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.

Kitchens 23 January,2006Shuna Fish Lydon

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for that comment by your mom – I love it! This whole article was fun to read. BTW: one of my best friends is a terrible cook (everything is either raw, burnt, or 3 hrs late) but I love to eat with her because she is brave enough to cook for me, and because we laugh the whole time.

  • drbiggles

    Hay, when looking for an apartment don’t overlook the absolute necessity of a stellar location for showing off your famed jam collection!
    I’ve only cooked at home for a chef once. I fretted for a bit, but realized, at least with this person, chefs are people to. I figured they’d LOVE to have someone cook for them and see if there’s a gem in there some place. I decided to make him a roast he stuffed & herbied up. I never let on what the menu for the dinner was, heh. This roast I then promptly smoked for 4+ hours with real hardwood, oh yeah.
    Turned out to be one of those, “best ever” meals and was a lot of fun.


  • lindy

    I love other peoples’ kitchens…especially the kitchens of other people who love to cook. A kitchen will often have a very individual character, even when the rest of someone’s house or apt doesn’t seem especially interesting. It’s intriguing to see how others arrange things, whether they are dealing with major limitations, like me, or designing their own spaces with unlimited funds.
    I started a series of posts about other peoples kitchens awhile back, and sort of forgot aout the idea after doing a few. You’ve inspired me to do a few more.

  • ReyEstate

    Kitchens also do wonders for re-sale value. I recently participated in the sale of two identical multi-unit buildings. One sold with 34 offers, all of which were 100k over asking. The other had 4 offers and sold at asking price.

    The difference, a wolf range!

    http://www.reyestate.com (SF Real Estate)

  • Anonymous

    I am currently apartment hunting and the first thing on my mind is gas or electric, I am obsessed, I almost rented an apartment that was all wrong except for the fact that the stove and oven were gas and antigue! Glad to hear there are others like me…


Shuna Fish Lydon

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She’s had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC.

Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna’s resume reads like the who’s who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers’ markets her muse.

Currently “at large,” Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.

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