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What your kitchen says about you

Posted in Food, Food & Entertaining, and Uncategorized

Paola NavoneCooking professionally has taken me to a lot of interesting places, many unexpected, such as the James Beard’s Awards, and some more fun than others, like cooking for a famous TV show, and the thrill of the adventure has helped with the drudgery of standing at my station for hours making hundreds of the same items, or being thrown out of bed at 4 am to rush to the rescue of a drunken sous-chef who was not going to make it in for the catered breakfast. All in a day’s work. Right now, cooking takes me into the kitchens of perfect strangers, who pay me to cater their dinner parties.

While I show up with all the food and spices and condiments and my knife bag, I end up using most of the clients’ pots and pans and assorted kitchen utensils. The first order of business, when I arrive, is to orient myself in an unfamiliar space, trying to gather everything I need before I set down to business. It’s a rewarding experience when the client’s party is a success and everyone compliments us about the food – in the process, I unwittingly pick up a lot of information about the perfect strangers I am cooking for, probably more than they bargained for.

Some of their quirks might be specific to a certain stratum of Angelenos but I suspect they apply to many of us in the Western World, which has become more and more kitchen-centric.

public-domain-wic-pTHE MINIMALIST – Not always, but often a man, with a state of the art kitchen that does not get used. Ever. Plates, pots and pans and other kitchen items are bought out of duty. On the plus side, everything is new and barely touched but it is often hidden in unlikely places, and the host will have no idea where anything is. Or what anything is for that matter. This involves a scavenging hunt with the host puzzling over items he or she didn’t even know they owned (or what they are for). Always very grateful for your efforts and invariably pleased with the results which, in their eyes, amount to some sort of magic.

THE GADGET COLLECTOR – This is someone who cooks quite a bit, mainly out of fancy recipe books, with a standing account at Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table. They just can’t resist the egg slicer, the fish poaching pan, the bread maker, the Japanese knives, the egg poacher and every manner of gadget even I don’t know what they are intended for. Surprisingly, this type, also often a man, does not linger about the kitchen asking you what you are doing, or how you are doing it. Eager to answer questions, he or she will know where everything is but space will be at a premium, because most counters are covered with coffee contraptions, Vita Mix blenders and the like.

THE STRESSED OUT MOTHER – She hires someone to cater her parties because her cooking abilities are sub-par and because she is downright exhausted. That she can’t cook anyone can glean by opening the freezer, stashed to the gills with any kind of frozen meal Trader Joe’s has to offer. You can also tell someone who doesn’t know how to cook by how everything is not organized. The silverware drawer and the plates, that should intuitively be by the dishwasher, or the pots by the stove, are all over the place. Kitchen towels and pot holders are few and far between and nothing matches. When I pack the leftovers, after spending too much time trying to find the right lids for the containers, I usually leave instructions on how to re-heat and serve. Like Trader Joe’s.

THE HOUSEKEEPER’S DEPENDENT – This type is fairly common. I will be greeted by a beautiful and large kitchen, adequately stocked, with someone who routinely cooks in it but only basic meals. If enquiring about something more than a baking pan or sauce pot, the hostess will fall into a panic, opening cabinets at random, proclaiming the housekeeper puts everything away. Usually housekeepers don’t cook, so random items can be found in unlikely places which follow someone else’s thought process, often garbled. Colander with coffee filters?

THE COOK – Clearly my favourite. She cooks, has a sizable amount of cookbooks but she doesn’t rely on them often. Her kitchen is intuitively organized and, upon my arrival, she will have stacked kitchen towels, cutting boards, serving plates and anything else she might think I need. She will not worry and feel free to disappear and make herself gorgeous, leaving me alone to do my thing.

kitchen-utensilsMostly, it’s couples I cook for and, if the husband has an interest in food, he will come in and ask  for tips and recipes, and will always offer a drink. And funnily enough, it’s always the men, both guests and host, who will gravitate towards he kitchen, whether it’s asking for seconds, volunteering compliments or wanting to chat. One of them even noticed I left the kitchen cleaner than I had found it – a compulsive habit of mine – and seemed equally grateful and embarrassed.

