I spend a great deal of time in my kitchen. Cutting, chopping, frying, kneading, grating, whisking, stirring, and tossing all take their tolls on my muscles, joints, and ligaments. I love allowing my imagination and body to collaborate towards food I'm excited to eat and proud to serve, but I often end up sore as a result.
In particular, my upper back kills me when I sacrifice form during high pressure meals (Thanksgiving, parties, etc.). Some amount of this discomfort is unavoidable, but adopting some best practices can save you some grief.
This blog post will aggregate some tips and tricks for keeping your body feeling fresh while you prepare your next culinary masterpiece.
1. Find a way to adjust your counter height to align with the height of your body. There is no blanket rule for the ideal ratio of counter height to arm height. If you find yourself short in stature, a step-stool can increase the speed at which you use your knife. Additional height will also allow you to knead dough while leveraging your body weight. If you find yourself too tall in relation to your counter, don't crouch. Instead, bring the counter to you with a thick cutting board atop a damp towel for stability. You're looking for a counter height that allows you free range of motion without stretching or straining.
2. Stirring and whisking can be easy on the body if you're working with soup or scrambled eggs, but preparing some fresh creamy horseradish for your St. Patrick's Day leftovers very well might wear you out. Consider whether you are using your spoon or whisk overhanded or underhanded - best use will depend on the application. Also consider if your bowl is flat on the counter, or if it will ease your task to hold the bowl and your utensil angled. When preparing an emulsified dressing or some whipped cream for the creamy horseradish mentioned above, I prefer the bowl to be cocked at 30 degrees and the stirring utensil to move perpendicular to the bottom of the bowl. This angled dynamic works best for me with most of the movement occurring in my wrist rather than my forearm.
3. Though much of your cooking will take place using your back, chest, arms, and hands, don't discount the role your lower body plays in cooking. Wear comfortable shoes with arch support, especially if you're going to be leaning over a counter all day. Bend your knees! Locking your knees for extended periods will reduce blood flow to the brain, and can result in passing out (see YouTube "locked knees" during military formations, weddings, athletic competitions, etc.). Don't pass out into your food.
4. Grip the blade face of your Chef's knife or Santoku with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Drape the rest of your hand partially on the spine (dull knife back) and partially on the handle. If you are unfamiliar with this grip, it will feel unusual. Gripping the blade closer to the knife tip as opposed to the handle will dramatically increase your control. Adopting this grip markedly upped my slicing and chopping skills. Your index finger develops a small callous with this method, but I'm inclined to think that significant amounts of chopping always will.
5. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Leaning too far over your stove or counter will be tempting. I am guilty of this practice all too often. Upright posture will strengthen your back and reduce subsequent soreness after extensive meal prep.
*Note, I have not been trained by any culinary institute. This advice comes from working in a kitchen and home cooking.
If honing in your stance, posture, form, and range of motion seems cumbersome, remember that your immersion blender, food processor, and KitchenAid can reduce your labor time. If you want to take your labor down even further, personal chefs can be hired for parties for less than you might imagine. Finally, if technology and professional cooking are not at your disposal, nothing beats a meal cooked by your Boo.