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If there’s one simple skill we can use to improve our overall health, it’s cooking. Having a little experience in the kitchen, and picking out our own ingredients for each dish ensures complete and total control over the quality of the foods we eat. Ordering from a drive-thru? Not so much.

But not everyone is comfortable in the kitchen. So with that in mind, I tracked down Shelley Grieshaber, a professional culinary consultant, former managing director of the Culinary Institute of America, and food and beverage consultant for the Pearl development. We covered a variety of elements related to cooking at home, with tips for novices and foodies alike.

Shelley Grieshaber, culinary consultant.
Shelley Grieshaber, culinary consultant.

 Is there a secret or formula to good kitchen design?

The ideal kitchen design revolves around efficiency. You want things set up so that you take the least number of steps or motions from sink to stovetop to fridge to cabinets to workspace. The less movements you make between stations, the more efficient you become. You also may want to think about things like dishwasher location with regard to its proximity to the sink. All those little things add up and can make things easier.

What are three things everyone should have in their kitchen arsenal?

A great chef’s knife that you’re comfortable with and that fits in your hand well, a really good spring-loaded set of tongs, and a sturdy set of heavy, good quality pots and pans.

Tricks of the trade: a quality chef's knife, spring-loaded tongs, and Joyce Chen scissors.
Tools of the trade: a quality chef’s knife, spring-loaded tongs, and Joyce Chen scissors.

Speaking  of pots and pans, how do you distinguish the good from the bad?

I’m an advocate for heavy-bottomed stainless steel pots or sauté pans, which conduct heat more evenly. Lighter pans don’t do that as well and may be prone to warping, which is why they don’t sit flat on your burner after a while. I don’t think you necessarily need copper cores or the newest materials, you just want thick metal, with a handle that’s firmly affixed. And you don’t necessarily need all of them to be nonstick either; just something small for scrambling eggs, and maybe something just a little larger. But do get them from a restaurant supply store, since they wont last forever and you’ll need to replace them about every two years or so, since the nonstick surface will break down over time.

And what are your thoughts on a microwaves?

I have one, but I certainly wouldn’t cook a roast in it! And certain things just don’t belong in there, like bread or bread like items. But I think its fine for reheating. So, use it as a reheating tool, and a reheating tool only.

A clean, well designed kitchen  can help you be more efficient.
A clean, well designed kitchen can help you be more efficient.

What’s your favorite kitchen gadget?

I have a couple, but I especially love my magnetic spice rack – it’s great for anyone in a small space. It helps replace all those baggies and bottles, makes things look clean, and I can easily see everything I have. I’m also a big proponent of the Y-peeler, it’s really sturdy and lasts forever. And my last one is Joyce Chen scissors; you can do anything with these, they’re awesome.

Let’s talk a little more about knives, what exactly are we looking for?

For a beginner, a knife your comfortable with is important. A chef’s knife with an 8? blade is a pretty good place to start. The other key pieces you want are a pairing knife and a serrated knife. If you’re going to spend money, invest it in those three. Shop around and look for sales, and know that a really great knife should last a lifetime.

What about food storage?

i tend to cook in batches for several days or a week at a time, so my fridge is full of reusable, washable, microwave-safe containers. Glass is nice, but there’s less flexibility with regard to size.

A wall-mounted spice rack can help save you time and space.
A simple wall-mounted spice rack can help keep you organized and save you time and space.

Any tips on spices and herbs, how to keep them and when to add them in?

I buy spices in small amounts from bulk departments. It’s less expensive that way, and helps keep my stock fresh. I also tend to clean everything out after six months… You should also know that most ground spices are fat soluble, so you’ll get more color and flavor if you add them to something that contains a little fat. As far as cooking with them, for basics like salt and pepper, I tend to add them in as I’m cooking to build the layers of flavor. But with fresh herbs, you’re better off adding them in toward the end to ensure they maintain their unique taste.

Is there one simple recipe everyone should know?

One thing that everyone should know how to do is roast a whole chicken. All you need is the chicken, a little salt and pepper, and maybe a little oil –  but there’s no special equipment necessary. It doesn’t take much time, and if you can do that, you have something really versatile that you can use in a salad, sandwich, pasta, stir-fry, tacos. etc. If you want to give it a try, look for one that’s about four pounds, tie the legs together, season with salt and pepper, and roast it at 425 for about 45 minutes. When it’s done, let it sit for a few minutes before you serve, and that’s it! You can certainly fancy it up, but a basic roast chicken is pretty hard to beat. if you’re in a rush and don’t have time for that, pick up a rotisserie chicken from a reputable vendor. You can create a ton of meal options from that one item.

 Are there things we can do to make cooking more enjoyable?

I may not feel like cooking every night, but the most pleasure I get is cooking for others – I put on some music and it’s the whole experience of sharing with other people that really makes it special… People who don’t like to cook most likely haven’t been taught to be efficient. To make things easier, get the prep done before you cook, read the full recipe in advance, and make sure to clean up as you go. It will make everything go more smoothly, especially at the end of the night. And, know what you’re capable of; if you try something too complex, it may not be a good experience, so start slow and build up your confidence. Cook what you like first, and go from there.

Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.

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