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cooking at home / cooking in a restaurant

so, after cooking for a living for years, i'm leaving the industry. i feel like i have to re-learn how to cook at home. has anyone else experienced this? what was it like? did you make funny mistakes / make too much / find yourself frustrated? what have you learned?

it's not that i'm not enjoying it, and i'm not totally incapacitated, just confused and adjusting to it. the whole process is really making me feel new appreciation for people who are really skilled home cooks. thoughts, anyone?

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  1. Um... it will never be the same for you as the home cook who enjoys it. I haven't cooked in a pro kitchen (full time anyway- I'll do side jobs like catering as favors every now and then) in 2 years and cooking in my kitchen still has a feeling of "rigidity" and structure as if I were on a line. I mean you don't have the same need for urgency, but I've felt like my thoughts in cooking for my friends and family is "let's get this out there" type of mentality. I'm really focused and just want to "get the food out" when I should just slow down, be with my friends, enjoy the wine and put on a show... in the end, that's what they want.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Veggietales

      that's interesting. i am finding it hard to tell what i would ike to eat, and then to cook that. i am too used to pleasing other people.

      i used to make pastries, though, i never spent much time on the line, so that hasn't been so bad. there is little use for my perfect brioche or whatever at home. i find myself to be curiously inefficient at home. home kitchens are not set up as well for efficiency as restaurants - it's amazing.

      also, do you find yourself making food that is way more unhealthy than most people at home? it is just habit for me, to finish things in butter, you know?

      1. re: pigtails

        I have explained to people that I can't really eat what I cook, I'll taste it, but I still have a "motivation" issue of preparing something from scratch, then sitting by myself to enjoy it... (plus having to do the dishes, etc.). So I opt for easy, one pot type meals for myself.

        Yes, home kitchens are a joke. I don't have enough counter space, BTUs or ventilation(not to mention I'm missing a steamer, a sallie, a flat top and a deep fryer!) Which adds to the discouragement of taking on complex meals to be cooked my home. Evil as this sounds, I dont' mind cooking in someone else's place, cause they usually feel obliged to clean since I'm doing the cooking, all part of my evil plan ;-)

        And yes, I have complete disregard for healthy cooking, and always thinking about what to add to make the outcome of better taste be the star, and if that means more animal fat or sodium, so be it.

        1. re: Veggietales

          I have to laugh and agree with you about the BTUs and no hood/ventilation! Not to mention a convection oven at eye level with doors that open out to the sides rather than pulling the door open from the top to swing down. Come to think of it, I really miss a deck oven with steam capacity.

          As for counter space, I've worked in kitchens where the counter space at my station was about as big as a sheetpan. I had to pull a rolling rack out of the corner to get sheetpans on/off the rack, and do some gymnastics to get the oven open during prep. Also lived in a flat in NYC with less counter space that that, so my current kitchen is a dream. I just wish I had more cupboard/storage space to get stuff off the counters!

        2. re: pigtails

          Pigtails, I feel the same way when i am cooking at home. I was self taught(ugh) but I paid my way though college by working on the line and then moving over to pastry when the she(why is the pastry station the most common place for a lady too cook) when she took maternity leave and didn't come back. There are so many recipes that I love to cook,(whats the point to making 6 doz cannoli when there is only 3 people?) but it's not worth the time and effort to make many products for a 2 person home. I still volunteer at soup kitchens and other functions, but there is a certain attraction to the speed and stress of the line when you are in the weeds on a weekend evening. I find that cooking with someone who has never cooked for a living to be stressful as they don't plan and are extremely unorganized.

          P.S. I thought I was the only person who has no desire to eat wheat I just spent 3 hours cooking.

      2. It's much easier except there are no one to do the dirty pots and pans or sweep the floor. Don't have to worry about consistency, freaking out because you're missing an ingredient, start to enjoy food that you couldn't look at because you so sick of making it a thousand times. The difficult part is finding the great ingredients or having to pay retail for them.

        1. When I cook at home I really miss the space organization and the equipment, and everything seems impossibly difficult, even simple stuff. The refrigerator annoys me. It's all too much of a pain somehow. I'm too (relatively) disorganized at home. I tend to eat cubes of cheese or fish sticks or pickle sandwiches anymore.

