Among the many facets of life that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed in our everyday routines, the change to our own personal supply chains has been one of the more impactful. As availability of common household staples such as toilet paper has waxed and waned, the pantry has been an especially hard hit area. The last few months have seen shortages in flour and yeast (mostly temporary, and attributed to the flurry of amateur sourdough bakers), as well as more long term disruptions in meat and other foods relying on centralized processing. In addition, shopping online leaves us subject to the grocery store’s stocking policies, not to mention restrictions in delivery or pick up slots and in-store shopping numbers.
For many people, this uncertainty in availability has led to a reconsidering of how their living spaces are organized and designed — trends that are carrying over to future interior design considerations. In this three-part series, I’ll be looking at a few of those areas and how to organize them like the restaurant professionals do.
In a commercial kitchen, groceries (or food deliveries, since it comes from suppliers rather than retail grocery stores) are carefully tracked. Margins are slim and ingredients make up a large part of a restaurant’s operating budget (which is why the mandated closures saw many operators working on offloading these perishable items for any sort of return on investment by pivoting to grocery retail or meal kits).
Your own food costs, regardless of budget, also account for a component of your everyday life, so make the most of them with these three tips.
Examine your entryway:
In a restaurant kitchen, deliveries are received and itemized based on a list before they get anywhere near the walk in. Pandemic measures have many of us wiping down our groceries anyway, so take this opportunity to introduce a little organization into your life.
• Designate an area in your front hall specifically for groceries and clean it before your order gets anywhere near storage.
• Keep varying sizes of bins (colour coded — you don’t want raw meat mixing with fresh produce) in a small stack right by the door, so that you can wipe down the item and place it in the appropriate bin (this method also works well if you are delivering groceries to family members or friends).
• Be sure to keep a clear path between the entryway and the pantry so that bins can be transferred quickly and easily.
Use a list to track items:
One of the important jobs for the senior chef is to approve deliveries and sign off on inventory using a system of lists — after all, running out of tomatoes halfway through a Saturday night service is bound to lead to disaster.
• Once you’ve got your groceries sanitized and sorted, wash your hands and then do a quick scan to compare it to your order (print it out ahead of time or use an app to track it on your phone), highlighting any item that expires quickly and has to be used first. These items will be unloaded last to keep it at the front of the pantry.
• If an item wasn’t available on this grocery run, immediately put it into the list for the next order so that you won’t forget by the time it rolls around.
Stock (and stack) appropriately:
A refrigerated restaurant walk in is different from a home set up (unless you’re very lucky) due to temperature control and amount of storage. Nevertheless, you can borrow some steps from professionals to make it easier to see and use the items in your pantry.
• For items in the fridge, always put raw meats on shelves underneath produce, to avoid thawing meat dripping and contaminating the foodstuff below. If your fridge doesn’t allow for this setup, consider transferring raw items to sealed containers or resealable bags (take the opportunity to toss in a quick marinade while you’re at it to get a jump on dinner plans).
• Transfer dry foodstuff such as flour, cereals or breadcrumbs to clear, stackable containers, and write the contents and expiry date on the top and sides with a wax pencil, labels or erasable marker (yes, even flour can go rancid, so keep an eye on how fast you are using it and adjust future orders accordingly).
• Remove prepared freezer foods from packaging and either copy ingredient lists and preparation instructions onto a label or take a photo with your phone and file it in a dedicated folder.
• Consider taking a tip from retail and stack foods in a vertical line from front to back, rather than side to side. Place older ingredients up front, while newer items go to the back.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series to discover tips on how to set up your kitchen like a professional restaurant back of house to safely and effectively cook during a pandemic.