doesn’t like using olive oil or even a pat of butter but prefers a neutral oil. A steak “has enough protein and enough fat and you don’t need butter. I want to taste beef,” he says. “I don’t want to taste butter.”

Right after the steak has been added to the pan, Tesar quickly lifts it up to allow the oil and rendered fat to coat the bottom of the meat. He then flips the steak just once or twice and lets it cook the same amount of time on both sides, which “ensures evenness of cooking.” (Don’t keep moving it around the pan or flipping it over and over again.) After you get a nice crust, turn the “flame down to a medium to a medium high. You don’t want to char it,” he warns. “You really want to crust it. Brown is the color, not black.”

Once the steak is done, pull it out of the pan and generally let it rest as long as you’ve cooked it.

Do people ever miss the grill marks? Tesar claims that nobody at his successful Dallas restaurant sends their steak back because it’s been cooked in a pan. If anything, they want to know why it tastes so delicious.


8 Things Restaurant Chefs Won't Tell You

Despite what reality TV would have you believe, most restaurant kitchens aren't filled with filth and egos. Yes, things can get loud back there during the dinner rush, but more often than not, you'll find teams of creative and hard-working cooks who love life behind the scenes. To separate restaurant fact from fiction, we turned to chefs and culinary insiders. From cleanliness to who's really cooking your food, read on to find out what it's truly like behind those double doors&mdashand how it affects your meal.

The head chef doesn't usually cook.

The more famous the chef, the less likely they're doing day-to-day work. "Diners are often surprised, but a head chef isn't actually cooking their steak," says Missy Robbins, chef of A Voce Columbus and A Voce Madison in New York City. "People always think I'm back there cooking their fish." Instead, a head chef is focusing on big-picture issues. "We oversee, taste, develop the menu, develop the recipes, teach the cooks and manage the kitchen," she says.

The chefs probably aren't the people buying the food.

"I get asked all the time if I'm up at 4 a.m. to go to the fish market," laughs Robbins. "I would love to live in a small village in Italy and go to the docks every morning, but that's not the reality. We go to the green market, but the bulk of our product comes from vendors." That's because vendors deliver goods straight to the kitchen, allowing chefs more time to concentrate on bigger restaurant details. Farming out this work is also cost-effective, since vendors negotiate prices, quality level and shipping dates with suppliers.

You often can tell how clean the kitchen is by the bathroom.

Sanitation is just as crucial to most restaurants as it is to you. "What you see on Kitchen Nightmares with Chef Ramsay is vile," says one family restaurant owner in McHenry, IL. "The cleanliness of the staff and our equipment is really important." If in doubt, head to the restroom. "If the bathrooms are dirty, you can count on the kitchen being dirty," says Greg Dollarhyde, a chef, former CEO of Baja Fresh and the current CEO of Veggie Grill in California. "It speaks to the overall fastidiousness of the general manager."

Allergies make our jobs tougher.

Allergies are serious, and chefs take them to heart. That's why most get frustrated when patrons pass off a dislike for an actual life-threatening allergy. "It's not fair. There's a difference between being cautious about how we prepare your food and being cautious that we don't kill you," says Bjorn Somlo, owner and chef of Nudel Restaurant in Lenox, MA. Not only are chefs under extra pressure, but they also have to create a separate preparation station in tight quarters, a potential legal landmine. Because of this, and the sky-rocketing rate of allergies, more restaurants are refusing to serve customers with allergies. "It's a matter of safety, and guests shouldn't be offended" when that's done, says Somlo.

Your cook didn't necessarily go to culinary school.

A good chef can come from anywhere&mdashwith or without a degree. "Some of my best cooks were dishwashers two years ago," says Robbins, a culinary school grad, herself. Of her seven pasta makers at A Voce, she says, "Every single one was a dishwasher. They don't come out of school with bad habits&mdashthey just want to learn." Dollarhyde won't even hire culinary school graduates. "They want to come in, cook and go home. We need workers who are going to do everything: cook, clean up and organize."

We sometimes use frozen food.

The bigger the menu, the more mediocre the meal. Why? With that many options, the cooks need too much food on hand to guarantee freshness and fully made-to-order dishes. That means many items are prepared in advance or come together with the help of packaged products. Dollarhyde says a lot of restaurants fake it with sauces, using frozen or jarred varieties instead of made-from-scratch ones. Seafood also commonly comes out of the freezer. "Almost all fish is frozen when it's fresh and then shipped out to restaurants semi-thawed." Robbins says she doesn't use frozen food at her A Voce locations, except for excess homemade stock. Freezing doesn't change the composition, as it would with proteins, starches and produce.

