I Sent a Chef Photos of My Kitchen Counters — Here’s What He Told Me to Get Rid Of

published Dec 2, 2022
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Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Professional chefs are really fussy about their countertops — and with good reason! Cooking in a cluttered, unsanitized workspace leads to slower and hazardous food preparation, and breeds cross-contamination. Needless to say, in the culinary world, a chef’s mise en place (the setup and placement of ingredients) is sacred. 

Understandably, there tends to be a major gap between the mise en place in professional versus home kitchens. Restaurants don’t typically host patrons for meals in their kitchen, so worrying about showcasing personal style or creating ambiance is unnecessary. However, in a household kitchen, displaying a pile of cookbooks, stemware collection, or stack of handcrafted cutting boards isn’t unusual. 

Try as I might to style my kitchen’s countertops, ultimately I just want to conduct my weekly meal prep obstacle-free. So I reached out to a professional chef for his take on my own mise en place. Costa Lapaseotes — a Nebraska-based private chef and consultant, co-owner of Harrison Quality Meats, seasoned butcher, and cattle rancher by trade — has showcased his culinary chops in kitchens from Chicago to Los Angeles, including Horse Thief BBQ, Chop Shop, and Whole Foods. With a background in beef and a penchant for imparting the wisdom gleaned from his hard-won time back of the house, Lapaseotes tells it like it is. After sending him some photos of my kitchen countertops, here are three things he told me to change — and two that earned his approval.

Nix the Knife Block

As a newlywed, my kitchen is brimming with wedding registry gifts. Among my favorite gifts? Our knife block! But do you know who doesn’t approve? Costa Lapaseotes. “Knife sets that come in their own block always come with a bunch of unnecessary knives that all could be replaced with one good quality chef’s knife,” he says. In lieu of a knife set, selecting a high-quality chef’s knife and providing it proper care and storage eliminates the need for a knife collection. 

Lapaseotes continues, “On top of that, the block itself is bad knife storage. Pulling knives in and out dulls them, only a little bit, but it adds up.” Take it from a cattle-rancher-turned-butcher: sharp knives are safe knives. His preference for an alternative? “I like magnetic knife racks. Plus, then you can see which knife is which.” That’s a good point! Dang, that Lapaseotes is sharp. (I’m sorry.) 

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Part Ways with Plastic

My husband and I registered for a collection of matching Crate and Barrel cooking utensils. While the set came with the usual suspects — spatula, slotted spoon, whisk, tongs, etc. — it also came with a series of new-to-me baking supplies that we non-baking newlyweds tucked into lesser-used storage. Shares Lapaseotes, “I also don’t love all the plastic. Silicone spatulas and spoons are alright, and definitely have their place in baking, but a sturdy metal burger flipper or stirring spoon is much better.”

As a household that definitely cooks far more than bakes, we are lacking in metal utensils. Lapaseotes adds, “Same with the whisk — a good stainless will do a better job with thick batters.” If I ever overcome my fear of scientifically measuring ingredients and carefully following step-by-step baking protocols, I will better prepare myself for tackling a thick batter.

Diversify Your Skillets

When my husband and I moved into our home, our combined cookware proved to be needlessly bountiful, with too many pots and pans and lids for proper storage. So we downsized and upgraded. While we love our Our Place Always Pan in “Spice,” Lapaseotes informs me we’re missing out on the benefits of other materials.

“One thing plastic spoons and spatulas tell me is that you probably use non-stick skillets,” he says. “I’ve never seen one that does a good job of actually sauteing, though they make a nice omelet.” Full disclosure: We aren’t making nice omelets with any of our pans. We’re literally just throwing five-ish frozen ingredients from Trader Joe’s into a pan, seasoning, and praying for edible results. Investing in a cast-iron skillet for high-heat ingredients or a classic stainless steel pan for a high-sear situation is a strategic way to better prepare foods we already love.

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Customize Your Coffee Station

I’m thrilled to share my countertops inspired confidence in Lapaseotes when he came across my husband’s coffee corner. Says Lapaseotes, “I respect the coffee setup. More Americans should utilize electric kettles; that’s something I’m actually going to copy from you!” WOW! Influencer alert! I wish I could take credit for my former-barista husband’s electric kettle, espresso maker, and grinder, but I’m a vanilla iced-latte lady and know next to nothing about his coffee chemistry. 

But electric kettles are highly versatile! Plus, they’re efficient and quiet, eliminating that hissing sound conventional teapots make. Most importantly: Coffee is a big deal in our home, so we really invested space and strategically selected tools for coffee consumption. Whatever your “thing” (homemade pastas or dumplings? Low and slow barbecuing?), go all in. 

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Keep It Clear

Says Lapaseotes, “Your counter is impressive — because it’s clean! Its purpose is to be a workspace, not a storage surface. Having tools close at hand is great!” Cue the Sally Field, “You like me, you really really like me,” speech! While I’ll definitely get better about returning my cleaning supplies to their safe below-sink storage instead of keeping them on the counter for days on end, I’m reassured by Lapaseotes’ pointers and offer an enthusiastic and grateful, “Thank you, Chef!”