Have you ever wondered how a professional chef cooks in their kitchen at home? Starting with a well-organized kitchen is the first step, so I thought I would introduce you to an expert in the field that has some helpful tips on how to utilize your home kitchen like a pro.
The kitchen is a comfortable place for chef Gilbert Altschul. It’s also no surprise that food author, Lindsay Christians, titled him “The Self Starter” in her new book, Madison Chefs, which portrays Gil’s journey to becoming a chef and restaurant owner by age thirty. He is now the head chef and owner of three successful establishments: Grampas Pizzeria, Gib’s Bar, and Bandit Tacos & Coffee. Gil has always been a hard worker and doesn’t settle for mediocre. Every detail is planned out in his restaurants, from the dinnerware, the type of music played over the speakers, to the fresh flowers placed on the bar; he notices every detail and has designed a high level of execution with the least amount of mistakes possible. Once upon a time, I watched his swiftness move in the kitchen with accuracy and incredible multitasking skills. The pressure of working in a professional kitchen is real, and not everyone is cut out for it. I am certainly not.
I’m not ashamed to say that I may have purposefully sought out his establishments for the “food and wine”, but secretly hoping to catch a conversation with him, you know, about restaurant design business stuff ;). Well, over four years and one baby later, my ‘purposeful’ visits to the cafe shop he owned (some might call it stalking), turned into a wonderful life partnership.
Being a kitchen designer and married to a chef does have it’s advantages! So I thought I would interview Gil and ask him to share his kitchen organizational tips, what his most-reached-for tools are, and advice for cooking at home. Here’s what he said.
What is most important to you in designing a kitchen?
Getting it right. Unfortunately this only comes with experience. With each kitchen, bar, or space that I have designed, there are always a few things that I would have done differently in hindsight. I have learned that every station needs room to move around. Don’t cram things or make them difficult to access. Always allow for more space than what you think you need. I have gotten better and learned along the way, but a relationship with a confident and knowledgable designer may have saved me some trouble along the way.
What are 3 kitchen tools you can’t live without?
A sharp knife. Try chefknivestogo.com. They have a huge selection of beautiful Japanese steel, which is definitely my preference and they are based locally in Fitchburg, WI.
A family heirloom dutch oven. I have my grandmothers. I think of her every time I use it to make soups or braises or anything of that sort.
A microplane is great for zesting fresh citrus or finely grating anything from cheese to bottarga to tonka.
What’s your rule of thumb for having a well stocked kitchen that doesn’t feel cluttered?
Haven’t quite figured that out yet, but the open shelving in our kitchen definitely encourages minimalism.
What organizational principles from restaurant kitchens would you implement in the home?
Use deli cups for everything. They are cheap and stack great. Keep a Bain-marie of your favorite tools close at hand.
Any tricks for keeping the kitchen orderly when entertaining at home?
Have friends that enjoy pitching in.
What kitchen tools do you find yourself reaching for the most?
The ones stated above…. Plus a mandolin, hammered Damascus spoon because it makes me feel fancy, a tweezers or tongs, honing steel to keep knives sharp, and a tea strainer to catch citrus seeds.
Which storage habits have you taken from the restaurant and implemented at home?
deli cups, deli cups, deli cups.
I notice that many of your restaurants have open shelving, what functional purpose do they serve?
We are typically trying our best to be efficient and every move matters, why tuck things away when they can be ready at hand.
What’s on your home kitchen wish list, if anything?
A better exhaust. I feel like I smoke out my family every time I cook, so I end up doing a lot of grilling.
If you could share one piece of advice for cooks at home, what would it be?
Throw out the recipe and cook with your heart. If you truly pay attention to what you are doing and taste every step of the way you will learn and grow as a cook so much more than following a recipe it to a tee. It is frightening at first and you will have some failures but you will learn so much. Soups are a great place to start. Once you learn some basic techniques they are forgiving.
Calnin Design Studio is a full-service interior design firm serving Wisconsin and beyond. Katie and her team specialize in designing laid back luxury homes for clients seeking an intentional and slow living lifestyle.
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