Sarah Simmons one of the 50 best chefs in New York City by Food & Wine recommending Bertolli Olive Oil. Organic Olive Oil.

Want a Simpler Approach to Cooking? It Starts With Smart Shopping!

Fresh, beautiful ingredients bring recipes to life. But how do you have exactly what you need, just when you need it? And how do you make that run to the grocery store efficient, easy and, well, smart?

For Sarah Simmons, who was named one of the 50 best chefs in New York City by Food & Wine and before that recognized by the magazine with a “Home Cook Superstar” award, it really all comes down to good planning.

“We’re fortunate in that we own a café, a bistro and a catering and wholesale business, so we have access to all the fresh bread and treats we could ever want,” says Simmons, who helms her own hospitality group called CITY GRIT Hospitality which includes The Cafe at Richland Library, smallSUGAR, Rise Gourmet Goods & Bakeshop and 1649 Catering & Wholesale in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina.  “But because we only have one day off from work—if that—I have a regimented shopping schedule.”

Read on for Simmons’ industry-insider tips for how to shop like a pro.

The tip: Take stock.

“Once a week I go through the fridge and get rid of things that need to go. Then I treat my kitchen like a mini restaurant and take inventory.”

Your action items:

  • Check pantry staples to see what you may be low on.
  • Keep a running list on the side of the fridge that you can add items to as they run out.
  • Think through what you’d like to make and see what you can group together for each week. A quick hack: Search “chicken breasts” (or any other favorite staples) on a recipe website and find two simple recipes to create that week that use similar ingredients. Buying items that can be repurposed for different dishes throughout the week makes meal prep easier.


The tip: Make a (really good!) list.

“I make a complete list and then go to the store once a week. I always make sure to have olive oil, fresh herbs and a selection of spices from around the world. If you have all different spices, you can use the same cooking technique and even cook the same thing every night, and it’ll be completely different depending on the spices. So, a hot skillet, olive oil, veggies and a protein becomes something different each night if you use spices from all over. I love Aleppo pepper, vadouvan curry, ras el hanout, za’atar and sumac.”

Your action items:

  • Organize the list based on the aisles in the store.
  • Include the amounts of foods you may need.
  • Check items off the list as you shop.


The tip: Set your course in the store.

“We typically shop around the perimeter of the store, because we don’t need things like bread and treats, so we’re looking for fresh food, proteins and vegetables. We buy proteins to stretch them throughout the week; we’ll roast a chicken one night, then maybe pull the rest of the chicken for salad and use the carcass to make a stock.”

Your action items:

  • Have a sense, before you shop, of the meals you will be preparing that week. Imagine that you can stretch a protein—like a roasted chicken or grilled fish—as Simmons does, for two meals (leftovers over a fresh leafy salad work well).
  • Dip into the center aisles to keep your stash of dry goods— pasta, beans, rice, oil, vinegar and condiments—well-stocked. Delicious vinaigrettes are among Simmons’s favorite secret weapons in the kitchen. She keeps Dijon mustard onhand and mixes it with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime. Simmons also likes to mix tahini with grapefruit juice, olive oil and a pinch of sumac and sea salt.


The tip: Buy only what you’ll use.

“We try to be really efficient in how we shop and how we cook. So, I’ll get some beets and we’ll roast them to have one night, then we’ll dice the leftovers and throw them into a salad for lunch. One of my favorite things to do is to shred the beets on a cheese grater and add them to a pan with sautéed onions, some olive oil and taco seasoning. It’s like vegetarian taco meat!”

Your action items:

  • Buying in bulk is a great cost savings, and you can portion out the items so nothing goes to waste. Try freezing meat portions separately so they’re easy to defrost and use as you need them. Put browning bananas in the freezer for banana bread. These are all smart ways to reduce food waste.
  • At the grocery store, read the signs announcing “deals” carefully. Apples are five for $3? That’s a great sale—so long as you can eat all five apples before they go bad. Yogurts that are 10 for $10 are often still $1 each. Make sure to check the fine print before diving in!