The challenge of cooking with someone else puts to shame the idea that simply sharing a kitchen space with another body is difficult. If you fancy yourself a cook, delegating can be next to impossible. If you’re not a super-cook, asking one to help can be the most intimidating question you ever pose. Still, there is much to be accomplished by learning to share the authority in the kitchen: you might learn something, you might teach something, and you might have a little more time to relax and bask in the fruits of your labor.
For obvious reasons, we’ve had a little bit more experience than others in this department. The two of us have been sharing a virtual kitchen for nearly three years, a physical one for over ten, and we’ve added apartments of numerous catering clients, and one cookbook “test kitchen” to that list of shared counter spaces. We’ve been lucky that the level of trust we have in one another’s cooking, and the consistently equal power dynamic, has prevented little conflict, aside from the occasional cake fight.
But we have come to recognize the best practices that might apply to cooking pairs with less time clocked sharing a counter top, or, worse, a fridge. Here are our pointers to keep in mind while keeping the kitchen peace.
**Tips and Tricks**
1. Get your fridge under control. A happy kitchen begins with this most basic, though high-trafficked area. If your roommate persists in leaving one lonely tablespoon of milk in the carton, your mornings are sure to be plagued with a case of the grumps. To prevent this, if you both use the same basic condiments and staple ingredients, create joint shopping lists, just as you would any of the other apartment essentials (paper towels and TP). Make it a weekly or bi-weekly practice to replenish the items you’ve plowed through, and switch off the shopping duties.
2. Keep the pantries separate. Milk is one thing, but when your roommate starts eating your cereal, the vibe can get downright hostile. Determine two separate pantry areas for the items you do not want to share and be respectful of them. Any non-fridge staples that you’ve decided upon as household items can live in a third area (think flour, sugar, salt, pepper, spices, oil, vinegar).
3. Split the bill. As annoying as it might seem to highlight your receipts and total them every time you buy things for the joint shopping list, it will lead to less resentment down the line if you’re a little meticulous with your purchases and open about the mutual cost. If your roommate is your significant other, you might have a less stringent system that you are comfortable with. If trading money back and forth becomes annoying, just record the amounts on a google spreadsheet and you can settle up at the end of the month. You’ll probably find, if the shopping duties have been more or less equal, that one person will end up only being owed $5 dollars at the end of the month, in which case, you can buy him or her a drink and call it a day!
4. Start with one dish, plan the menu from there. Menu planning can be one of the more difficult joint ventures. It’s always best to give one person’s taste buds the lead, and have them choose a general direction—cuisine (Mediterranean), protein (chicken), or preparation (grill). The other person can then chime in with ingredients they will pick up or contribute from the pantry. Ideally, if the cooking will be shared, you’ve each contributed one dish to the menu (see below), and if not, the other person is comfortable with the budget and willing to split the bill (see above).
5. Treat the stove, oven, and counter as separate spaces. If there are going to be two people in the kitchen, try to keep in mind which dishes need which technique when planning a menu. Try not to choose two dishes that need to be roasted, unless they require the same temperature (though with two different cooking minds at play, there is bound to be some disagreement about this too). It’s best to choose one stovetop item, one oven item, and one cold item that just needs to be prepped on the counter. This will make the dividing of space easier when it comes time to actually cook.
6. Divide and conquer. If you’re planning on sharing the preparation of the meal, it’s almost always best to each choose a dish to make on your own, divide, and conquer. Chefs can be arrogant control freaks. Less seasoned cooks can be scatterbrained and easily distracted (at least according to those arrogant chefs). So it’s best for both parties to have one dish as your focus, and to stick with it.
7. Defer the simple tasks. If you are sharing a counter, and one of you has taken the lead as head chef, and the other as your less experienced sous, make sure to delegate some easy tasks. This is especially good when you have two (or more) cooking together. Some great jobs include: deleafing herbs, deveining shrimp, chopping salad ingredients (chopping veggies that are going to be cooked together can be tricky if your sous cut them into varying sizes), peeling potatoes and carrots, and mashing bananas for bread or avocados for guacamole, the ultimate multi-helper dish.
8. Don’t taste without permission. Did we mention chefs can be arrogant? If you have two dominant cooks in the kitchen, this point becomes even more important. If your lover is your sous chef, the last thing you want is for him to taste your soup on the stove before you’ve had a chance to season it, and tell you it needs more salt. It’s great to get a second opinion on something, so make sure to ask when your dish is ready: “does this need anything?”
9. Share the load (of dishes). If one person does the cooking, it’s pretty clear that the other should do the dishes, or at least should offer to. When both of you are responsible for cooking, make sure you share the dishes as well. Switch off as the washer and dryer, or if you have a dishwasher, simply switch places at the sink halfway through. Another tactic is for one person to do the dishes, and for the other to tackle the counter and stove-tops with a sponge.
10. Don’t let leftovers be left for rot. We come full circle back to the fridge. Cleaning the fridge of the things you no longer want to eat (or no longer can eat) is just as important as making sure it is always full of the things you so want to eat. Again, choose a day for this (we recommend Sunday), and get rid of the things that have been sitting for a while, or find creative ways to make them into new dishes for the week. Always ask your roommate if he/she is finished with something before you throw it away (unless there are organisms growing in the container). Or purge the fridge together!