How to Cook in Someone Else’s Kitchen

Thanksgiving is approaching and with it every year the “Oh God, I have to cook in Grandma’s kitchen with three other people.” If you’re cooking in someone else’s kitchen this year, here’s how to make it less stressful.

My first advice, as smart as it sounds, is to avoid it whenever possible, especially if you have a tense relationship with the kitchen owner. Thanksgiving is a very stressful process, and people scouring your kitchen looking for a knife and you trying to put a turkey on the table only make the situation worse. Offer to help with the dishes – and continue, monster! – but otherwise don’t go to the kitchen. The owners will be grateful to you.

But suppose Aunt Cindy insists that you make your famous filling, since last year you didn’t shut your mouth about the filling your college friends made, which should be so divine if her great-grandmother’s recipe no longer suits you . Do not panic! Thank yourself from the past for choosing to casually mention a dish that can be prepared in advance in the privacy of your own home, and do so. There’s a reason hosts tend to instruct guests to bring side dishes and pie for Thanksgiving: unlike turkeys, they can be prepared ahead of time, travel well, and usually taste great at room temperature. If you must bring in a dish, choose something that meets all of these requirements and bring it fully assembled, preferably in a dish that you can stand so you never see it again.

However, sometimes you cannot refuse to prepare food in an unfamiliar kitchen. If this is your case, here are some things you can do to make life easier for everyone:

  • Ask the owner when they want you to come and show up on time. Mild arriving late is one thing, as home shows run Thanksgiving at least an hour in advance, but don’t arrive early unless you explicitly requested at the last minute.
  • Make 100% home cooking. This includes chopping onions, chopping garlic, and measuring out baking ingredients . Place everything in Ziploc bags or soup containers and take them with you as a mobile stage set .
  • Bring your knife and steel or a sharpener. Adapting a recipe to whatever cookware you find isn’t a bad thing, but never rely on your host to provide you with a sharp chef’s knife unless they tell you otherwise. If your hosts are known to use blunt knives, you can suggest that they go through Accusharp and become the hero of the day.
  • Communicate. Take a look around the kitchen, ask all your questions and get the necessary permissions before you start cooking. Once you start, speak in short, declarative sentences and be over-communicated.

Finally, find some cold. I’m by no means a “cold” person, but I have to pretend I’m ready when I cook in someone else’s kitchen. Try to confront control problems – if you have any – and do whatever you need to do to stay calm, whether it’s five minutes alone in a guest room with a meditation app or drinking wisely (read: don’t be overwhelmed so much that throw your mobile mouse on the floor). I promise everything will be fine.


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