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10 Professional Tips/Secrets for meal prep/ideas that anyone can do when cooking at home

Posted by chefmax on February 3, 2009


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Culinary questions for Chef Max

(From Maria Paulia Belgado)

Hi Chef Max!

I blog on and we’re always looking for ways to save time when preparing meals at home. Can you give us a few professional tips/secrets for meal prep that anyone can do when cooking at home?  We would love to feature some of your tips on our blog at



Thank you for the question and opertunity Maria. Here you go:

10 Professional Tips/Secrets for meal prep/ ideas that anyone can do when cooking at home

1. Mise en Place– This is the number 1 reason restaurant Chefs can pull everything together as fast as they can and make it look so easy and taste so good. Mise en place is french (loosely)  for having all ingredients and cooking utensils ready to cook. If you get halfway thorough a dish you are making and realize you have not chopped up an onion or do not have enough of an ingredient, you throw off the ballance and timing of the dish. Prep everything ahead of time and lay them out on a pan or a section of your kitchen. It looks sexy when everything is set and you can then start putting the dish together. (O.k. I’m a food geek). These days when I cook at home a Barney or Wiggles video is part of my mise en place to keep the kids out of the kitchen.

2. Check through the recipe before cooking– Boring but nesacry. Have you ever gotten part o the way through a recipe for dinner only to relies you need to marinate the chicken for 24 hrs?

3. Go with the flow– If the recipe calls for tomatoes, and the ones you bought from the store suck, change the dish. This is how 75% of new recipes are developed. In restaurants the daily special is “What do we have on hand that we need to use up?”(Not all restaurants do this all the time…)

4. Cut for a couple meals. If you are cutting an onion or other hearty vegetables you can dice up the whole thing and save what you do not need for the next meal. By the third night I have every thing cut for a fast pasta.

5. Clean as you go. Again boring but very necessary. I am a virgo so this is probably hard wired into me, but it saved me countless times in the kitchen. It also reduced the amount of time my first Chefs would yell and curse at me. If you hate cleaning pull a Tom Sayer and enlist the help of one of your kids or friends. My daughters want to learn to cook so this is one of the things I have them help with. Its really fun, trust me.

6. Cook with seasonal ingredients. When you cook items within their season they have more flavor and you look brilliant. Yes everything is in season someplace in the world right now, but if it had to be picked while it was unripe just so it could make it to your kitchen before it went bad, is it really in season?  No restaurant should have a caprese salad on their menu in January.

7. Plan to use your leftovers. I roast off a chicken on Monday and make risotto on Tuesday with the leftover chicken and make a fast stock out of the carcass. 

8. Sharp Knives. Get them sharpened or learn to do it yourself. I will post a blog on sharpening soon. This makes everything easier and safer. Plus when you cut yourself it heals better. Yea, the last one may be stretching it a bit but I was always told that. I don’t know if it is really true and I do not want to think about knife cuts right now, it gives me shivers.

9. Toast your whole spices. Peppercorns, fennel, cumin seed, ect. Put in a dry pan on low heat until they start to pop. Shake the pan so nothing sticks or burns on one side. Cool on a plate or sheet pan. I do this with all my whole spices and then put them into pepper grinders. THe heat brings out the essential oils and gives the spice a deeper bright flavor. If you only do one, do the pepper. You will never go back. 

10. Organize the week ahead of time. This is the time on sprockets when we dance. Shameless self promo alert! Here is where I tell you about my menu planning service. A Flash in the is a monthly members service that plans all your meals for you based on seasonality, sustainable food practices, menu preferences, and has a one of a kind timing feature that helps you complete all the dishes for dinner at the same time. All of the recipes are designed by me and my wife, (both professional Chefs with over 15,000 hours culinary expertise) and designed to create a balanced meal. You can adjust the portions needed for each meal, get a shopping list that you can customize for the week, and a daily cook-sheet that times all of the recipes for that meal to be ready by your desired dinner time. We do all the thinking and organizing and you get to cook and spend time with your favorite people. There is a free menu-set available with limited options so you can try us out for free but our monthly rate of $14.95 is so low we know you will want the whole enchilada. For the cost of one pizza dinner you get a month of recipes and time saving features right to your computer. We launch or new site February 9th with Diabetes, Gluten free, Kid friendly menu-sets to go with our “anything goes” and “no red meat” menu-sets.

11. (Because I robbed ya of the #10 tip) Fresh herbs. Thyme, oregano, basil are all easy to grow inside and make a big difference in cooking. Fresh is always preferred to dry herbs in cooking. Dried herbs are good for long cooking items like sauces or stews, but adding fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking time of any dish will liven it up and give it a very pleasant flavor profile.

There are so many others and they will follow in future blogs.

Thanks for playing,

Chef Max


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