Pantry staples vs. vanity staples: This James Beard award-winning chef gives a peek inside her cabinets, from vitamin C to MSG

March 18, 2022

It’s no secret that I love experimenting with all kinds of ingredients in my cooking, and there are certain tried-and-true staples I can’t live without. But what people may not know is that I treat my beauty routine the same way! I’m open to trying anything, but always come back to what I know the real workhorses are. Since I’m all about opening up and inviting people into my kitchen, here’s a peek at what’s always stocked in my pantry—and my vanity.

Pantry staples

I like to take a no-fuss approach in my cooking, which means making things as easy and streamlined as possible. With all of these items in the house, I can transform any random groceries I have in the fridge into a delicious meal.


I always have rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar and black vinegar on hand. Acidity is an undervalued flavor in cooking, and vinegar helps heighten and brighten the taste of any dish.  

Assorted dried beans

Beans are one of my favorite things to cook and eat because they’re satisfying, protein-rich, healthy and sustainable. At any given moment, my pantry is stocked with a white bean (like a butter bean or a corona bean), dried chickpeas, beluga or French lentils and cranberry beans.


I’m a huge fan of nuts because they’re easy to snack on, nutrient-dense and vegetarian. Sometimes I put them in smoothies, and if I have a lot of herbs or greens leftover from other dishes, I’ll combine them with nuts to make a riff on a classic pesto.  

Black pepper

It might seem like a given, but I’m always so surprised when people tell me they may not use pepper regularly. I love the flavor of black pepper. I use it a lot in my cooking; one of my favorite things to do is add it to vegetables while sautéing so the flavor blooms.  


I use MSG a fair amount now that I’ve been educated on why it was such a maligned ingredient in Western kitchens for so long. The umami flavor is delicious in cucumber salads, stir fries, noodle dishes and sprinkled on popcorn.


I think I could actually live without onions—but garlic is non-negotiable. If there isn’t at least a head of garlic in the house at all times, it’s a real problem.


I always keep at least four types of rice in my pantry. During the pandemic, I did all the cooking for my family, and making a different protein, vegetable and starch every night was exhausting. I needed to eliminate one of the variables, so I asked my family if they were OK eating rice every night. They were, so I made rice five times a week for almost two years!  

Dutch oven

I couldn’t live without my wide, shallow, copper Dutch oven. My uncle got it in Paris in the ’60s and recently gave it to me. It’s incredibly heavy, beautifully made and the surface is like glass, so food slides around without sticking. It’s so enjoyable to cook with—it’s irreplaceable to me.

Vanity staples

My bathroom might not get as much love as my kitchen, but I do appreciate a good self-care moment! Plus, now I’m learning all about skincare thanks to social media—and making up for all the beauty buying I didn’t do for so long.

Vitamin C serum

I always apply a Vitamin C serum in the morning after washing my face to help brighten up my skin. 

Lightweight moisturizer

I have combination skin, so I try not to use anything too heavy during the day. A lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer is perfect for a slightly dewy look. 

Nighttime serum

Since I didn’t wear sunscreen when I was younger (gasp, I know!), I have some pigmentation on my cheeks and forehead. I’m now religious about using a brightening serum at night to help lighten sunspots.  

Super-luxe moisturizer

I live in New York, so in the winter I get chapped lips, cracking around my nose and dry hands. At night, I’ll slather on a heavy-duty moisturizer to help with those incredibly dry spots. 

Makeup remover

When I shoot videos, I wear more makeup than usual. I used to use micellar water to remove it, but the waste from all the cotton pads stressed me out. Now, I’m in love with these reusable terrycloth makeup remover pads

Anti-snoring device

I recently found out I’m a snorer—not ideal, especially if I’m going on a girl’s trip or sharing a room with one of my kids. I’m so thankful to have found Somnifix. It’s medical tape that you stick on your mouth before bed, which keeps you from open mouth breathing. It really works! I sleep better now, and the best part is I’m not embarrassed to share a room with anyone. 


I always tweeze stray hairs as part of my nighttime routine. These slanted tip tweezers are amazing. I hide them so no one else in the family can use them.  

About the Author

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With March as National Nutrition Month, we partnered with James Beard Award-winning chef Carla Lalli Music as guest editor—especially because she has such a unique take on what "eating well" means. (Hint: She doesn't think fat is bad for you.) She is the Brooklyn-based author of New York Times bestseller, "That Sounds So Good," and the former food director at Bon Appétit, who now hosts “Carla’s Cooking Show” on YouTube.