Photo: Flickr / captaincinema
New York’s foodie culture is thriving, but it takes a lot of money to sample the restaurant scene and shop at the farmer’s market, reports New York Magazine’s Michael Idov. When asked how much she blows each month on eating out and artisanal groceries, Diane Chang, 27, confessed she spends roughly 25 per cent of her paycheck—way too much!
We tapped Ronna Welsh, chef and founder of Brooklyn’s Purple Kale Kitchenworks, for some foodie-approved tips on how to eat well without breaking the bank.
Buy only the best ingredients you can afford. “By starting with the very best ingredients you can afford, cooking becomes much easier,” says Welsh. “You’ll have to do less to fix the food and the results will be much more satisfying.” In fact, using high-quality ingredients will make you a better cook. “If you start with inferior ingredients, you’ll have to know more about how to cook in ways that will take the pleasure away from discovery,” she adds.
Only stock one version of every ingredient. “You don’t need three different kinds of olive oil—a light version, one for stir-frying and another you only break out when you have company,” she said. “Just buy one and make it the best you can find.” Why use a nasty wine for cooking and another for tasting, when one obviously trumps the other?
Buy in bulk and commit to cooking whatever you purchase at the farmer’s market. Hitting the market can be fun, but also wasteful, says Welsh. “You may want to indulge, but unless it’s an item with a two-week run, or something that’s new to you, you’re better off buying in bulk,” she adds. The reason? You don’t want to risk throwing spoiled food (and money) away, and you’ll have a clear understanding of how to cook the item for a variety of dishes, not just one. The way to do the latter, says Welsh, is by making a commitment to cook it. “You’ll understand all the things you can do with that item.”
At the butcher, buy less than you think you’ll need. “I like to encourage people not to think of meat as the centre of the plate,” Welsh says, adding that there are plenty of ways to do this, from tossing meat in a salad to featuring it as a side dish. “Thinking about the different ways to feature meat in a meal will give you options for buying less of it.” To that end, buy less than the norm, but only buy the good stuff—it is a splurge, after all.
Scale back on the cheese wheel. “You should buy whatever cheese that you want and be able to treat yourself to something really delicious,” says Welsh, “but a tiny bit of cheese can go a long way.” In fact, cheese actually tastes better in thinner slices, she adds. Consider this the next time you go to lob off a big hunk with the butter knife.
Switch up your fish. When buying fish, it pays to check out your options. “A lot of people defer to salmon, but there are so many other ways to purchase fish that aren’t just about the filet,” Welsh says. “First, you can buy a little bit less of the best quality, and second, you can choose to buy shellfish.” Her picks: mussels and clams, which come in all shapes and sizes. “They have an amazing briny flavour, and are rich in oils and nutrients.” Another option: smaller fish, like sardines, which cost less.