7 Easy, Life-Changing Kitchen Hacks From Chicago's Top Chefs

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Chefs make everything look easy. Come on, how does anyone churn out 30-something perfectly seared and plated fillets of tuna a night without having a nervous breakdown, setting off the fire alarm every 10 minutes, or both? No discredit to decades of experience, Le Cordon Bleu training, and what we can assume are once-singed eyebrows, but we bet that it's many top chefs' super-simple and completely genius cooking hacks that have something to do with their culinary cool.

So, we tapped seven savvy Chicago chefs for their favorite tips and tricks. From the secret to chopping onions without crying (no, seriously!) to upping the flavor of any dish, these clever solutions will change your kitchen — and, tastebuds — forever.

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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Executive Chef Andrew Shedden, Mon Ami Gabi

The Chicago-area native (he’s from the 'burbs, but we’ll let it slide) has worked with Lettuce Entertain You restaurants since 2010, when he started at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba’s kitchen as sous-chef. Now he's executive chef of classic French bistro Mon Ami Gabi, and his plats du jour have a similar focus on quality cuts of meat braised, roasted, and grilled to tender and juicy perfection.

Check out his cooking hack for the perfect steak. Every. Single. Time.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Easy Cooking Hack: Bring Your Steaks To Room Temp

"With steaks, it’s best to let them come to room temperature before grilling them," Shedden says. "This will help ensure even cooking throughout. Set them out and salt them up to one hour before you plan to cook them, and use a meat thermometer to test their internal temperature."

You also want to let your steak sit for a few minutes on a warm plate after you take it off the grill; it might seem counterintuitive, but it will be a lot juicier this way.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Chef De Cuisine Cosmo Goss, The Publican

The Publican's menu — from its barbecue carrots to its tuna tartare to its chicken-liver rigatoni — is known for its full, savory, stick-to-your-tastebuds flavor. For that, all credit goes to Chef de Cuisine Cosmo Goss, who first fell in love with cooking during his childhood in Santa Barbara. There, he split his days between working in his parents' restaurant and fishing in the kelp beds off of Catalina Island.

Check out his cooking hack to make everything you cook taste just a little bit richer.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Easy Cooking Hack: Add A Couple Drops Of Fish Sauce

"We put fish sauce in almost everything to enhance our food's flavor," Goss says. "It adds richness and umami. It's one ingredient we can't go without."

Called the "fifth taste," after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter, umami roughly means "savory" in Japanese. According to writer Malcolm Gladwell, it's the reason you love ketchup.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Chef And Proprietor Jean Joho, Everest And Paris Club

Owning and guiding the culinary vision of restaurants around the country, French-American chef Jean Joho brings to Chicago two very distinct but equally perfect establishments. While Everest has earned an international reputation for its impeccable French cuisine (served atop white linens on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, no less), the Paris Club is a warm and welcoming bistro and bar, serving up shared plates and updated takes on classic French fare.

Check out his cooking hack and never cry while chopping onions again.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Easy Cooking Hack: Chop Your Onion Inside A Plastic Bag

"To peel and chop onions without crying, do it inside a plastic bag (such as a giant, freezer Ziploc bag)," Joho advises. "Cut a slit in one side of the bag, slip in a cutting board, and then insert the onion and the knife into the opening and start cutting with the little tent over the onion."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Pastry Chef Dana Cree, Blackbird And avec

It’s hard to imagine that pastry chef Dana Cree — whom the James Beard Foundation nominated as Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2014 — ever worked with any foods other than desserts. Still, her experience on both the savory and the sweet sides of the spice rack allows her to design desserts that pair perfectly with both Blackbird's and avec's mains.

Check out her cooking hack to make grating fresh ginger so much easier.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Easy Cooking Hack: Freeze Your Ginger

"Keep your ginger in the freezer," Cree says. "The growth of ice crystals in the ginger breaks down its fibers, and makes it a million times easier to grate or chop."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Executive Chef And Partner David DiGregorio, Osteria Via Stato and Pizzeria Via Stato

Raised in an Italian family that considered cooking (and eating) together a prized ritual, David DiGregorio knew as a child he wanted to be a chef and began working in kitchens at age 14. Now, as part of the team that has brought Osteria Via Stato and Pizzeria Via Stato to Chicago’s River North, he combines his family's tradition with his years of formal training.

Check out his cooking hack and serve up pasta that won’t go cold mid-meal.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Easy Cooking Hack: Warm Your Pasta Bowl

"I hate serving pasta in a cold bowl," DiGregorio says. "So, I drain the pasta's water into the serving bowl, which keeps the bowl warm. Then, before serving, I dump the water out and add the pasta. I reserve a little pasta water to adjust the consistency of the pasta if needed."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Executive Chef Justin Ferguson, Ideology Entertainment Group

Last year, chef Justin Ferguson left NOLA for Chicago to oversee Ideology’s opening of Blue Door Farm Stand and La Storia Ristorante. The latter will open this year, and we can’t wait. Combining clean and simple cooking with highly technical approaches, Ferguson’s menus take your traditional favorites to the next level.

Check out his cooking hack for whipping up the best scrambled eggs of your life.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Easy Cooking Hack: Scramble Your Eggs With Sour Cream

"When you beat your eggs for scrambled eggs, add sour cream instead of milk to the egg mixture," Ferguson says. "This makes them creamy and richer without diluting the eggs’ bright, yellow color."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Executive Chef Ben Goodnick, Summer House

Summer House offers up a huge, California-inspired menu that’s as bright and cheery as its décor. Options range from guacamole and house-made chips to tagliatelle and beef-cheek ragu to spicy-tuna nigiri, and you can’t go wrong with any option, thanks to Ben Goodnick’s champion versatility.

Check out his cooking hack and put those leftover Parmesan-cheese rinds to amazing use.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Easy Cooking Hack: Save Your Parmesan-Cheese Rinds

"Save Parmesan-cheese rinds and add them to soups and braises for extra flavor and creaminess," Goodnick says. "They will melt into whatever it is you're cooking."

Note: Rinds can also add a nice, nutty flavor to risotto. And, if for some reason they don't dissolve, don't sweat it. Just scoop 'em out and cut into tinier pieces.