It's Not You. It's Your Kitchen.

This past week, Mike and I decided it was time to put in a few hours in the kitchen. Well, I decided, and I spent the majority of the time in the kitchen… but it felt really good to get behind the stoves again. As much as I love having a little time off, I’ve missed it.

So now you’re imagining Chao getting back on the metaphorical saddle–shaking a frying pan, testing a sauce, that sort of thing? I was quickly reminded of the serious drawbacks of being a home cook.

Take this photo, for example. You’ll see a few things wrong.

Mike did actually help, but I had to take advantage of that photo and rag on him just a little bit. You’d do the same, I am sure. But I’m getting off topic. Back to some of the downfalls and lessons learned in a West Loop condominium kitchen.

Lesson #1: TRASH

No matter where you cook, there will be a surplus of trash and recycling to deal with. It’s a fact of life, and it’s something that Mike’s bachelor pad starter trash can really couldn’t handle.

Which is why I brought in an industrial trash can. When you read the rest of this post, you’ll understand why taking the trash out every twenty minutes was not something I was interested in doing.

Lesson #2: DISHES

I went in a chef; I left a broken man with dishpan hands. Just kidding. Sort of. You’ll notice there is in fact a dishwasher in the photo, which is definitely nice to have, but it’s no match for the dishwashing team in a dishwashing room that I have become accustomed to in a restaurant kitchen.

After almost every step/dish, you have to go back and wash all the things you’ll need again in a few minutes–because there is only one set of tools (one blender, one frying pan, two pots…)

Lesson #3: TOOLS

So now we have a serious lack of implements, not to mention a kitchen–though nice, Mike–that wasn’t what you’d call “expansive.” (Although, I’ve worked in smaller, now that I think about it.) Beyond that, there’s also the quality of the tools/appliances around you.

Mike’s fridge was what you’d call ten pounds of s*** in a five-pound bag, and I won’t even begin to tell you about the drawbacks of a home stove/oven. (The ovens most chefs are used to would make the model in your kitchen look like an Easy Bake).


I knew that when I ran out of/needed something, I would need to go out and get it. What I didn’t know was how often. Good news: There’s a Dominick’s right down the street. Bad news: Most of the employees there now know me by name (and think I’m nuts). I’m not one for lists, which could have contributed to all of my visits.

If I was going to make this post have a “message,” it would be one of encouragement to all those downtrodden at-home cooks, who watch the chefs on TV and wonder why they can’t recreate it at home.

It’s not you, it’s your kitchen.

Kitchen struggles aside, I was lucky enough to have some people helping me. Yes, one of them did cut off part of his finger and was rushed to the ER, but we pressed on. And the results were pretty delicious:

Grilled lamb chops with garlic sesame soy marinade

Prosciutto-wrapped scallops with wasabi-avocado purée & fried ginger.

Chao-style grilled cheese with chipotle chili powder

Wagyu beef tartare with honey mustard sesame sauce, topped with quail egg

Fried oxtail soup dumpling with sweet black pepper sauce

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