Jason Donohue: Cooking for One in a Tiny European Kitchen

Jason Donohue cooking

If you’re having trouble cooking for one or feeling uninspired by your small cooking space, today’s “Heroes in the Kitchen” Jason Donohue’s story is for you. Below he shares how cooking for 1 in a tiny kitchen has actually been a fun experience.

Name: Jason Donohue
City, State: Originally Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, now Brussels Belgium
Outside of the kitchen I: Am a Project Manager for a consulting firm specializing in social business innovation.
Being able to cook allows me to: Not have to eat processed food anymore.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal: Roasted Carrots & Farro Bowl

Do you come from a family that cooks?
I was raised by a single mother who managed to do an amazing job raising myself and my brother and sister.  Unfortunately with the stress of working a full-time job and managing 3 kids at home, finding time to enjoy cooking was not an option for her.  We managed with lots of restaurant or fast-food meals as well as quick and easy meals often from the freezer.  I didn’t discover the difference in taste between fresh fish and frozen fish sticks until I was about 25.  My first and only formal lesson in cooking was a one-day course at age 29 in Thailand, since then I’ve been inspired to learn more.

What’s your current cooking situation?
Normally I am cooking for one, although I do enjoy having friends over for dinner from time to time. I am making 3 or 4 meals per week and using the leftovers to take for lunch at work.  I’m not a huge fan of the Belgian cuisine (other than the beer and chocolate) so I don’t go out to eat very often.

Cooking for 1 in a small European kitchen without an oven sounds challenging! How do you motivate yourself?
I used to only spend about 5-10 minutes preparing meals for myself because I thought that the extra effort to cook a nice meal was only worth it if I was cooking for someone else.  This year I made a goal (with the help of Cook Smarts) of transitioning from cooking as a utility to cooking as a passion.

I was motivated by some small successes in the kitchen. I started cooking dishes I never thought I would ever make like jambalaya and also learning to cook foods I never liked growing up so that they actually taste good (ex. onions, brussels sprouts).  Planning for new and interesting meals became a welcomed challenge for me, and it was kind of like I was starting a cooking school in the comfort of my own home with the pay-off of good food.

Do you have any tips for others that are just cooking or 1 or cooking in a small space?

  1. Shop at markets or places selling in bulk where you can buy exactly the quantity you need.  I was always afraid of wasting food before so I bought more canned items and less fresh produce.  Now I leave my Sunday mornings free for heading to an outdoor market to get exactly what I need for the week and no more.
  2. Set realistic expectations of how much time you have available to cook, use leftovers or ready-made meals to give yourself a break when necessary. I only plan only a couple meals a week and keep my schedule quite flexible for when I cook them.
  3. Bring your creations to the office for lunch – the comments from your colleagues will help give you extra motivation to cook more.
  4. And if you have only a small space to work with like me – maximize your countertops or table space available for food preparation.  I keep some soap and water in the sink and wash dishes as I go along and I also avoid permanently storing anything on the countertop.
  5. Be creative. I don’t have an oven but instead of just ignoring recipes that require an oven I’ve adapted them for stovetop cooking where possible. I definitely do plan on making sure my next apartment comes with an oven though!

What have been some of the most useful cooking skills you’ve learned since starting the meal plans?
The list is quite long but here are a few worth mentioning:

  1. How to master the use of the sharp knife without killing myself, efficiently cutting and dicing vegetables such as onions. (See our knife skills post here)
  2. Cooking pasta properly so that the pasta itself tastes fantastic and does not need to be smothered in sauce to make it taste good. (See our pasta video here)
  3. How to stage the cooking process, for instance – understanding the variations in cooking times between vegetables and when to add each one.

What do you miss most about food in the US?
Ironically, Mexican food. I also miss the amazing restaurants of San Francisco. I can only try to replicate them in my kitchen 🙂

Thanks Jason for sharing your cooking story with us. You clearly are becoming a rock-star home cook and not letting a small space stop you from learning and cooking.

To join Jason and cook meals like his favorite roasted carrots farro bowl, sign up for our meal plan service. You can get started for free!


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