The Surprising Foods That Top Chefs Admit They Always Keep On Hand

When many of us think of a professional chef, we may imagine a Gordon Ramsay type who has extremely high expectations for their food. What we probably don’t expect is that some chefs adore basic condiments, concoct unique Doritos creations, or considered canned and frozen foods a must. As it turns out, many chefs love all of those things and more. After all, they’re human like the rest of us, and they don’t always have time to cook everything they consume from scratch. Read on for more surprising grocery store items that are chef-approved.

Condiments Offer “Pops Of Flavor”

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Despite the notion that requesting a condiment can be offensive to the chef, many cooks admit they are a necessity. Executive chef Justin Smillie told Food & Wine, “I’m a condiment junkie. I love little pops of flavors.”

He went on to note that some of his favorites are miso and mustard. When cooking, you get to use spices and condiments like an artist uses paint. It’s part of what makes any dish unique and can add an element of flavor unlike anything you’ve had before.

Everything Bagel Seasoning Packs Food With Flavor

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Have you ever had an everything bagel and thought, “Wow, I wish I could make everything taste this good?” It turns out, you can by using everything bagel seasoning! Executive creative chef Katy Smith admits that she puts the stuff on, ironically, everything.

From popcorn to hardboiled eggs, it packs a punch of flavor into every bite. Best of all, people who suffer from a gluten or wheat allergy can finally enjoy homemade everything bagels without a sweat.

Cauliflower Crust Is Diet And Allergy-Friendly

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Mahyar Motebassem/Unsplash

Culinary operations director Glenn Rolnick says that he loves keeping a cauliflower crust around to adhere to people with various dietary restrictions. He notes, “They’re extremely versatile, especially when you have kids or healthy eaters in the house.”

The crust is a perfect way to whip up a pizza that will be enjoyable for dieters, low-carb eaters, gluten intolerant people, and more. Plus, it’s an extra bit of vegetable for the kids. Stack it with veggies, herbs, and sauce, and you have a meal for just about everyone.

Frozen Peas Retain Their Taste

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Chef Judy Joo notes that peas are one of the few vegetables that hold onto their flavor when frozen, so she keeps a bag on hand. Since peas can go into a wide variety of foods– pasta, rice, shepherd’s pie, etc.– she loves to throw them right into a dish.

Frozen peas are perfect because you always have them if needed and you don’t have to worry about whether they’ve gone bad. You can even throw them into soups and salads.

Doritos With Cottage Cheese Can Be A Fulfilling Snack

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Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images and Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Even chef Dan Van Rite values the powerful flavor of Doritos. Like a true chef, he had to modify the snack to make it his own. So, he decided to dip them in cottage cheese and in the process he discovered two grocery items he should always keep stocked.

The mild taste of the cottage cheese is a perfect match for the highly-seasoned tortilla chips. The best part is that cottage cheese is packed with protein, so you’re more likely to feel fulfilled after indulging in the snack.

Rotisserie Chicken Is Delicious On-The-Go

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While many of us consider Taco Bell or McDonald’s when we think of fast food, a chef may want something a bit higher quality when in a rush. That’s why chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opts for a rotisserie chicken when he’s on-the-go.

The baked meat is fresh and delicious and is already prepared so that you don’t have to sacrifice time or quality. Plus, it pairs well with just about anything. Jean-Georges recommends using the bones afterward to make chicken soup.

You Can Add Fresh Ingredients To Instant Ramen

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Michele Blackwell/Unsplash

Executive chef Markus Glocker admits that he “has a thing for good instant ramen.” The key word here is “good.” Even as a late-night snack, chefs want to be sure their quick grabs are worth the buy in terms of quality.

That’s why fellow chef Jimmy Papadopoulos opts for NongShim Shin Black Ramen. Jimmy does note that he adds in other ingredients to really make it his own. Apparently, college students aren’t the only instant ramen-lovers after all.

Canned Tomatoes Can Be Added To A Quick Dish

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Canned tomatoes may not seem like the sort of thing a chef would go near, but for Executive Pastry Chef Lisa Marie White, they’re a must. She notes that they’re perfect for making quick dishes because you just need to add some seasoning and oil.

Once you’ve heated the tomatoes and perfected the taste, you can pour it over just about any meat, but she prefers chicken. Serve it over rice or pasta, and it will taste like it took much longer to make than it did.

Haagan-Dazs Vanilla Bean Has Chef-Approved Ingredients

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Chef David Guas says that he loves Haagan-Dazs Vanilla Bean ice cream specifically because the ingredients are similar to his homemade version. Rather than going through all the work of making it himself, he can buy it ready and know it’s the good stuff.

The chef also admits he adores frozen Oreo thins. After all, if you’re going to indulge in a dessert, you don’t always need to do the hard work yourself. Pair the two together, and you’ve got a chef-approved dessert.

