Since my dad was a chef, I've learned a lot of tips over the years on how to take a dish to the next level. I've also spent many summers working in restaurants and always find myself drawn to the work of the chefs. I've decided to pay it forward and present you with some little tips and tricks that my dad has taught me and a few that I've picked up on that make a meal restaurant quality.

Layer Flavors

mushroom, cheese, basil, sauce, pasta
Bella Fix

Using many varieties of the same ingredient is an incredible way to add depth to your dishes. For example, caramelizing onions in a pan for a soup is a great start. As you add more ingredients, add more fresh onion. You can do this as many times as you want to create deep layers of flavor throughout your recipe.

You can also use different forms of the same ingredients. For example, vanilla extract as well as vanilla bean seeds, or dried basil in addition to fresh. My dad does this all the time and it really allows for a flavorful taste experience.

Season Each Element

cheese, bread, meat
Jian Gallo-Kohn

This is the biggest thing I learned from my time working in the restaurant industry. When putting together something simple, like a sandwich, what really allows each element to pop is to season each of them. And I mean each and every one.

For example, to make a veggie sandwich, salt and pepper the roasted red pepper, put lemon pepper on the avocado, drizzle the tomato with a balsamic reduction, toss the arugula in oil and vinegar, and put a spread like hummus on the bread. Nothing better.

Use Seasonal Ingredients

parsley, spinach, kale, vegetable
Kendra Valkema

There is a reason why the best restaurants don't serve tomato or strawberry-centered dishes in December—they're out of season. Do research, go to a farmer's market, or simply see which produce in the grocery store is the cheapest. My dad consistently prepares chili in the winter and grilled veggies in the summer, and those are always a hit.

Some staples for each season are berries in the summer, pumpkins in the fall, beets in the winter, and carrots in the spring. Not only does this allow you to understand ingredients better, but the quality of in-season ingredients is truly incredible. They do all the work for you. Work smart, not hard.

Toast Nuts and Spices

cereal, hazelnut, walnut, almond, nut
Kirby Barth

When a recipe calls for nuts and spices, toasting them beforehand is one of my dad's best tips. This adds a nuttiness and toasty flavor to the food. Just toss some nuts onto a sheet tray and into a 350º degree oven until they are fragrant. 

When toasting spices, you should use whole spices, and once they are toasted grind them up in a spice grinder or coffee grinder.

Utilize Different Textures

sweet, chocolate
Shun Matsuhashi

This is a stellar last-minute step. Try adding a pleasant crunch to a tofu stir fry with some peanuts or leave some cranberries whole in your cranberry sauce to prevent it from becoming one homogenous, mushy texture.

In my favorite dish at the restaurant I used to work at, a smooth risotto was topped with French fried onions to create a complementary crunchy texture.

Vary Temperatures 

granola, yogurt, berry, porridge, oatmeal, muesli, blueberry, milk, cereal, sweet
Becky Hughes

If you use this tip, you should be prepared to serve the meal immediately. Easy ways to incorporate this idea include topping hot oatmeal with cold, fresh berries, serving ceviche with cooked sweet potato, or something simple like warming up pita to eat with cool hummus. This invigorates your palate and adds an element of surprise. One of my favorite childhood dishes my dad made was Russian beet soup topped with a dollop of cool sour cream or yogurt.

Use Fresh or Dry Herbs

Shun Matsuhashi

Fresh herbs are relatively inexpensive, usually 1-2 dollars in your local grocery store, and they are more than worth it. Make your guacamole the favorite of your friend group by adding fresh cilantro or sprinkle your ravioli with chopped parsley for a pop of color and flavor.

Dry herbs are another great option that last long in your pantry. Dried oregano is a must for spaghetti marinara, and dried rosemary does wonders for any potato dish.

Don't Skimp on the Salt

milk chocolate, sweet, milk, candy, chocolate
Krista Stucchio

The reason why upscale restaurants often don't have salt and pepper on the table is because they know that their food is seasoned correctly. Don't be afraid to use salt! Nothing is worse than bland food. 

Salt helps to bring out other flavors in foods, so if there's not enough salt, you won't be able to taste anything. Add a little bit at a time and taste as you go to be safe. Another option is to top your plates with some coarse sea salt for a beautiful glitter and burst of flavor. 

Use a Variety of Colors

sweet pepper, chili, vegetable, pepper
Torey Walsh

We eat with our eyes first. In general, color means flavor, so adding herbs, red pepper flakes, turmeric, hot sauce, and other bright ingredients can create a deeper flavor profile. Go out of your way to add color to your food. When making tomato sauce or chili, my dad likes to add chopped green bell pepper or herbs to break up the red tone of the dish.

When making fajitas, for example, use red, yellow, and green bell peppers instead of just choosing one so the colors pop. Also, don't be afraid of nontraditional colored produce like green tomatoes, white asparagus, or purple potatoes. These colorful veggies will make you look like a pro!


If you use some or all of these tips the next time you are experimenting in the kitchen, you are guaranteed an elevated dish with a lot of flavor. When you go out to eat tonight, check out the menu and your own dish and see which of these methods the chef used on your plate!