I had the chance to speak with one of San Francisco's most prominent female chefs, Traci Des Jardins. You may be familiar with her, thanks to an appearance on the Food Network's Next Iron Chef competition. Now Des Jardins is happy to be out of the spotlight, "I don't like being that recognizable," and back in the kitchen. Her elegant eatery, Jardiniere, recently launched a Monday night themed price-fixe dinner and she's working on a signature restaurant at Tahoe's NorthStar resort, which will be mountainesque with a casual feel (think wood tables), great service, and sophisticated food.

Des Jardins believes the key to restaurant success during a tough economy is to "control costs and be really financially savvy." We talked about how this concept can translate to the everyday kitchen. To find out what she had to say and check out her advice for being a better home cook,


According to Des Jardins, being a clever cook is not about having the latest gadgets. It's about properly stocking your kitchen with the components to make a meal. Items she recommends having on hand are salt, olive oil, capers, anchovies, and tomato sauce. Here are her tips for being a more practical home chef:

  • Go to smaller farmers markets and speak with the farmers. You don't always have to purchase organic to get fruit and vegetables that are pesticide free.
  • Go to the farmers market when it's closing down. You'll see more deals that way. None of the farmers want to carry their produce home with them, so they may be willing to bargain or cut costs.
  • Select lesser cuts of meat and consume less meat. In general, vegetarian cooking is cheaper.
  • Cook your kids' favorite foods in batches and freeze them.
  • Skip the boxed macaroni and cheese and Stove Top stuffing and stock your pantry instead, with the fixings for burritos (tortillas, canned beans, rice) and pasta.
  • Fill your freezer with ingredients that can be used to make quick meals like frozen peas and fresh bread.
  • If you are going to splurge on one cooking item, make it olive oil. Since it's the foundation of so many dishes, purchase a high-quality oil that will enhance and enrich the overall flavor of the dish.

What do you think of Des Jardins's tips?