Sriracha Has A Unique Mix Of Sweet And Spicy

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When it comes to hot sauce, there are so many varieties out there that it can be tricky decided which on to put on what. Executive chef Amber Lancaster says that her go-to is sriracha for everything from salad to pizza.

She says, “There is nothing else quite like it that’s a good mix of sweet and spicy.” Spices can flavor up meals splendidly, but it doesn’t hurt to up the flavor. For Amber, sriracha is her “spice of life.”

Chocolate Is One Of The More Coveted Store-Bought Items

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While it some of us may imagine that chefs prepare their own chocolate, the reality is that many of them are not expert chocolatiers. Still, they crave the delicious treat like the rest of us. So, it’s no surprise that chef Helene Henderson places chocolate at the top of her store-bought favorites.

She even admits that she sometimes hides the chocolate from her husband and children! We can’t blame Helene for being as passionate about chocolate as she is her homemade dishes.

Hellmann’s Mayo Is Too Good To Replicate

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Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Chef Nano Crespo admits that there are a few items he’d rather not attempt himself. One of those is Hellmann’s mayo, which he describes as, “just impossible to replicate.” When a chef finds a condiment so impressive he can’t make (or resist) it, you know he’s serious.

Nano also says, “Good quality smoked bacon is hard to accomplish in a household setting.” Thus, he’s willing to grab a pack of pre-smoked bacon and a jar of Hellmann’s mayo when out and about.

Packaged Cheese Is Just As Good As Homemade

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Stanley Shin/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

As with chocolate, making cheese isn’t something that you know how to do just because you’re a pro at cooking. That being said, chef Kate Williams has made Boursin cheese before, and even she admits to preferring the packaged version.

She adds that she loves all cheese in general, so loading up on a variety of kinds is her norm at the grocery store. Far from lactose intolerant, Kate says her fridge is “loaded with cheese snacks.”

Sales Items Can Be High-Quality

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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

You may think that part of wanting the best-quality food means avoiding sales items, but there can be terrific items in the discount section. Just ask chef Anthony Carron, who states, “Usually what’s on sale is fresher and in peak season.”

Anthony goes into the store with little in mind, basing his decisions on whatever discounted meat he can find. He then grabs ingredients to whip up something on the fly, even if it means he needs to look up some ideas on his phone.

Canned Chickpeas Add Texture To Various Dishes

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Laura La Monaca/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chef Silvia Baldini doesn’t worry about preparing chickpeas herself, but rather gets them canned! The grocery store buy is a quick and easy addition to tons of meals and adds texture and protein. Plus, they last quite a while and are ready to eat right away.

Silvia likes to put them in stews, salads, soups, stews, and just about any recipe that she can slow-cook. She also shows off her cooking skills by using them to prepare a homemade hummus dip.

Cultured Salted Butter Is More Tangy

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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chef Jet Tila isn’t afraid to grab some butter while he’s at the store, but it can’t be just any old stick of it. He prefers cultured salted butter, which has one extra step in the production process that makes all the difference.

Jet explains, “The main difference is that the cream, before being churned into butter, first ferments like yogurt and cheese. This creates an amazing cheesy tang in the butter and incredible flavor.”

Whole Foods’ Queso Dip Is A Worthwhile Treat

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Similar to a rotisserie chicken, anything made in-house at a grocery store is bound to taste fresher and have fewer questionable ingredients. That’s what makes Whole Foods’ made in-house Chili Con Queso dip so delectable.

Executive pastry chef Natalie Saben admits that she is so fond of the dip, she could eat a whole pint in one sitting. Though she considers the indulgent food a treat, it’s well worth the calories to have something made with care.

Velveeta Cheese Has A Desirable Consistency

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

When you imagine a chef buying cheese at the store, you may envision them getting the expensive kinds in the special bins. But executive chef Shaun Connolly proves that this isn’t always the case.

Shaun has a particular appreciation for Velveeta cheese. His go-to is the sharp-cheddar slices variety because they are well-suited for burgers. Shaun says, “They have magical melting qualities,” which is what makes the brand so popular for grilled cheeses and sauces.

Snack Foods Can Be A Fun Indulgence

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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chefs have cravings too, and they aren’t always for something well-made. Executive pastry chef Camille Cogswell says that her favorite part of grocery shopping isn’t picking up some quality ingredients, but rather is choosing which unhealthy snacks to indulge in.

Plates prepared by chefs aren’t always the healthiest in terms of portions, but they at least are fresh and free of preservatives. Still, even they like to delve into a bag of chips and some candy every now and again.

BOGO Items Last Twice As Long

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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chef David Bancroft admits that the one thing that can deter him during a grocery shopping trip is a good buy-one-get-one sale. He says, “Nobody really needs two big jars of spaghetti sauce or two huge cans of baked beans at the same time…but, eventually we will get to the second one, right?”

Indeed, BOGO sales are a great way to pick up twice as much of something for no extra charge. For a chef, though, that means half as many items to make from scratch.