June 23, 2024

The 6 Best Cooking Tips From ‘Top Chef’ Contestants

As Top Chef season 21 continues to heat up, we’re reminded that beyond its sometimes-chaotic, always-delightful entertainment value, the series has also taught us infinite practical kitchen wisdom. The knowledge we’ve gleaned ranges from general tips and reminders, like pace yourself when cooking a feast (or an Elimination Challenge), and keep your workstation clean and organized, to more specific takeaways. Like in this season’s episode 9, we learned you can make something delicious from all parts of a sunflower, including its seeds and petals. (Thanks, Dan Jacobs!) And we’re still learning. Read on for some of our favorite kitchen tips and surprise tricks  — the ones we’re using again and again — from Top Chef contestants over the years.

Salt your meat early

The simplest step for getting the most juicy, flavorful steak every time? Brothers and Top Chef alum Bryan and Michael Voltaggio suggest salting meat and leaving it in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours before cooking. It seasons meat more evenly, pulls out moisture, and sets you up for the perfect Porterhouse, just in time for grilling season. 

Salting early helps season meat more evenly by pulling out moisture.

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Pull from the pantry

Maybe our favorite Top Chef takeaway (or at least the one we use on frenzied weeknight dinners most often) — a can or tin of something tucked away in the pantry can transform a blah dinner into something great. Season 18 cheftestants used cans of Campbell soup in the most creative ways, including turning tomato soup into a vinaigrette, and making bread pudding with cream of mushroom soup. A can of creamed corn is the surprise ingredient in Carla Hall’s Creamy Shrimp, Corn, and Tomato Chowder, for adding sweet flavor and thickening the broth with less heavy cream. Meanwhile, season 4 contestant Zoi Antonitsas relies on preserved fish for her Pulling-from-the-Pantry Puttanesca. Spanish sardines like Matiz España add a deep layer of briny, umami flavor to the pasta dish. 

You never know how a can of something tucked away in the pantry can transform a blah dinner into something great.

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Use fresh herbs 

To add a complex flavor and aroma to a dish, Top Chef host and former contestant Kristen Kish turns to fresh herbs — both as an integral ingredient and as a finishing touch. Oregano and thyme add earthiness to her Roasted Beet and Charred Green Bean Salad, snipped chives tie up Mushroom Toast, and plenty of parsley gives color and rich flavor to briny, bright, Lemony Tofu-Herb Dip. We’re taking a page from her book and adding heaps of fresh cilantro, mint, and basil to all the green salads, marinades, and herb butters. 

To add a complex flavor and aroma to a dish, look to fresh herbs — both as an integral ingredient and as a finishing touch.

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Get creative with leftovers

Drawing inspiration from his Japanese upbringing, season 18 contestant Shota Nakajima uses leftovers to make a new meal in the spirit of cutting down on waste. In his Creamy Mashed Potato Soup with Dashi, the chef uses three cups of leftover mashed potatoes, but you can also swap in similar mashed vegetables like sweet potato or cauliflower. Carla Hall, season 5 and 8 contestant, exalts leftover biscuits into these simple Crispy Biscuit Crackers, which get a little kick from cayenne pepper. We haven’t looked at leftovers the same since. 

You can get creative with leftovers and use them to make new meals, in the spirit of cutting down on waste.

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Cook pasta in the pot and in the pan

For perfect pasta, season 15 winner Joe Flamm first boils noodles in the pot to cook halfway, then adds the half-cooked pasta to the pan with sauce, plus a little butter and pasta water. In this extra step, the pasta finishes cooking in the pan and more fully unites the pasta with the sauce. 

The easiest pasta hack ever? First boil noodles in a pot to cook halfway, then add the half-cooked pasta to the pan with sauce, plus a little butter and pasta water. This fully unites the pasta with the sauce.

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Be prepared

Before you start cooking, Ashleigh Shanti recommends always having “mis en place” ready, which is the French term for “everything in its place.” The Top Chef season 19 contestant notes, “For chefs this means tasks like chopping vegetables, marinating proteins, measuring spices. Getting all this done ahead of time makes preparing a meal seamless.”

Having “mis en place” ready, which is the French term for “everything in its place,” will help make the process of cooking seamless.

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