8 Secret Things Professional Chefs Do to Keep Their Pantry Organized

Be warned: You may need more mason jars.

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If there’s someone I’m going to get pantry organization ideas from, it’s going to be the experts who make food their business day in and day out, aka, chefs. In their busy kitchens, they don’t have time to search high and low for the cumin (and they probably don’t eventually find it buried underneath a half-opened bag of chocolate chips either). We asked the 8 chefs below for their tips on how to best organize one’s pantry to find things quickly, easily and before they expire.

Find out which kitchen tools professional chefs can’t live without.

Ingredients Have a Family

Chef Martial Noguier and Laurence Noguier, the husband and wife team who own Chicago-based French restaurant Bistronomic, recommend keeping as many of your most used ingredients as possible at eye level (shove them to the back of the top shelf and you’ll never remember you have fancy olives at hand).

Also: “Ingredient families should be together. For example, put spices together, oils together, vinegars and soy sauce together, lentils and risotto and couscous together, etc.” Then, you’re all ready to try this Lemon Date Couscous.

See More Clearly

Institute of Culinary Education‘s Chef Instructor Robert Ramsey recommends getting transparent with your pantry staples.

“In restaurants, we don’t use Tupperware; we use recyclable plastic deli containers. They are cheap, clear, and completely standard in size—they come in 8-, 12-, 16- and 32-oz sizes, and they all use the exact same top. They stack easily and can be reused 5 or 10 times, or until they start to absorb food smells, then simply recycle and start over. It will reduce clutter in your kitchen just like it does for the pros.”

Ramsey says to search out the restaurant supply store in your neighborhood or town and check out the options.

Get Out Your Label Maker

Leigh Anderson, Beverly Hills private chef who also gets bragging rights for working with renowned chef Thomas Keller, recommends bulk containers for essential ingredients, like flour, sugar, grains, rice and dried beans. Speaking of, do you know how long flour can last till it expires?

“Label everything! This one aspect of my work I like to bring home with me. In a professional kitchen, every item neatly is labeled and dated. And use a lazy susan to organizes oils, vinegars and spices.”

Always Have Pasta

Chef Daniel England of the San Diego-based OMG Hospitality Group says he utilizes the famed mason jar, but not for peaches.

“I put all of my spices in labeled mason jars, which really helps to keep my cupboard organized and easy to navigate when I’m cooking.” He also says his pantry is always stocked with pasta, which happens to be his favorite last-minute meal to whip up in a hurry. One superfast recipe? “Cook the pasta with a drizzle of quality extra virgin olive oil, and finish it with some red chili flakes and fresh parmesan. Voila!” You can also try one of these 50 Pasta Recipes from Around the World.

Take Your Pantry Global

Chef Richard Sandoval of Richard Sandoval Hospitality says to group your pantry by the type of cuisine you most like to cook. Of course, I’m thinking his pantry is a tad fancier than most of ours.

“The main two types of cuisine I like to work with are Latin and Asian, i.e. membrillo/guava paste is grouped with other Latin ingredients separate from specialty Asian ingredients like mirin and shichimi togarashi [a six-ingredient spice blend that can be used on Asian-inspired seafood dishes].”

Us home chefs can borrow a page from his playbook though. His always-on-hand ingredient?

Guava Paste. “I always keep some on hand to serve with slices of cheese as a dessert or snack like they do in Spanish speaking countries.” (You can find it on Amazon.)

Group Spices by Flavor

Melissa Eboli, chef/owner of Via’s Kitchen says organization starts with the spices.

“I have upwards of 30 spices at any given time and organize them in clusters that would be used together, i.e. sweet spices for baking in one section, Italian-flavored spices in another, Indian, Asian, Mexican and so on.”

She also says she gives like ingredients their own cabinet.

“I have baked goods in one cabinet while canned goods are in another, pastas and grains get organized together, as do my condiments.”

Give Your Pantry Some Motion

David Schaap, Culinary Director of Oaxaca Taqueria in New York City recommends investing in some shallow pantry drawers. “This way, you can slide the drawers out to see those less used items in the back.”

Also, a can rack: “They are very cheap, easy to use, and help ensure that product that enters the pantry first leaves the pantry first, maximizing your foods shelf-life. First-in, first-out is a rule every chef lives, and dies by.”

Finally, give old ingredients the boot. “A few times per year, go through each drawer or cabinet, combine partially filled containers of like items, and purge things that are spoiled or not going to get used.

Have Things to Make One Meal on the Fly

Emily Bartlett, cofounder of Real Plans meal planning says it’s all about good shelving—”so that you can see as much as possible in one view”—and staying on top of your organization.

“Come up with a system that works for you in your space and then always put everything back in its place.”

After that, make sure you have ingredients on hand that allow you to make a crazy good meal on the fly.

“I love to stock some good quality canned tuna, avocado oil mayo, artichoke hearts and olives to whip up a quick, but gourmet, salad.” Pair it with this Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette.

Use up extra pantry staples with these easy recipes.
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Amanda Kippert
Amanda Kippert has been an award-winning freelance journalist for nearly two decades. She is based in Tucson, Arizona and specializes in food, health, fitness, parenting and humor, as well as social issues. She is the content editor of the domestic violence nonprofit DomesticShelters.org.