          1 Reply
          1. re: NeNePie

            In my "dream house" kitchen, I'd want a lowboy with a benchtop for my center or side island, and a separate reach-in in an adjacent room with a pantry and storage, preferably near the garage (or "receiving" area when I bring home groceries!).

          2. I learned early to cook a lot of food (parents + 6 siblings). Then, when I went to culinary school, we'd cook every thing in huge portions. Then I worked in restaurants, which was great/fine....but then I became a private chef for 2 people.

            Now I find that I always make WAY too much food. But what I really miss about cooking in a restaurant is the deep fat fryer and the steam table (and the prep cooks and the clean-up crew). I still have a REALLY hard time cleaning up the big mess after a dinner party.

            1. One thing that still throws me about cooking and entertaining at home is that we don't keep "regular" iodized salt at home. We have about a dozen salts to chose from (kosher, sea, fleur de sel, sel gris, in coarse, flake, etc), and we keep them in glass jars for storage, with a small pinch bowl of kosher on the kitchen counter. This throws many of our guest off.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Non Cognomina

                This was a fascinating thread for me to read - I never even thought about all the expected professional kitchen equipment you'd have to do without in a home kitchen due to space constraints (or cost constraints).

                But Non Cog, I'm curious - why are guests thrown off by not having iodized salt - do you mean not having a salt shaker on the table? I no longer have one of those either, other than the light green Jadeite salt/pepper shakers on the back of my stove from my grandma's house - but they're more for show than actual use.

                This is where individual salt dips next to each place setting filled with kosher salt would work. I used to collect various shapes of cut glass salt dips, and still have a few left. I prefer putting them on the table with a small salt spoon (usually silver) and let guests use them. They love the idea of their own little salt receptacle. Just a thought.

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  I think it throws off my family and friends who come visit, most from the rural midwest. When they think of salt they think of Morton's iodized salt in a blue container with a pour spout that you fill your shaker with. Kosher salt, sea salt and specialty salts are somewhat "exotic" for them, and they don't understand how we could be out of "real" salt. They also don't seem keen on the idea of sprinkling salt with your fingers. I suppose it's just their personal preference.

              2. i miss having someone wash my dishes, pots, and sweep the floor for me when i cook at home. (maybe thats what my future husbands' job will be) haha
                i definitely prefer to cook in a professional environment because there was absolutely every ingredient or piece of equiptment i needed at hand.
                when i cook for myself i make salads, sandwiches, and other various simple things. i'm just so used to cooking for other people. i rarely go through the trouble to make something more involved for myself.

                1. Butter.

                  Electric burners at home vs. Gas high-power in pro kitchen.

                  Lack of Deep Fryer in kitchen (including oil bubbling over when I'm a moron and throw in a batch of fries too fast) and setting the stove on fire. (Although, not worrying about the ANSUL system going off and making a 2-day kitchen-closing mess is nice) but the fireman laugh at us.

                  Lack of ventilation. For some reason, they seem to build townhouses with kitchens in the middle of the structure and NOWHERE to put even a basic exhaust fan. Go figure.

                  Lack of extra storage/refrigeration/freezer space - oh and an ice maker.

                  Lack of extra pots, pans, hotel pans, bain-maries, and places to hold prepped or par-cooked or hot foods before "service".

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sethboy

                    For the last several years I've successfully held out for a gas stove in my apartment hunts. Landlords seem to think it's a bit odd when I respond to the ad by asking if there's gas or electric in the kitchen, but once you get used to cooking with gas, you don't want to go back!

                  2. What a fascinating post! I've never cooked in an industrial kitchen, and my kitchen is galley-sized--like, half-size stove, and everything's hanging from the walls and on shelves near the ceiling (I get out the stepstool at least twice a night, and I shudder to think of an earthquake.).

                    That said, I feel like I've become a better cook with so little space. I have plenty of gadgets, but I can't go too crazy with the big stuff because our refrigerator top is only so big. So I've learned to make do with other items, and economize space, wash dishes as I go, etc. My open window is my exhaust fan.