It's true that chefs can be pretty cutthroat.

You think doctors have it bad&mdashmost chefs work six days a week for a minimum of 10 hours a day. "We're a little nuts," says Robbins. "It's a crazy culture of being a tough guy or girl. Kitchens are competitive and you don't want to look wimpy." This is why, as reality TV has shown, chefs often work through injuries or illness. "I think I've called out only twice in my career&mdashand that was for the flu," says Robbins. Adds Dollarhyde, "The restaurant business has always been a harsh mistress. It's a younger person's business. It takes a lot of energy," he says. "It's also rough because you work while other people play. I can't tell you the number of Mother's Days, Father's Days and New Year's Eves I had to work while climbing my way up in the business."

Chefs read your reviews online.

Chefs care about restaurant reviews&mdashespecially yours. While press coverage is vital, chefs are avid followers of Yelp, Twitter and Facebook. "Facebook is a big thing for us," says the McHenry, IL, restaurateur. "We try not to get too caught up in that, but you have to address comments." Somlo agrees. "We absolutely listen to what people have to say. A restaurant doesn't exist without a guest." While some chefs often ignore first-time diners (too subjective), complaints about saltiness (a matter of personal taste) and the type of cuisine served (a misunderstanding of the restaurant's intention), they do pay attention to regulars and recurring criticisms. "If there are a lot of complaints about a particular item, it's my job to ask, 'What are we doing wrong?'" says Dollarhyde. "One bad experience of, 'My food was cold,' is a local issue of execution. But if I see three comments about cold soup, then I'm looking for systemic problems&mdashingredients, preparation or a person&mdashand need to make a change."


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You learn that it's essential to deglaze every pan in culinary school

This is one of those secrets that will completely transform your cooking. When you cook meat or vegetables in a hot pan, little bits inevitably stick to the bottom as you go. You might think these burnt bits belong in the garbage. Well, they do if they're black and actually burnt, but if they're dark brown in color, they can be used as the foundation for creating depth of flavor. Those bits are called fond — the French word for "base" — and they're basically concentrated little flavor nuggets.

What's happening here is something called the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that happens when amino acids and sugars are exposed to heat. When the food gets hot, it starts to brown and caramelize, and some of that reaction sticks to the bottom of the cooking surface. When you add cold liquid to a hot pan, the fond releases and dissolves. Now, that liquid can infuse whatever you're cooking with extra flavor.

You can use any liquid you like to deglaze, from water or stock to apple juice, wine, or cognac. Keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn't burn completely off during cooking. It adds an intense amount of flavor to your food, but it's not best when serving children or anyone who avoids imbibing.


What the Chef Won't Tell You: 10 Don't-Tell Shortcuts from Gourmet Kitchens

Secret Shortcut: Frozen peas
"I learned how to use frozen peas from a famous four-star chef. He told me to get the peas, and I looked for them in the walk-in refrigerator forever. Finally he said, 'They're in the freezer, idiot!' I challenge anyone to find better peas except for one month of the year."

Secret Shortcut: Naan
"At times when I'm pretending to indulge the children, but am really too exhausted to cook, I order pizza. But actually [making Naan Pizza] is my preferred option. This is not much harder to cook than making a phone call, and I feel much happier for it."

Try this simple sweet and sour cranberry chutney for an Asian take on cranberry sauce!

Secret Shortcut: Instant mashed potatoes
"Instant mashed potatoes are a great breading for fish and poultry. When combined with seasoning and used in place of breadcrumbs, they give an awesome flavor and are an easy, fast, and inexpensive ingredient."

Secret Shortcut: Breadcrumbs
Run out of flour, but need to thicken your sauce? "Just stir in breadcrumbs and let them cook a few minutes so they release their starches. Strain the sauce, pressing all the liquid out of the crumbs." The result? A thick sauce without the raw-floury taste on your tongue.

Chef/owner Chanterelle, New York City
Secret Shortcut: Cleaning seafood with salt
"A simple, time-saving tip for cleaning mussels is to soak them for 1 hour in a bowl of salted water. This helps to dislodge the dirt and grit from around the lip of the shells. After soaking, just scrub under cold running water with a stiff brush and the remaining grit should come off easily."

Executive chef of Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza

Secret Shortcut: Ritz crackers
"Ritz crackers are a great shortcut for lobster stuffing. Some chefs typically bake sliced bread, dry it out, and salt, but Ritz crackers offer a great quick and easy alternative. At the restaurant people try to guess what's in the stuffing and no one ever guesses Ritz crackers!"

