10 Restaurant Secrets to Creating an Incredible Meal


Season (and Taste) as You Go

According to Chef Scott Conant of New York's acclaimed Italian restaurants L'Impero and Alto, under-seasoning is one of the biggest mistakes cooks make. He's backed up in this assessment by Joey Altman, who cooked for and/or co-owned many restaurants before becoming a television cooking show host, and by the Barkers of Magnolia Grill, whose motto is "not afraid of flavor." All of them advise cooks to season food throughout the cooking process, and to taste it to make sure you're getting the flavor you want.

Conant's secret is salt. He skips the iodized table type and employs kosher, sea and smoked salts. The kosher salt is for cooking because it dissolves quickly in water and doesn't leave an aftertaste. It's good for seasoning meat, too; the large grains make it easy to see how much salt you've sprinkled on. He adds a pinch of sea salt or smoked salt to dishes just before serving.

"My advice is to keep a salt cellar filled with this sea salt near the stove or on the table," Conant says. "Once you start using it . . . you will understand how this easiest of culinary 'tricks' is often what takes a dish from good to great."

Altman and the Barkers are fans of bold and layered flavors. For Altman, this means using combinations of fresh and dried seasonings -- like chili peppers -- to create a deep flavor with nuances you'll notice as you eat. At the Magnolia Grill, layering includes building a meal with complementary and contrasting flavors, temperatures and textures.