By Betty Ho, Big City Chefs Food Writer
Having just returned from the organic market the other day, I was struggling to fit all my purchases into my already full cupboards when my cousin walked in.
“You’re turning into your parents,” she said, warily eyeing the crowded rows. I looked up, my hands still inside the bottom shelf, which was much deeper than I thought. Jars of pasta sauce competed with bags of rice and other grains. Asian stir-fry sauces crowded around boxes of baking mix (when did I buy that bag of scone mix?) and a bag of yams, which I was glad to rediscover before they spoiled. Some things were on the verge of expiration, others long expired, some were unopened and still good, but would probably be there a year later because I have no idea why I bought them in the first place (I don’t even drink soymilk and yet there they were, five cartons in a row, sad soldiers who had lost to milk). My cousin was right – I was turning into my parents, who believe that starvation is imminent if their cupboard doors can fully close. They buy things in bulk only to come home and discover they still have a bulk of what they just purchased. I shuddered. This was definitely not the cupboards of an organized food-lover, as I envision myself to be.
Like a woman who wastes precious time deciding what to wear each morning because her closet is in disarray, a cook can lose valuable prep time if her pantry is chaotic. And while I don’t know anyone who takes Spring Cleaning seriously (if you do, introduce them to me), I love the idea of giving one’s pantry an organizational makeover. What better way to start the season of rebirth than to toss out old, expired items and begin anew with a freshly stocked pantry?
There are a variety of ways to go about this from simple changes to a drastic overhaul. Brian York, one of our Southern California private chefs who depends on both a well-organized kitchen pantry and a portable pantry to pull off gourmet dinner parties for clients, offers some excellent suggestions. “Regardless of your pantry size and the amount of time and money you plan on investing, the very first step is to get rid of old items,” he says. It’ll be hard at first, but compost and recycle what you can – they just take up valuable space! Everyone’s pantry has different essentials depending on your favorite cuisines and dietary habits, but realsimple.com has an excellent Pantry Organizing Checklist that should be a good general starting point. Next, invest in some space organizers and containers, choosing the right materials for different food items. Big City Chefs CEO Tom Stieber suggests checking out Amazon.com, Walmart, Target or The Container Store for deals on clear plastic and glass containers, all essential for accessibility and convenience. For inspiration from other organized foodies, check out our own private chefs’ favorite storage soultions, A Prudent Homemaker for an exhaustive list of pantry essentials (though refrain from going out to buy them all!), Tanna Clark’s article in Complete Organizing Solutions for those looking to take their pantries to the next aesthetic level.
The fun part is stocking your pantry to your own tastes. I always have whole rolled oats, brown rice, organic raisins, canned black, kidney, and garbanzo beans, lentils, split peas, and sardines in my pantry, but it’s always interesting to see what other people can’t live without. Now that I’ve cleared out unnecessary items, there’s plenty of empty space, which I feel compelled to fill. But I won’t – not for a while at least. A well-stocked, organized pantry does not mean an overstuffed pantry – so I’m going to enjoy being able to find everything as soon as I need it for as long as it lasts. Maybe I’ll be hosting a dinner party of my own soon. Happy Spring Pantry Cleaning!