Even diners at gourmet restaurants crave comfort food, so chef John DeLucie whips up this pot pie recipe at his NYC restaurant, the Waverly Inn.

Executive chef, Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis, New York City

Secret Shortcut: Ice cube trays
Chef Dennis fills up an ice cube tray with pesto and freezes it, creating easy portions. "Depending on how much pesto you need, a quick thawing out of an individual cube or two creates a nice sauce for pasta or chicken, fresh mozzarella, and summer tomatoes."


20 Secrets Chefs Will Never Tell You

The restaurant world might seem glitzy to the uninitiated, but what goes on behind the kitchen door isn't always so glamorous. For starters, while what we see from talk-show chefs might suggest otherwise, being a real-life chef is an incredibly demanding job, both physically and mentally.

In many cases, they're on their feet for twelve-plus hours per day, working hard in a hot kitchen alongside cooks and dishwashers to deliver the best possible finished product to your table. And even though most people are aware that chefs the head honchos in the kitchen, diners often have zero idea what actually goes on behind the scenes. Here's what you need to know, straight from chefs themselves, about how to pick the best item on the menu, when it's okay to send your food back to the kitchen, and how to make any dish you cook at home taste restaurant-quality. For more on restaurant facts, check out the 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won't Tell You.

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Just because they've got their own show doesn't necessarily mean they know what they're talking about, apparently. "Many chefs on TV don't even know how to hold a knife properly," says Reddit user and chef BookwormJane. "Also, some of them put oil in a pot of boiling water for pasta to prevent it from sticking together. IT DOES NOT prevent it from sticking together. What really prevents pasta from sticking together is boiling it in salty water." And for more on cooking tips, check out the 10 Best Foods for Your Heart.

Yes, sending your dish back to the kitchen for a silly reason is rude, but if there's actually something wrong with your order or how the food is cooked? Chefs won't mind if you send it back.

"As a restaurant we only want one thing at the end of the day, for every single person who pays a check to leave feeling glad to have paid it," says chef and Reddit user Joshselbase." If something is not to your liking, at least in any decent-or-better restaurant, for God's sake, say something to your server. He or she needs your tip and therefore for you to be happy." Plus, they'd rather you say good things about the restaurant to friends and others in the neighborhood than bad things. "So don't be shy, any restaurant that's not a complete dump wants and needs happy customers." And for more facts about your favorite restaurant, here are 15 Secrets Your Bartender Won't Tell You.

No, that doesn't mean you can put an order in after-hours, but it does mean you should probably cut the people making your food some slack, because they're often working crazy-long days. "The kitchen is 24 hours, people don't realize how much preparation goes into cooking en masse," Ashley Davis, chef and owner of Copper Pot Seddon in Melbourne, Australia told INSIDER. "We often cook food through the night to keep up, and chefs work 14-hour days." And for more on power foods, these are the 10 Best Foods for Over-40 Brains.

Even if you've made a big stink about sending it back. But it does happen occasionally. When Food Network Magazine surveyed 100 chefs, only 13 percent said they'd witnessed a cook do something unsavory to a customer's dish. The worst that can happen? "Someone once ran a steak through a dishwasher after the diner sent it back twice," one chef told the mag. "Ironically, the customer was happy with it then." And for more on the world of fine dining, here's What the Best Chefs Really Think About Michelin Stars.

If you're after an amazing meal, it's a good idea to stick with what the restaurant knows how to do well. "If it's a steakhouse, I don't order the pasta. If it's a burger joint, I'll probably order a burger, not a chicken wrap," says Reddit user Budgiejen. "Don't send the kitchen into a frenzy because they can't remember how to prepare your food. And order something they're good at making. Don't go for half-assed. You're paying for this. Get something that will be good." And know the 19 Fancy Menu Phrases Everyone Should Know.

Apparently, chefs find it incredibly offensive. Why? You can't taste the quality of the meat when you burn it to a crisp. For more on eating your best, This is What a Perfect Day of Eating Looks Like.

If you find yourself getting peeved about how long your food is taking, know that chefs also prefer for food to be served quickly and efficiently. "Even myself, when I go into a restaurant and I'm waiting too long, I'm like 'Where's my food?'" chef Nina Clemente told INSIDER. "And then I remember my own job and I'm like 'Oh yeah, maybe they ran out of this particular ingredient.'"

