One of the most daunting things about cooking at home isn't cooking at all: It's cleaning.
One of the hallmarks – points of pride, really – of great professional kitchens is spotlessness. That's why chefs wear chefs' whites; you can't get away with a single splatter. An often-heard mantra is "cook clean," which means both literally clean and also organized and uncluttered. When ingredients, tools and equipment are clean and orderly, it's much easier to execute a recipe.
Restaurant kitchens have the obvious advantage of dedicated dishwashers, but home kitchens offer a space that's all your own. You can control exactly how clean you keep everything.
I've combined my experiences cooking professionally with my life in a home kitchen (and my type-A instincts) to offer eight tips on cooking clean at home:
1. Start clean. It's hard to find the headspace to prepare a meal when your physical space is a mess. Wash any lingering dishes; empty the sink, dishwasher and dish rack; clear the counters, then wipe them down with kitchen cleaner; scrub the stove if splattered.
2. Wash your hands all the time. I confess that I'm an obsessive hand washer. I wash with soap and water before cooking, and throughout prep and cooking, whenever my hands are oily or floured or have anything on them. You should too.
3. Set up for a clean routine. Take out a clean, dry dish towel to swipe away crumbs (and use as a pot holder). Soak another dish towel with dish soap and water and squeeze out excess liquid. You'll use this to wipe away sticky spills or grease splatters. Some cooks like sanitizing wipes, but soap and water do the trick and a trip through the laundry is all the towels need to be clean and ready again.
4. Have a trash plan. Pull your kitchen trash can next to where you'll be working or, if you have enough counter space, have a large bowl near at hand that you can put trimmings and other to-be-discarded items in.
5. Clean as you cook. It's tempting to dump everything in the sink to do later, but that will leave you with a wobbly pile of dirtiness that lurks over you as you try to concentrate on a recipe. Instead, trash or compost or recycle scraps (carrot peels) or garbage (an empty pasta box) as you work and use those five minutes of simmering time to get ahead on the dishes.
6. Prevent cross-contamination. You don't want any raw meat to touch anything else. If possible, dedicate a cutting board to vegetables and one to meat. It's OK if you don't, just be sure to wash the boards thoroughly between uses. You can wear disposable gloves when prepping meat or seafood as I do, discarding them after use.
7. Don't double-dip when tasting. It's important to taste your food as you cook to ensure the seasonings are right and to check for doneness. While it may seem romantic to sip sauce from the spoon with which you're stirring, it's also gross. If you're cooking for yourself, you can, of course. But if you're cooking for anyone else – even family – use a separate spoon, dip it in only once, and wash it before tasting from it again.
8. Quick rinse before eating. All the gunk on just-used bowls, pans and other cooking tools comes off much easier when still warm, so give it all a quick spray before sitting down to eat. Otherwise, you may find yourself scrubbing extra hard later on.