6 Questions with Compete to Eat Host Jo Lusted

On Compete to Eat, Chef Jo Lusted helps prepare three-course feasts using whatever ingredients she can find in tiny pantries. We caught up with her to find out more about that experience.

What are some of the toughest cooking limitations you experienced on the show?

Off-the-grid cottages with no hydro or running water definitely keeps you on your toes, but it's manageable and makes the hour a lot of fun. When you combine that with another element, such as very limited ingredients or a team who doesn't cook much at home (or has been drinking all day LOL!), that's when things get a little hectic!

What's the most-impressive thing you've seen someone pull off in a tiny kitchen?

Years ago I knew of a lady who ran a business selling beautifully decorated cakes that she baked and decorated in the smallest kitchen you've ever seen — about the size of an apartment kitchen. Now, that's skill.

What are some of the craziest ingredients you’ve seen in someone's pantry?

In the freezer: chipmunks and birds for their pet snake. Pantry: flour from the 1990s.

Do you have any tips for people who cook in small places?

  1. Keep the counters empty. When you have a small space, there is no room for toasters, blenders, etc. to live in this precious real estate. Look for space-maximizing storage solutions and think vertical: using walls to hang things, tops of cupboards for baskets of rarely used items, and try a hanging pot rack to free up cupboard space (or instead of storing pots and pans in the oven. Ha!). 
  2. Mise en place. In restaurants, cooks and chefs minimize chaos and clutter in their small workstations by prepping ingredients in advance. Adopt a similar mantra: Wash, trim and prep vegetables before they go in the fridge; portion and marinate proteins; and have items like caramelized onions, pesto and tomato sauces portioned into small containers and frozen for speedy additions to meals. Organization in a small space is key!
  3. Keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate meals with tons of ingredients and process-heavy recipes.
  4. Good-quality convenience items. When you're pressed for space, purchasing a sauce, a dessert, or a bean, whole-grain or green salad can be a smart move to save your sanity.

What are your top 10 must-have kitchen tools to have if you can fit only a few in your kitchen?

  1. Chef's knife
  2. Small serrated paring knife (Go for the cheap ones! I have three at all times.)
  3. Lightweight, thin bamboo cutting boards for easy storage and washing — one large and one small.
  4. High-heat spatula
  5. Salad spinner (basket also doubles as a colander)
  6. Five pans: 6-inch and 12-inch skillet, 2-quart saucepan, 5-quart stockpot or saucepan, 5-quart saucepan with lid
  7. Small food processor
  8. Blender (smoothies/pureeing soups/etc.), or immersion blender if you don't make smoothies
  9. Box grater (make sure one side is similar to a rasp for garlic, Parmesan, lemon zest, etc.)
  10. Two good baking sheets/jelly roll pans

What about 10 must-have ingredients?

  1. Lemons
  2. Garlic
  3. Onions
  4. Coconut oil
  5. Baby greens (kale, spinach, arugula, etc..)
  6. Eggs
  7. Spices! Especially salt-free blends; buy or make your own
  8. Sea salt
  9. Dried beans
  10. Strong cheese like Parmesan, feta, blue cheese or Pecorino
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