Which means you've probably had food cooked by a sick chef before. "The thing about being a chef is that's pretty hard for somebody to just step in and take your place, especially if you're a head chef," says Niall Harbison, a former chef. "Seriously, I've seen chefs with everything from the flu right through to diarrhoea cooking away, serving hundreds of people while quietly dying." Yikes.

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Every menu has those hard-to-prepare items, and sometimes kitchen staff are secretly praying no one orders them. One of the worst? A charcuterie board. "If you have 20 to 25 items on your menu, and your charcuterie board has 8 to 10 cheeses and 6 to 10 meats, it takes too much valuable time to prepare each board," explains Reddit user Dalebrower. "Times that by 20/30 boards a night, plus preparing other meals, and timing the food perfectly during dinner rush is a mess."

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Chefs are picky about what they spend money on. "A good rule of thumb for prioritizing what things are worth spending more on is how much you are going to process them before you eat them," says Reddit user CremeFraichePlz. "The less you do with an ingredient the more the outcome relies on its quality. You can make a lot of cheap/subpar stuff good with time, skill and flavoring."

Ever wonder what the difference between your homemade pasta and the pasta you get in a restaurant it? Sometimes, it's as simple as the oil you use to finish the plate off. "Invest in a bottle of high-quality olive oil," Osteria Mozza chef Nancy Silverton told the Food Network. "Just a small drizzle can really bring out the flavor of pizza, mozzarella, pasta, fish and meat."

"Skipping holidays, family gatherings, weddings, and funerals to hump a shift on the line isn't always appreciated by family," Daniel Holzman, chef-owner of the Meatball Shop in New York City told Thrillist. "But your restaurant is your family and that's what makes working in a restaurant so special." So if you're eating out on a holiday, be extra nice.

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"When I was a cook I used to hate making quesadillas," says Reddit user Dougdahead. "We made them in skillets and I only had six burners to cook everything in my part of the kitchen. When groups would come in and order four quesos and some other dishes and I would get yelled at because I took longer than the 15 minute window we were given. Drove me mad sometimes. Yes they are easy to make. Just they take up too much space and cause a backup of tickets when they come in bunches."

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You might think that cash is the trick to getting a swanky reservation just a few days in advance, but only one out of 100 chefs in the Food Network Magazine survey said they'd accept money for an in-demand table. When in doubt, book ahead. And bone on up all our our great tips in The Sophisticated Man's Guide to Fine Dining.

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Chefs have food-related guilty pleasures. "I like Taco Bell's seven-layer burritos, I confess," says Reddit user and former chef, Trebuchetfight. "Even though most the time they don't get the layers properly lengthwise, and every ingredient is just a runny paste. I don't know why I like them, because if I made a burrito like that, please shoot me."

If it feels like your waiter is insisting you order a certain dish, it's probably not all in your head. In Food Network Magazine's survey, 95 percent of chefs said they ask their waitstaff to direct customers toward specific dishes on the menu.

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Complicated dishes aren't always better, and menus sometimes hide behind fancy seasonings or cooking processes to make their food seem better. "Sometimes you need to leave it alone," says chef and Reddit user dukeofbun. "That steak. That piece of fish. That stock. Just because you're constantly moving doesn't mean you're improving your food."

Often, they're just what needs to be sold quickly before it goes bad. "As a chef, if you've ordered a bunch of chicken or fish and have way too much about to go off in the fridge, then the first place you think to put them is the specials board," explains Harbison.

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But it's generally done to cover the costs of essential expenses, not to rip you off. "We serve 'hot fresh baked pretzels' for $8.95," says Reddit user Kwyjino8. "We get 'em by the case frozen. Roughly $75 per box, 100 per box. We get 33 orders per box and one to eat while figuring out math. 33 orders X $8.95 = $295.35. So profit is $220.35 (minus the cost). So with that $220.35 we pay the electric, gas, rent, taxes, staff, equipment, etc."

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After a long week of work, chefs don't generally want to cook something elaborate on their day off. So what do they make for themselves? ""I cook very simply at home," Justin Bogle, chef at Gilt told Reader's Digest. "It is usually just pasta or a grilled steak with vegetables." Sounds pretty great to us.

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Food plating and presentation matters

When consumers dine out, they expect their food to taste great and be visually appealing. That, along with your restaurant&rsquos interior design , are all instrumental to the quality of their dining experience.

When plating your dishes, each element matters equally: color, arrangement, balance, texture, and how easy it is for guests to eat. If you hit each of these out of the park, you&rsquore setting yourself up to get rave reviews and user-generated content that you can share on your Facebook and Instagram for some extra publicity.