Kids, I love. They never stand on ceremony, will come straight to the kitchen to ask for more of what they want and help themselves unselfconsciously. Dogs are even better, especially the ones who mill around looking for scraps, cleaning the floor as I go.

In a city where a large chunk of the population thrives on hired help, it’s still awkward to relinquish your kitchen to a stranger who will be gone in a matter of hours and who will have peeked at your leftovers and opened every drawer in sight. I would not be able to do it. So I am grateful for the vote of confidence and for always being treated graciously and warmly. But, as far as I am concerned, my very neatly organized junk drawer is for my eyes only.

 

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20 Comments

  1. I love my kitchen! I’m definitely a cook, no ready meals in sight. I don’t have gadgets, and I’m not sure why, I suppose I just like doing things the way my mum taught me, by hand mostly. Oh apart from a stick blender, does that count. But I do have the junk draw 🙂 And a gorgeous set of copper pans from France, and a decent set of knives.
    Jane x

    February 26, 2014
    |Reply
    • I am not gadget prone either – if you don’t count the mixer, the Kitchen Aid and immersion blender. Oh, yes and a proper blender. But all this is allowed no? Envy you the copper pans – I only have a couple hanging on the walls that I curse when I have to polish them. They are small so I never use them for cooking.

      February 26, 2014
      |Reply
      • Oh brilliant to the Kitchen Aid! I would actually love one of those, keep meaning to get one, but never got around to it. Those gadgets are definitely allowed! You are right re the copper pans, mine are abandoned on a dusty shelf in my home in the uk, tarnishing as we speak!
        Jane x

        February 27, 2014
        |Reply
  2. I am the stressed out mother, semi-housekeeper dependent cook 🙂 Makes me want to invite to my kitchen and cook together with my whole family: kid, husband, dog, drinks and all!!!

    February 26, 2014
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    • That sounds like fun! Being the control freak that I am, I tend not to include anyone when I am cooking, apart from the dogs circling wide around me, but whenever I have helpers, I end up enjoying it!

      February 26, 2014
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  3. Since my husband and I share our kitchen with two young gals who live upstairs, it’s hard to know our kitchen personalities. However, it seems I clean the most….hmmmm:)

    February 20, 2014
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  4. Fun to read 🙂
    I’ve only hired a caterer once and it was probably the last time I ever did. Not nearly good enough and expensive anyway. Wish I could hire you 🙂 Most of the time I like it too much to do it myself though.

    February 19, 2014
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    • Given your experience and enthusiasm, people should hire you! If you ever decide to leave your day job…

      February 19, 2014
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  5. Embarassingly enough, I am the gadget collector. A little less now but for years I have been hoarding anything kitchen related without much using all that stuff. And, please, write that treaty on the fridge, I could really use it.

    February 19, 2014
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    • Sure, and I will take pictures too so you can all make fun of me

      February 19, 2014
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  6. silvia
    silvia

    Very close to the minimalist – in some cases even worse if possible.
    I’d be interested in the “must haves” too.

    February 19, 2014
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    • I hear you people! Will have both posts in the imminent future..

      February 19, 2014
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  7. Love this!
    At this point, I think I would characterize my kitchen a/k/a “me” as,
    Two steps above “The Minimalist”, after all, I am a woman;
    “The “Housekeeper’s Dependent”, but without the housekeeper and;
    “The Stressed Out Mother” but without the kids (he is all grown up now and living on his own) 🙂
    How about sometime sharing a list of what you consider to be the absolute “must haves” of any kitchen?

    February 19, 2014
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  8. Fabulous post, and as a follow up you could give us stressed out mothers (and cooking impaired ones with a hint of OCD like me) some pointers on how a kitchen should be organised. Fridge included!

    February 19, 2014
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  9. Annamaria
    Annamaria

    And now my dear you must give us a lesson on how a kitchen has to be organized.

    February 19, 2014
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    • I am not sure you want me to go there….I could write a treatise, down to how to organize the fridge. I am that boring.

      February 19, 2014
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      • Annamaria
        Annamaria

        Please do. Please…
        Start with the fridge, then… at your choise.

        February 19, 2014
        |Reply

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