                    I don't even know what I'll do when I get a real kitchen. I'll probably be annoyed because everything's out of arm's reach. :)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MuppetGrrl

                      plenty of restaurants are tiny with space like a new york apartment! ;)

                      i once worked at a resort that had a HUGE kitchen and you had to run around to get things.

                      1. re: MuppetGrrl

                        I learned a lot cooking for 12 years in a postage-stamp sized kitchen. Like yours, mine was tiny with a half-size stove, one miniscule dot of countertop which had to also be the dish draining area. No pantry, very limited storage, the list goes on. I still had people over all the time, and got very good at swapping out various surfaces while I cooked. Now that I have a large kitchen with great appliances (and still not quite enough counterspace -- why?) I still do all the things you mention ... clean up as I go, creatively stack the pantry, and skeptically approach every new piece of cooking equipment. I still don't have a microwave ... I couldn't possibly have had one in my old place so I got really good at reheating food without one and don't miss it now.

                        To the original topic, I would think that the low BTUs would be the hardest thing to adjust to in a home kitchen. I never cooked professionally but worked in several kitchens and know how hot the stove was when it was cranking.

                        Edited to add: I've always wanted a salamander at home. My English relatives have them and it's the perfect thing for making a full English breakfast with grilled tomatoes streaky bacon and the works.

                      2. Hello, pigtails (and others)-

                        Unlike many of the other posters, I loved leaving the pro kitchen and getting to cook for myself. Even when i was pulling 15 hour days in the pastry shop, I'd still come home and cook for myself.

                        I lived alone for most of the time I was a kitchen professional so only knew how to cook for 1000+ or for 1. Now that I have spent a year with a desk job (well actually, i'm basically unemplyed since the summer)- I love taking all of the skills I learned and polished in kitchens and bringing them home- I do miss some of the big equipment, and definitely the BTUs, but my roommate loves having a fridge full of mise en place veg, clean cutlery, good quality pots and pans, and a three course meal to come home to after work.

                        As for wether or not ex-cooks eat healthier- compared to the average 9-5er, we eat like gods! My roommate (also on a narrow budget) says she's lost 10 lbs since I started making salads, fresh vegetables and interesting, non pre-packaged snacks. The occaisional nugget of butter or roux thickened sauces is negligible compared to healthy well balanced meals.

                        Enjoy your kitchen liberation!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: lunchbox

                          i'd say we cooks eat worse than the general population. grab and go, whatever you can stuff down standing or get at the fast food joint thats open 24/7.

                        2. my mom was a professional chef for yearrs and doesn't seem to enjoy cooking anymore unless it's a big holiday.It seems to me you have to re-prioritize what you want out of the process. no offense, but finishing everything with butter seems like it would make every dish more similar than they needed to be. spend some time w/ your relatives who are good cooks. also be open to recipes and styles from cookbooks that you're not familiar with.
                          Also, keep it simple, fresh, unaldulterated. that might help.

                          1. Yes! Excellent post. After years of restaurant cooking it is absolutely impossible for me to make less than 12 quarts of soup or sauces. I just start adding things and away we go. So, I compensate with a secondary gain by having a good sized and lots of tupperware. Saves time on days I don't feel like cooking.

                            1. I really enjoy cooking at home and do so almost nightly. Last night I 'catered' a party my parents were holding for 25 people, and found there was just -so- much more prep involved so as to make the evening flow without creating long lags between getting dishes out and, frankly, creating a huge mess in the kitchen (where everyone seemed to enjoy congregating).

                              The prep didn't bother me so much, as I usually prep heavily at home before cooking. But I found people were sooooooo picky; some are simply meat/potatoes, some can't eat milk proteins, some can't have alcohol. Having to answer to a half dozen people about what is in the food whilst trying to ready the next dish really drove me nuts. And my heart sank when someone looked longingly at a dish but had to avoid it due to an ingredient they couldn't consume.

                              Funny enough, after spending two days meticiously preparing food for this party, when I realized I hadn't eaten in 24 hours all I wanted to devour was the pork and beans my grandmother had going on to bring to her church group. It was like some strange chef comfort food.