How to Organize Your Kitchen Like a Professional Chef – The New York Times


The kitchen-ware entrepreneur Ellen Bennett shares tips for keeping food labeled, spices sorted and drawers in perfect order.

Ellen Bennett, founder of the culinary and lifestyle brand Hedley & Bennett, runs the kitchen of her hillside Echo Park home with the same rigorous organization of a professional restaurant. CreditCreditJulia Stotz

In kitchens the world over, the French culinary phrase mise en place has come to mean “everything in its place.” In practice, it’s a codified philosophy among chefs in which every mixing bowl, every spice and every tool consistently returns to a designated shelf space. For Ellen Bennett, the Los Angeles-based founder and C.E.O. of the culinary and lifestyle brand Hedley & Bennett, that system is a way of life. An exacting standard of organization, she learned as a line cook at restaurants like Los Angeles’s Bäco Mercat and the two-Michelin-starred Providence, is what keeps fast-paced kitchens running smoothly. “When you have a place for everything, you don’t have to think twice,” she says, because there’s no searching for what you need. “It’s about not having to do the extra work.”

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Today, Bennett no longer works in restaurants. Almost seven years ago, she launched Hedley & Bennett under the simple premise of giving cooks more dignified workwear, swapping out the standard cheap synthetic aprons for top-grade linens and canvas. She now sells to thousands of restaurants and countless aspiring home cooks, retailing at shops that include Whole Foods and Sur La Table. (Next up, she’ll serve as the Creative at Large for Downtown Los Angeles’s forthcoming Firehouse Hotel.) Despite turning her culinary experience into a multimillion-dollar business, Bennett still retains the discipline and know-how she learned from working back-of-house — and continues to abide by the codes of mise en place in the kitchen of her own sunny Echo Park home.

Mixing the minimalism of Marie Kondo with the functional efficiency of a fine-dining cook, Bennett walks T through the cabinets, pantry and drawers of her kitchen, passing on the methodologies she’s learned from master chefs — because, as she puts it, “just throwing things in a drawer is selling yourself short.”

The cutting board is one of the few items she leaves permanently on the countertop. CreditJulia Stotz

Bennett is a huge fan of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” the book and Netflix series by chef Samin Nosrat that focuses on those four elements as the pillars of flavor. Similarly, Bennett believes that all cookware falls under the four pillars of “prep, cook, serve, store,” and should be divided accordingly. Her drawer marked “PREP” includes tools like mixing bowls, her mortar and pestle, a scale and a measuring glass, while the “COOK” drawer is full of pots and pans. Items for serving — plates, bowls and glasses — are in the cupboard, her resealable containers are all stacked in a drawer of their own, and never shall the four ever meet.

The “PREP” drawer is reserved for specific tools: mixing bowls, mortar and pestle, measuring glass and the like. (As far as measuring glasses are concerned, she says, just one will do.) CreditJulia Stotz

“Knowing there’s a zone for everything makes it easier to just go and find,” says Bennett, whose refrigerator contents have been grouped based on flavor profile and function: Asian sauces, American sauces, fruits, vegetables and pickled things each have a designated section. On the countertop, she keeps what she calls her “flavor station,” a reliable wooden bowl stocked with shallots, garlic and red onions. “They’re the raw materials,” she says, “the all-around the basics of good flavor.

The contents of Bennett’s fridge are categorized by flavor profile. To make farmer’s market herbs last longer, she advises storing them in water and covering them in plastic with holes punched in it. CreditJulia Stotz

With all these identical containers, knowing what’s inside and when you bought it is essential. There are, however, no label makers here. “In a professional kitchen, everything is labeled with painters tape,” Bennett says, “but chalkboard paint with a chalkboard pen looks nice, and it’s also easier to read.”

Bennett prefers transparent, uniform containers rather than store-bought boxes. She bought these for her spices at the Container Store. CreditJulia Stotz

Bennett hates the guessing game of pulling knives out of a butcher block to see which is which. She prefers to keep them in a drawer or on a magnetic strip mounted to the wall. “It’s all about visibility and making it easily accessible,” she says. On the same note, she transfers her dry goods to labeled, transparent plastic or glass containers from Restaurant Depot or the Container Store so that she can always see what’s inside, a trick she learned from doing restaurant inventory. “When you have a carton, you can’t tell how much is left over,” she explains. “In a professional restaurant, you see how much is left, and if it’s below halfway point, typically, you order new. This is a way for you to be able to say, ‘Oh, O.K., I’m running out of cinnamon sticks.’”

Bennett is a proponent of keeping things out in the open, including these pots and aprons hung on pegs. CreditJulia Stotz
In her home in Echo Park, pops of color abound.CreditJulia Stotz

The tools in your kitchen don’t need to spark joy, but you should toss the things you never use, according to Bennett, who recently disposed of the juice machine that had been gathering dust underneath her sink. “All the kitchens I’ve worked in have the tools they need, and they get rid of the things they don’t,” she says, “because it’s just standing in the way.” Counting a chef’s knife, a paring knife, a bread knife and a pair of scissors as kitchen drawer essentials, she’s a staunch opponent of single-utility items like cherry pitters and garlic presses. “Do not get an avocado slicer,” she says. “Learn to use a knife.”

Separating like items into different trays and baskets makes them easier to grab on the go: All of Bennett’s vitamins and medicine bottles are in one tray in the fridge; her utensils are divided up by open rectangular boxes in drawers; and a hamper in the pantry holds the bagged items that don’t stack neatly on shelves, including potato chips and feed for her pet pig, Oliver, and chicken, Olive Oil.

Baskets in the pantry denote different types of foods. (Bennett’s husband, Good magazine co-founder Casey Caplowe, came up with the clever labels.) CreditJulia Stotz

That way you’ll never forget to bring them to the market.

“Counter space is precious real estate,” says Bennett, so only the truly necessary basics get to stay there. Next to the stove, she has a tray of butter, salt, pepper and oil, and a can that contains tongs, a spatula and wooden spoons. “Those are good to have at your fingertips,” she says. (And butter, by the way, is better outside the refrigerator.) The cutting board is also always on the kitchen island ready to go, next to her trusty flavor station.

Bennett recently went through her pantry and removed anything she hadn’t used in more than six months. “It’s healthy to do that, just like in your closet,” she says. “Your closet and your pantry are basically the same thing.”CreditJulia Stotz
“The way I like to use recipe books is by looking at five or six different recipes, and then I end up using none of them, but I do take ingredients,” Bennett says. She arranges them by color, “just because it looks pretty.”CreditJulia Stotz

Where rectangular storage containers make a mess of mismatched lids and sometimes unstackable shapes, the ordinary cylindrical deli cups used for food delivery are far superior. Available online or at chef supply stores, they’re cheaper too, and all three sizes can stack and use the same lid. According to Bennett, “It’s honestly the best Tupperware out there.”

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Janelle Zara is a freelance journalist specializing in art, design and architecture. @janellezara

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page ST3 of the New York edition with the headline: Tidying Up; Labor Organizer. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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