Lessons in speed-cleaning your kitchen, learned from a video set

In 2020, I went from writing cookbooks and articles about food to also making cooking videos. Ever since, I have hosted four cooking shows, making everything from Punjabi chole to Raj kachoris, chaats in waffle cones, even a laborious nalli nihari — all under the hawk eye of the camera.

Even as I was teaching viewers how to make these recipes, I was constantly picking up tips and tricks from the set. For instance, it blew me away to see food programmers use everything from glue in ice cream commercials to plastic ice cubes for chilled colas and motor oil on pancakes in place of real honey (oops — did I give it away?). But I also noted the little things that our kitchen stylists did to make the space look pretty between shots — giving the kitchen a facelift in a hurry, if you will. It continues to be endlessly fascinating to me to see a set kitchen go from looking like a hurricane had blown through one minute to being completely calm and clean the next.

Here then are nine practical tricks to use in your kitchen when you want to spruce it up in a hurry (like that surprise visit from family).

Marie Kondo the clutter

Any room that needs an instant lift should start by getting rid of clutter. Clutter on the kitchen counter always makes it hard for me to enjoy the process of cooking — I work effortlessly when the space has only the equipment and ingredients needed for each shot. I’m not joking when I say: take your cues from Paris Hilton in “Cooking With Paris” because she cleans up after every single dish.

At home, one way to get rid of clutter in a hurry is to use the cabinet right underneath the sink (bye bye, unwashed dishes). At the studio, we use sturdy laundry baskets to stash excess, and wheel them back in we need things back.

Stash away supplies

No one needs to see your kitchen soap, detergent, stain remover, sink scrub, and cleaning gloves, so hide them underneath the sink inside a cabinet, in a tidy basket lined with a kitchen cloth — you know, in case someone chances upon them. Put things like pantry items and other boxes and bags away in their rightful homes. Dishes left for drying should also be wiped and put away. We use everything from our empty dishwasher, to our oven, even our refrigerator for this! I am pretty convinced this is heavily inspired by Carrie Bradshaw using her oven for sweater storage in “Sex And The City.”

It’s nearly impossible to clean a messy space without feeling really overwhelmed. So once you’ve decluttered and stashed things away, it’ll be much easier to give your counters and floor a quick clean (and no — you cannot avoid doing this).

Just add greens

Whether at home or on set, potted plants can help camouflage everything from food stains to wall cracks. They are a great piece of decor, and according to our set stylist, “give an illusion of freshness — of food and flavor.” Some of my favorites are snake plants, succulents, English ivy, and of course, herbs. Simply transfer them from the balcony to nooks around your kitchen.

Make it smell good

The bridge between a kitchen that is not ready to welcome guests, and the one that has it all figured out is a great scent: citrus, floral, and spice notes are top choices. You can do this by using a diffuser or starting a simmer pot. Closed kitchen spaces, both studio and real ones, hold on to cooking smells. Once the cooking is done, start a simmer pot and keep it going on a slow flame until your last guest is in.

Keep a cookbook (or many) handy

I’ve never seen a better trick in the book (pun intended) than stacks and stacks of cookbooks. Pepper Teigen, author of “The Pepper Thai Cookbook” champions this one. Use cookbooks not only to cook from, but also to lend order to open shelves or hide grease stains on the kitchen counter or wall. All you have to do is stack them up. Our stylist says, “Besides, adding lots of cookbooks to your kitchen shelf will suggest that you’re an informed host or cook.”

Use the cotton call trick

When we’re cooking big meals, kitchen waste is unavoidable. On set, since so many things are being made simultaneously, there is always a looming concern about smells emanating from the garbage bin. The cleverest hack is to simply soak a cotton ball in your favorite essential oil, drop it in the bottom of your trash can under the liner, and voila! It will release its aroma each time you open the lid.

Leave no fingerprints

Since it is impossible to empty all cabinets and open shelves and give them a deep-clean minutes before your guests arrive, (or before we start filming), here’s what to do. Cheat-clean open shelves by spraying your favorite glass cleaner or multipurpose cleaner on old newspaper (or use mild soap and water and a soft cloth) and giving any visible objects a quick clean. If you have 30 seconds to spare, wipe any fingerprints off of stainless steel appliances, using white vinegar and a damp soft cloth. All of this will create an illusion of a sparkling clean kitchen.

Fix the accents of your kitchen

If you don’t have the time to polish the handles and various other metal accents in your kitchen, the best way to hide any rust, stain, or grease is to throw a couple of kitchen towels on your drawer and oven handles. “We pick bold prints and bright colors to distract the viewer from any problem areas,” a stylist once told me.

But ultimately . . . A well-worn kitchen is the best kind

With over four million subscribers on YouTube, chef Ranveer Brar knows a thing or two about appealing kitchen studios. Brar says that perfection is overrated and the best way to showcase your kitchen to a guest (or a viewer) is by embracing it with all its irregularities and messes. “Let your kitchen look like a frequently used space,” he says. He also says it’s important to highlight things like personal art and random but meaningful objects. “These symbolize experience and warmth.”


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