Food & Wine Photo Credit: Western Living

21 Life-Saving Chef Hacks

How to slice, dice, fry, preserve, peel and prep like the pros.

Repeat after us: it’s not that hard. Sure, there’s no easy way to make Beef Wellington, but the best chefs in the West know that there are plenty of shortcuts to help you channel your inner culinary star without breaking the bank or breaking a sweat. We’ve assembled them here to tell all.

DIY Tapas

Preserve fresh-picked olives (without lye) by hanging them from the rafters or roof of your garage in a pillowcase with equal parts rock salt. Toss every few days for a couple of months until most of the liquid has dripped out (into a pan). Rinse and refrigerate. —Felix Zhou, Heritage Asian Eatery


Flake Out!

I’m a big fan of dehydrated quinoa flakes to bulk out alternative proteins like ground turkey, chickpeas or beans when I’m making meatballs and meatloaves. They help to absorb moisture and they also act as a clean binding agent. —Darren Brown, Chef D Brown


The Best Way To…


Preserve a bunch of cilantro:

Cut an inch off the base and place it in a jar of water. It will extend its life for a few more days and keep it fresh. —Christine Beard, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

Make mac and cheese with real cheese:

Add sodium citrate (Amazon sells it) to the milk before adding the cheese to get a super-smooth emulsified cheese sauce. —Tobias MacDonald, Vancouver Community College Culinary Arts



Preserve used 
vanilla bean pods: 

Dry them and then grind them in a coffee grinder! —Thomas Haas, Thomas Haas Chocolates

Preserve truffles:

Keep them dry; moisture will make them go bad quickly. You can keep them wrapped in a paper towel (but change the towel daily). Most importantly, they should be in an airtight container, on the top shelf of your fridge. That way you can keep them for over a week. —Jean-Claude Douget, Gotham


Preserve a cut avocado:

Immerse it in water. —Mariana Gabilondo, La Mezcaleria

Prep tofu:

Press it to release excess moisture. —Christine Beard


The Chef Shopping List

What’s one ingredient the home chef should be using more of and why? Champagne vinegar. It just makes everything sparkle. —Jeff Koop, Mamie Taylor’s


Leftover Hack: Store-Bought Puff Pastry


Add butter, sautéed onions, garlic and mushrooms to leftover beef, chicken or pork and encase in puff pastry. Brush with egg wash and bake. Julian Bond


The Great Substitution Hack

Cookbook authors Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller spent the summer of 2013 traversing the country to suss out all that’s great in our home and native land. The result is the recently published Feast, and one of the key things they learned in developing the book was how to substitute common ingredients for ones that are tougher to source.


Black Garlic

Toss the equivalent amount of roasted garlic with a balsamic reduction
(1 tsp per head)

Red Fife Flour

Swap for spelt or stone-ground whole wheat flour


Birch Syrup

Use a 1:1 mix of maple syrup and molasses

Goat Yogurt

Use sour cream


Useless Tool Hall of Fame

The Garlic Press

In the many years since we’ve asked the West’s best chefs for their tips, there has been an overwhelming selection for the worst tool in the kitchen: the garlic press. The one-time staple of the kitchen drawer is a head-scratcher for most chefs. “It squeezes out all the useful flavours,” complains Karl Gregg of the Blueprint Group—a view shared by Au Comptoir’s Dan McGee: “I don’t understand the appeal.” On top of that, they’re brutal to clean. “Why not use your chef’s knife to crush and then mince from there?” says Gregg.


Bartender’s Tip


The best way to preserve your summer cherries is to poach them in simple syrup, then store in brandy for Old-Fashioned cocktails. —Garett Blundell, Tableau Bar Bistro


Get Cleaning!

What’s the trick to cleaning baked-on grease and food? Returning the pot to the stove or oven and leaving it to soak over gentle heat with a few tablespoons of Sapadilla (made in Vancouver!) all-purpose or counter cleaner. Don’t let it boil and bubble. It even cleans hood-fan grease filters. —Felix Zhou


The best way to butcher meat or fish is to put down a layer of cling film on your work surface and peel it off when done for a much quicker cleanup. Lee Cooper

A dryer sheet! Add hot water and dish soap to your pan or pot. Pop in a dryer sheet and let soak before easily scrubbing away stuck-on grease or food. —Julian Bond


Magic Erasers! —Christine Beard, Tobias MacDonald

To clean a dirty oven, make a paste with baking soda and water and spread it in. Let it sit overnight. The next day, wipe off the paste as much as you can with a wet rag. Spray with white vinegar and finish wiping it out. Easy and natural. —Simon Bouchard

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