Looking at apartments lately has reminded me that my number one priority is a gas stove. Windows are nice, greenery is great, carpeting not dating before 1980 is helpful, but the kitchen? The kitchen has to be perfect. It has to feel like home. I have to be able to close my eyes and picture where hot pans will cool, how prominantly my fire engine red Kitchen-Aid can be displayed, and where my handsome set of original green glass Fireking dishes will live. A dorm room refrigerator will not do.
Kitchens are very important. I never tire of looking at them. In magazines or in movies or in real life.
Being a chef means that few people are brave enough to cook for me in their own kitchens. “I’m nice,” I remind them. “I’m always hungry, I’m a fantastic carnivore, and I’ll eat breakfast all day and night,” I plead. If desperate, I can do an interpretive dance about how cooks just love other people to cook for them.
In other people’s kitchens I give advice when it’s asked for and I try really hard not to when it’s not invited. (I’m trying harder all the time, I promise.) In the spirit of being a gentleman and a great, appreciative dinner guest, I will almost always bring a gift.
My mother always used to say when you’re at someone’s house and they ask you how you want your sandwich, tell them you want it the way they make it, or else you’ll never learn how to make it differently.
I’m not of the mindset you need to have fancy gadgets or coffee table cookbooks or have taken a class or get paid to be a great cook. Millions of famous chefs are cooking in their homes all over the world. Maybe it’s your mother, great aunt, brother in law’s boyfriend, gardener, local firehouse chief. Maybe it’s you.
Last year my good friend from the Texas/Lousiana border did the unthinkable. She shared her Boudin with a Yankee. Me. We walked to Popeye’s for their amazing red beans and biscuits, and I ate a flavor combination I would have never had had I not been trusted enough in this woman’s beautiful home.
In Berkeley recently I had tea with the visual artist and musician Polly Frizzell. It was in her aesthetically dynamic kitchen, alive with art and craft, I was first introduced to Keemun, a tea with the dark aroma and flavors of pine and chocolate. I brought Bakesale Betty’s lamingtons, little cake sandwiches with raspberry jam in the center, dipped in chocolate and whimsically rolled in coconut. Before I left she bravely gave me a jar of her first ever try at marmalade. Contingent of course on the fact that I would give feedback and advice for the next batch.
Long ago a short-order cook, I always have a nice time watching my friend A. prep the late afternoon lunches he makes for us. His communal house kitchen is a city of interesting things to look at and read. Once he utilized the working griddle of their behemoth Wedgewood and made us hash browns! Another time a bright and seasonal frittata in one very large deep black cast iron skillet was assembled with produce from Terra Firma’s Box.
My talented friend V. always pleases me. Since dating and moving in with her vegetarian partner P. they have hosted more than a few food themed parties I would call in sick to work for. A brunch party with all the fixings including more than one June Taylor jam, (and a multi-pans crepe lesson by me in record breaking heat), a Middle Eastern dip extravaganza where my all time favorite Muhammara played a starring role, and most recently a sushi party where we all got sticky rice hands making our own rolls. Fresh shiso shared the table with radish sprouts, tender shrimp and deeply red tuna.
Because eating in home kitchens are where we develop taste memories, cooking and baking for friends, family and lovers is an important act. Whether it’s tea and toast or a four course meal, the kitchen is the heart of these intimate acts.