In my kitchen, I have a large center island where I do all my chopping, mixing, unmolding, cooling, and plating. It is a fantastic, farm table-sized space—with just one flaw. When I’m working at it, my back is to the sink and therefore to the trash can under the sink, the knife block on the counter next to the sink, and the utensil crock between the sink and the oven. I’m good at pirouetting around to get what I need, but I’m not so hot at doing the same maneuver to put things back where they belong. (This is a problem elsewhere in my life as well, but that’s another topic.)
For a while, I made do with keeping my knives beside my cutting block and using a pair of bowls: one bowl for still-in-use utensils like spatulas and whisks and the other for vegetable parings and compostable trash. The bowls took up a lot of space, but I could live with that. It was when I accidentally knocked my ceramic chef’s knife off the island and it shattered on the floor that I knew I needed to rethink my system.
I asked myself: How do professional cooks keep their workspace organized? Star chefs on TV have a gaggle of production assistants ready to whisk things away in half a second. Not gonna happen in my world. The super-pros I know have an ingrained sense of orderliness, returning their tools to the exact same spots every time they use them. (I used to do that, back when I didn’t have much workspace. The island has made me lazy, though.) Finally, I remembered the line cooks at the New York restaurants where I once worked. They line a bain-marie pot with a kitchen towel, then put their knives, whisks, and spatulas in it for an improvised, indestructible, easy-access canister while cooking. Bingo!
I bought three different sized bain-marie pots at a restaurant supply store (each under $10) and have been using them ever since. There is no longer any risk of knocking a knife onto the floor. Whisks and spatulas get a quick rinse and stay with me until I’m done cooking. And the containers take up way less space on the island and in the dishwasher.