If you live in the city, you know that having actual “space” is a true luxury. Apartments are cramped and kitchens are like broom closets. A “generous” New York City kitchen is about 50 square feet. That’s only an eighth of the national average kitchen size, which the Wall Street Journal reports is 300 square feet. How is anyone supposed to cook in these crazy cramped conditions? More importantly, how the hell can anyone throw a party?
Who better to answer this question than a food truck chef? We chatted with Eric Silverstein, Founder and Chef of the Austin, Texas-based food truck The Peached Tortilla about his tips for making a ton of food in a limited amount of space without breaking a sweat. After all, Silverstein manages to juggle multiple employees, deep fryers, and freezers in a space smaller than the inside of a Toyota Corolla – and creates amazing food. With these tips and tricks, there’s no reason that your kitchen can’t exceed big expectations, no matter what the size is.
Invest in tools that take up minimal space.
Yes, we all have pots and pans (and some people even have more cookware than that), but cooking with all of those things can get messy and take up space, which is what we’re trying to avoid. Crockpots are especially versatile and you can make some pretty interesting dishes using them, including garlic brown sugar chicken, barbecue chicken sandwiches, or even lasagna – yes LASAGNA – using a crock pot that takes up very little space. Or, you could invest in something fancier – Silverstein suggests an immersion circulator, which is basically a device that cooks food in a water bath at a specific temperature to ensure the perfect doneness of dishes. It doesn’t take up much room and lets you cook in a very refined way. Micro-plates, a fancy name for super small plates, are also good to use, as they can add a different element to a meal, whether it’s seasoning tarragon onto a salad or lime zest onto a dessert. Little details can go a long way towards enhancing food in a small kitchen.
Pre-prep, prep, and repeat.
In a small kitchen, you shouldn’t wait until the day of to prepare and cook the appetizers and main course, so do as much work as possible ahead of time. Waiting until the last minute is a recipe for disaster. Get your hors d’oeuvres and main dish stuff ready the day before – wrap components individually and store them in the refrigerator. When it comes to the big day, everything is prepped and pretty much ready to go live. Most of the work and mess is already done, so the kitchen won’t be as crowded or really dirty.
Keep your guests busy…and OUT of the kitchen!
Look, we can all agree that it’s not easy having a small kitchen – especially when you want to entertain, have people over, and make elaborate dishes – but why make your cramped situation even more problematic by having people in the kitchen while you’re trying to work? While you’re working away, have a champagne/drink bar already set up complete with garnishes and juice options, and another area for people to eat some finger food while they wait. This keeps people out of the kitchen and entertained while you’re finishing the meal.
Narrow down the menu and work smart and quickly.
In the food truck world, chefs narrow the menu in order to work with the limited resources on-board. For example, The Peached Tortilla’s food truck menu has quick and dirty options, such as tacos, sliders, rice/noodle bowls, and fries. Employing this food truck strategy, you can make sure your menu is concise – have just a few options available.
Pick dishes that won’t have you camping out in the kitchen and away from your guests.
Entertaining with a small kitchen means being creative with dishes. You need things that will not take up space AND not keep you stuck in the kitchen. With the immersion circulator, make something like pork chops – cook them to your desired rareness the night before, store them in the fridge overnight, take them out the day of the party and then use a skillet or grill to fire ‘em up – they’ll cook in a matter of minutes and then dinner’s ready. If you have an oven, something like a roast pork shoulder would be excellent, and it doesn’t take up much space. Roast it up, take it out of the oven, plate it nicely, maybe spruce it up with some charred fruit to elevate the presentation, and serve it family style. The pork shoulder acts as a centerpiece, so you only have to worry about cooking one thing in the oven. Serve it with pre-prepared side plates so that you can make it into a full meal. Think pickled veggies, slaw, bread rolls, or even tortillas so guests can make pork tacos!
Happy hosting…and eating!
– Roaming Hunger