It’s July, and it’s hot. This time of year, my “cooking”
primarily consists of raw or lightly sautéed foods (just
check out this month’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®
cooking column if you don’t believe me). That means, because
the kitchen is not getting much use, it is an ideal time to get
it organized. Let’s go for it!
The first thing to realize is that every kitchen is arranged just
a bit differently. Unless you are doing a total rehab of the kitchen,
you really can’t do much changing of the basic organization
and layout. However, by thinking about tasks, you can get the most
out of whatever space you have.
The second thing to think about is how you use your kitchen. I’m
guessing that your primary diet is NOT prepared or carry-out food,
otherwise you would not be reading this website (or, hopefully,
you are desiring change! Trust me, you CAN change, and you will
always celebrate your decision to make the transformation).
Thirdly, I’m going to ask you to throw out everything you
have heard about kitchen organization, particularly the [largely]
ridiculous “kitchen triangle.” Seriously, this concept
suggests that all kitchen organization should be centered on the
triangular relationship between the sink, stove and refrigerator.
I say this is ridiculous because there is SO much more to cooking
than these three items. Sometimes, I cook a meal and never open
the refrigerator (but I do open the pantry, or a storage cabinet,
or other area, and I certainly use work surfaces!). Sometimes, when
it’s hot and I’m thriving on salads, I don’t need
the stove (but I do need the pantry and work surfaces again!). For
good hygiene, I admit that the sink is used every day. Still, do
you see my point? One must consider all storage units, pantries,
work surfaces/counters, and work stations (where appliances are
located) in organizing a kitchen. Of course, when multiple people
are using the kitchen, maintaining organization is difficult, but
sometimes rules need to be made and enforced.
I’m going to use my own past kitchens as examples, and hopefully
you can glean enough information from these case studies that you
can apply to your own situation. Or just call me for a customized
Work surfaces: I truly believe
that poorly planned workspace is the cause of most people’s
lack of cooking desire. Regardless of the size of your home, you
have a finite amount of workspace. Therefore, it is important to
maximize what you have, often requiring double or triple duty. Countertops,
kitchen islands and table tops all make great work surfaces. In
my first three apartments, I had very few countertops, so my combo
kitchen/dining room table became auxiliary work space. Now, my fourth
apartment has a HUGE kitchen, but less counter space than any previous
apartment! I bought a 5’ kitchen island that sits right smack
dab in the middle of the triangle represented by the stove, sink
and refrigerator. This placement prevents my moving between these
three kitchen areas, and in doing that, I realized I don’t
want to move between those three areas! I like having my island
as a central zone, for collecting ingredients, for doing prep work,
for cooling finished products. Sometimes, when my cooking is really
in full gear, I use my little breakfast table, the top of a short
bookshelf, and sometimes even my dining room table as additional
work areas. In general, though, whatever your workspace situation,
keep it clean and tidy (not always easy; I’ve been known to
be rather careless!)
Cupboards, Shelves, Pantries, Drawers:
I’d always taken cupboards and cabinets for granted, having
had them in every one of my homes … until the most recent!
When I looked at the apartment, I completely missed the fact that
it had no cabinets on the walls! However, it did have two large
pantries (well, one was just a utility closet). I installed shelves
in the utility closet. I used stacking bins to keep small items
separate from one another and easily accessible. I found a couple
of small shelving units at yard sales that fit the larger pantry
perfectly. I brought in some data storage boxes to store a variety
of table décor items. And I bought the above mentioned kitchen
island that had drawers and cabinets underneath.
Too often, existing shelves/drawers are too deep, and “stuff”
just gets thrown in, with some of becoming permanently buried and
fossilized (I’m a former paleontologist; trust me!). So, as
mentioned above, I use stacking bins, drawer dividers and vertical
pasta jars (easier to see what type of pasta I have, esthetically
pleasing, and much easier to use than digging around for bags which
are susceptible to pantry moths) to use available space optimally.
Next, I group like things together (where have you heard that before?
