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Top Chef Judge Tom Colicchio's Clean Kitchen Tips (Plus Salad Recipe!)

Fennel and endive paired with other fresh ingredients helps take your go-to salad from drab to a healthy fab! (Photo courtesy of TalismanPHOTO)

Tom Colicchio, renowned James Beard "Outstanding Chef" and Top Chef judge, takes a simple, produce-packed approach to cuisine, telling us that the one culinary skill everyone should know is how to properly season your dish. Don't overcomplicate it! "Simple salt and pepper go a long way," he said. We asked Tom about his kitchen must-haves, sandwich suggestions and how he keeps his kitchen safe from cross-contamination. Here's what Bounty's partner dished. (His salad recipe below is out of this world!)

What are five of your kitchen staples?

Beyond the right cleaning supplies—keeping the kitchen clean as you go is a must—my staples are pretty basic. All I really need are sharp knives, a cutting board, a couple of decent pots and pans and salt and pepper to season, and I’m ready to go.

How can we add healthy variety to break a monotonous diet funk?

Produce is the answer. I always start with produce whenever I’m developing a dish because seasonal ingredients allow you to add different flavors to a meal and give whatever protein you’re working with an entirely new spin. Proteins tend to remain the same, season to season, but vegetables change. Visit your local farmer’s market or supermarket and see what fruits and vegetables are in season. Once you figure out what’s in season, you can choose what protein you want to work with. You can create so many different, healthy meals by combining seasonal produce and protein and varying the base flavors with spices and cooking methods.

How can our readers lighten up their lunchboxes? Do you have a healthy sandwich suggestion?

I’ve noticed that people are becoming more aware of their diets as they adopt healthier lifestyles. I think people can lighten up lunch by eating less protein and turning to more vegetable-based diets. I like to take fresh salads and turn them into quick, portable lunches. For instance, if you make my fennel salad with yogurt vinaigrette, you could put it into a toasted whole wheat pita and grab it to go for a tasty and nutritious version of fast food.

If you could cook for any person—living or dead—who would it be?

I’d love to cook for—or with—Teddy Roosevelt.  He was a big outdoorsman and had a huge appreciation for the natural beauty of America.

How do you keep your kitchen clean and safe from contamination?

I’m obsessive about keeping everything clean in the kitchen, both at home and on the job. Paper towels are a must—I use them to tidy up as I go instead of a dishcloth. You can actually cross-contaminate kitchen surfaces if you wipe up with a used, germy dishcloth. It can harbor and spread germs, so using a durable paper towel like new Bounty DuraTowel is a much more effective way to clean. And one sheet really goes a long way - I can mop up everything from sticky sauce spills on the counter top to cleaning spatters off the fridge which helps me keep my momentum going.

Fennel Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette
Serves 4

1 bulb of fennel, trimmed and cored
1 cucumber
1 head endive
6 radishes
1 apple, cored
½ cup of sheeps milk yogurt (plain or Greek yogurt can be used as substitutes)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (mint, chive, cilantro, basil, parsley, etc.)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Juice of one lemon

With a mandolin, thinly slice the fennel, cucumber and radishes and add the watercress and endive. For the vinaigrette, whisk together the yogurt, lemon, vinegar, soy sauce and cayenne and slowly add the olive oil. Add chopped fresh herbs. Toss the vegetables with the vinaigrette and serve.

Now tell us: How do you keep your culinary haven safe from germs?