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Chef Rebecca Barron holds a masala dabba, used to keep readily used spices at your fingertips in Indian cooking. / Contributed photo

This story was updated on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at 12:52 p.m. with additional information.

When coronavirus lockdowns closed restaurants and interrupted the supply chain to grocery stores, our kitchens became the nexus of our food world. Suddenly we were faced with the realities of full-time food preparation. Of panic buying and food shortages. Of the urge to stockpile foods and waste nothing.

That helps to explain the tins of Spam spilling from our cabinets and all the banana bread we baked. But now it's time to make sense of all that impulse buying — to take stock of what we have and what we need.

Even when coronavirus worries abate, industry analysts predict that the way we use our kitchens will look different in a post-COVID-19 world. The pandemic has profoundly affected our behavior. Our homes — especially our kitchens — will evolve to reflect that.

"So far, there have been three major kitchen-related changes that we have had to adopt on a moment's notice," according to a report by online appliance retailer A.J. Madison.

"First, we have been forced to alter the way we shop, store and prepare food. Second, we have more time at home to get organized, tackle lingering projects and sanitize our homes. Finally, we have had to change the way we interact and socialize with family, friends and colleagues."

Among the coming trends the A.J. Madison analysts cite are increased capacity in refrigerators, freezers, cabinets and pantries for food storage.

But what exactly should we be storing? For answers, we asked a few Chattanooga chefs what they keep on hand when they're at home. Here's what we found when they showed us their pantries.

While they all mentioned pasta as an indispensable dinner, their go-to ingredients range from heavy cream, to garlic and anchovies, to Parmesan cheese and egg yolks. Here are some of their ideas to help you fine-tune your grocery list.

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Cynthia Wood of Davis Wayne's

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Staff file photo / Cynthia Wood, left, and Antonia Poland, co-owners of Ooltewah restaurant Davis Wayne's, say they stock the basics in their home pantry, but they're quality basics, such as artisan bread, specialty cheeses and real butter.

"Staples are always in our pantry at home," says Cynthia Wood, referencing her partner and Davis Wayne's co-owner Antonia Poland.

Eggs and oatmeal are among the essentials, but the two professional cooks, who opened their Ooltewah restaurant in October 2018, can offer a lesson in small indulgences even with something as basic as combining butter, bread and cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich.

"You need good bread for that," says Wood. "Artisan bread. Good cheese. Real butter. We've got some really great smoked Gouda and some aged cheddar in the refrigerator."

Wood says she and Poland prepare a fresh garden salad every week, making it in bulk on a large sheet pan. They slide the pan into the fridge and grab individual portions during the week.

"We always keep fruit — bananas or Cuties [clementines], apples or strawberries, grapes, whatever's fresh and in season," Wood says.

"Always some heavy whipping cream," she adds. "You never know when you might need to whip up a dessert — or you can use it to make your own Alfredo sauce for fettuccine Alfredo. I always keep some for fettuccine or penne pasta."

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Kristen Slettehaugh of Scottie's on the River

"The things I always try to have on hand are olive oil, tomato paste, cloves of garlic, pasta and, in my fridge, milk and butter. And I try to keep basil and oregano, and I usually keep some anchovies as well in my pantry," says Kristen Slettehaugh, sous chef at Scottie's on the River in downtown Chattanooga.

"You can tell I like pasta," she says after naming off her checklist of essentials. "Stuff that's easy to make."

Slettehaugh says she doesn't have a particular favorite recipe, but recommends the use of olive oil and garlic for any and all pasta dishes.

"When I make pasta, I tend to use more garlic than the recipe calls for," she says. "I think it always makes it taste a little better."

And never underestimate the value of keeping a guilty pleasure at the ready. For her, it's Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream, a mix of chocolate ice cream with marshmallow and caramel swirls and fish-shaped chunks of chocolate.

"There's always a pint in my freezer," she says. "When I work super-long nights, sometimes it's the only thing I eat all day."

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Rebecca Barron of Slick's Burgers

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Chef Rebecca Barron's list of pantry essentials is long, centering mostly around a fairly exhaustive list of spices. / Contributed photo

Perhaps befitting a James Beard Award semifinalist, earned during a previous stint at St. John's Restaurant, Rebecca Barron has a lengthy list of pantry essentials.

"In no particular order," she muses, "I always like to have on hand garlic, yellow onions, green onions, soy sauce, vegetable oil, lots of butter, sesame oil, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, Indian bay leaves, black pepper, kosher salt, black sea salt, fish sauce, cilantro, cucumbers, sushi rice, basmati rice, lime, palm vinegar, coconut milk, cream, nutmeg, black cardamom, eggs, King Arthur [all-purpose] flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, fermented black bean paste, curry leaves, gochujang [red chili paste], gochugaru [ground red pepper], furikake [rice seasoning], rice vinegar, homemade stock in the freezer, frozen ramen noodles, miso, turmeric, coffee, black tea, chocolate chips, MSG, spaghetti noodles, basil, thyme, grana padano or another similar cheese, fenugreek [spice], canned tomatoes.  

"I feel like I could go on forever," she says, as if finished, before following up with an email to add: "OMG, can't believe I forgot: Duke's mayo and sambal!

"I was cooking fried rice tonight," she explains, "and realized I missed those two."

She admits to a tendency to stockpile one of those staples: "Rice, rice, rice."

And she's also putting up pickles from the cucumbers that have grown in her garden this summer.

"My favorite meal that I whip up is seasoned sushi rice with a lime-cucumber salad on top, garnished with cilantro and furikake [a rice seasoning]. Another favorite is garlic-butter spaghetti with Parm [Parmesan cheese] and egg yolk."

Oh, and one last addition for the spice list: "At Slick's, I've become obsessed with the fire salt," she says. "It's my new favorite finishing salt."

Pantry Recipe

Earlier this year, Chattanooga chefs Charlie Loomis and Mia Littlejohn took part in a virtual event for Times Free Press subscribers about the state of the local food industry. Loomis also provided a cooking demonstration for a pasta salad that is great for utilizing items already on hand at your house. You can just mix in different ingredients if you don’t have what is on the list. “The purpose of this recipe is to use what you already have in your pantry,” Loomis said.

Early Summer Pasta Salad

What you need:

2 cups pulled chicken

1 pound any pasta (he used fusilli in the demonstration)

Vegetables (he used broccoli, corn and tomatoes)

Fresh herbs (he used basil and Italian parsley)

Salad dressing

Cheese (he used feta)

What you do:

1. Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, then shock the pasta in ice water and set aside.

2. Cut vegetables into bite-size pieces. For every pound of pasta, you will want about 2 pounds of other items, including salad dressing and cheese. (For comparison, about 1 1/2 cups of dressing is equal to about 1 pound.)

3. Mix together pasta, veggies, herbs and salad dressing. Top with cheese.

— Charlie Loomis

 

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 1:12 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, to correct that Barron was a James Beard Award semifinalist.

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