Oh yes! In my previous columns!). For instance, I stack all of my
skillets in one pile, and all of my cooking pots in another one,
nesting smaller ones inside of larger ones. I store my tall, thin,
flat items (cooking sheets, flat graters, pizza pans/stone, etc.)
vertically on one side of a cabinet. Mixing bowls can be nested
to occupy less space. I have one small drawer reserved for my cutlery
(with a partitioned insert), another for all of my measuring spoons
and cups, yet another for knives (again, with dividers inserted).
“Everyday” dishes are in one place, while “special”
dishes are elsewhere (they are in the dining room in beautiful hutches
and buffets, which is an option for you to consider).
Finally, make the results of organizing work to your advantage.
Whenever you decide on a home for something (or group of somethings),
consider the frequency if its/their use. Rarely used? Stick it on
the top shelf in back. Commonly used? Put it at eye level right
smack dab in the front half of the shelf, or at the front of a drawer.
Never used? Donate it to a charity, give it to a friend, or sell
it at a yard sale.
Appliances and gadgets: I know
some people who measure their proficiency as cooks by the number
of appliances (and gadgets) they own. Truth be told, I think it’s
the other way around. Those people who can get by, make do, and
excel with a minimum of specialized equipment, be they appliances
or gadgets, are the truly skilled cooks. I laugh when I see TV chefs
talk about the “latest gadget” or the “hottest
trend” or whatever. My two most frequently used knives were
given to me by my mother after she bought them at a garage sale
in 1978. I use them daily, and take them to all speaking/demonstration
engagements. Clearly, I don’t need the latest or the hottest
or the coolest or any other superlative … all I need is functional!
Let’s assume you’ve identified those appliances and
gadgets you “need.” Most gadgets are non-electrical,
and are small, so I also have a drawer devoted to them (OK, I have
two drawers, but I’m a culinary professional, and they really
are small drawers). Keep them together; they have a tendency to
wander and invade other areas!
Appliances, on the other hand, tend to be bigger, bulkier and electricity-dependent.
If you have adequate counter space, you can keep them out (although,
in my case, with an older home, my access to electrical is severely
limited, which provides yet another constraint on appliance-placement).
If your kitchen is suitable, you can install what is usually called
an appliance hutch (an enclosed portion of the counter that keeps
the appliances dust-free, but convenient). You might consider stacking
items: My microwave is on top of a bookcase, and my toaster oven
is on top of the microwave. If something is rarely used, keep it
in a cabinet and just haul it out for special circumstances; that’s
what I do with my blender (and what I should do with my espresso
maker, which is usually only used for company … do as I say,
not as I do!). Consider whether you really need all of those appliances.
As with gadgets, consider donating your under-used appliances to
a charity, giving them to friends, or selling them.
Cookbooks and recipes: Admittedly,
my cookbook collection is a wee bit excessive. Not everyone needs
six bookcases of various sizes in their kitchen; some would argue
that I don’t, either. Petty jealousies aside, it is vital
that cookbooks and recipes be organized. How do you think? By ingredient?
By cuisine (regional/ethnic)? By chef/author? By technique? By taking
some time to identify how your brain categorizes topics, you will
save LOTS of time in the future when trying to locate specific recipes.
This is true not only for books, but also recipe cards; organize
your recipe card box in a way that YOU understand and think. I have
applied the concept even further to reference files (torn from magazines,
newspapers, and handouts from others’ cooking presentations).
My dear friend Beverly even keeps a file folder and notebook of
her favorite recipes: she’ll prepare a dish, and if she loves
it, she’ll photocopy the recipe and place it in a “favorites”
file for easy access. That doesn’t work for me, but it’s
a great organizational idea worth sharing (and implementing).
So far, I’ve dealt primarily with inorganic items (dishes,
appliances, books). There is a comparable need to organize organic
items (also known as food, whether it’s wet, dry, cold, fresh,
canned, frozen, etc.), particularly since the heart of the harvest
season is approaching, and we need to be ready to preserve nature’s
bounty. Tune in for August’s episode of “As The World