Ask A Chef: Why does restaurant food taste better than when I cook at home?

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After culinary school I worked the line in high-volume kitchens, then consulted for both established restaurant groups and a food delivery startup, now I teach at a culinary school, and cook at home almost every day. Over the years I’ve experienced, researched, and solved a lot of culinary questions. If you are curious or confused about anything food related please email (chefkerrystanton@gmail.com), tweet me (@chefwithablog), or post on Facebook (facebook.com/ChefKerryStanton). I’ll do my best to give you an honest and hopefully helpful response.

“Why does restaurant food taste better than when I cook at home?”

Chefs have a couple secrets tucked away in those white coats, some of which take years to master, like knife skills a la Masaharu Morimoto or expert multi-tasking abilities, but here’s one way you can boost your homemade dishes to restaurant caliber. It comes down to balanced seasoning.

The three most important ingredients in any dish are salt, heat, and acid.

Salt – Salt is a magic crystal. It adds a complexity to sweet items, balances acidic ingredients, and reduces bitterness. Kosher salt is most commonly used in restaurant kitchens because of its large crystal size and mild flavor; these qualities make it difficult to over salt a dish. If you have Iodized table salt in your pantry I recommend throwing it in the trash because it has an overwhelmingly metallic taste from iodine and stabilizers to prevent clumping. Besides using kosher salt, also keep in mind that certain ingredients contribute a salty flavor, i.e. soy sauce, anchovy paste, Worcestershire® sauce, hard cheeses, cured meats, and some stocks or broths. Be mindful when using these ingredients so your dish doesn’t become too pungent with sodium.

Heat – This category doesn’t only refer to black pepper. It encompasses peppercorns of all colors, hot sauces, chili peppers, mustards, and radishes like wasabi or prepared horseradish. Try to balance the heat level in your dish so you get an appropriate punch of flavor based on the dish you’re cooking, without burning your mouth or insides.

Acid – This group is often forgotten, but is probably the most integral component in any dish. Whether you use citrus, vinegars, wines, spices like coriander or cumin, or tart fruits such as apples; acidic ingredients brighten flavors, can help hide overly salty flavors, and provides a refreshing burst of scent.

The best way to achieve restaurant quality dishes is to taste what you’re cooking as you make a recipe and balance the salt, heat, and acid levels along the way.