By their nature, kitchens are sentimental places. In any home, regardless of its size, the kitchen is a place people gravitate to, where they forge connections with friends and family, make memories and magic.
Since we all daydream about having a beautiful chef’s kitchen in our own home, well-stocked with appliances, gadgets and gizmos, we spoke to several local chefs about their own home kitchens and were delightfully surprised by their responses.
In true North Fork fashion, we discovered that less is more. Not everything is shiny and new, but rather tried and true; some evoking memories or passed down directly from other generations.
Many of these pieces (and methods) hold special meaning to each chef, which got us thinking about our own kitchens and the things we hold dear. My mom’s KitchenAid mixer that’s older than I am; a hand-me-down Le Creuset pot; a delicate piece of china in a display cabinet.
There’s simple beauty in how even a basic tool can hold such personal cultural and culinary history.
Five chefs shared with us what they cherish — and why.
The kitchen in Aki Goldberg’s East Quogue cottage is cozy. Everything she needs is within reach and the open layout allows her to easily scan for cookbooks on a shelf in the nearby living room. “I don’t need to walk very far — that’s the advantage of a small kitchen,” she said, smiling. “A kitchen just needs to be functional.”
Goldberg, of the eponymous Aki’s Kitchen, is a regular presence at farmers markets and Farm-to-Plate events at 1760 Homestead Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.
Famous for her soups, Goldberg would be lost without a Vitamix in her professional life. But at home, she enjoys the comfort of doing things by hand.
Like most chefs, Goldberg considers her knife her holy grail.
She’s owned the chef’s knife for more than 25 years, taking precious care to keep it razor sharp. “I won’t let anyone use that knife. It’s like tweezers or mascara. It’s not a sharable thing.”
If a knife is essential, so is a fork.
Goldberg’s go-to isn’t the kind used for eating with but rather a two-pronged carving fork that serves as a catchall in her kitchen.
It belonged to her Óma, a survivor of the Holocaust. Growing up in Belgium, Goldberg fondly recalls the fork being used to flip schnitzel sizzling away in a pan.
“It’s a little beat-up,” she said, pointing out a crack starting to form where the two ends meet in its handle. “But I’ve moved a thousand times and there are a few things I’ve always carried with me, including this fork, all of my life.”
Goldberg jokes that she finds herself holding it for many kitchen tasks, as her mother did before her — including unexpected ones like reaching for a pickle at the bottom of a jar, another item Goldberg considers a kitchen essential. “A house without a pickle is not a home,” she said.
Food was always at the center of any family gathering for Will Horowitz of Greenport’s Green Hill Kitchen, Anker and Alpina, whether spending time with family in Orient, where his grandfather was a bayman, or in the Bronx with family that operated a Jewish delicatessen in Harlem.
“They’re two very different cultures, but both completely based around food,” he said.
Those experiences certainly shaped Horowitz’s path as a chef, but his education in sustainability and time spent backpacking sparked a passion for cooking over a live fire.
“I can live without an oven, knife, refrigerator, spoons or really any other kitchen gadget,” Horowitz said.
All he really needs is a fire.
The premise, he explained, is based on locally sourced products. “You can’t cover up a good ingredient. And the best ingredients are also going to be the most local and sustainable ingredients. It’s such an honest way of cooking to me.”
The delicate complexity in grilling an ear of corn or locally dug clams can’t be beat and is also etched into his memories of family reunions, which always featured a clambake over a fire on the beach.
“There will never be a better or more memorable smell, sound or sight for me than roasting seaweed, crustaceans and local corn crackling over a wood fire. Take away everything else — who needs it!” Horowitz said.
Some of Lauren Lombardi’s earliest and fondest memories involve Sunday dinners with her large Italian family — and plenty of pasta.
As the sauce (or gravy) bubbled away on the stove, she can still recall the sound of her grandfather’s wooden spoon banging against the rim of the pot.
Though her grandfather has passed, his spoon lives on in his granddaughter’s kitchen.
“It’s huge and it’s worn. When kitchen tools are passed on from generation to generation, you can see the wear and tear and the love that went into it,” said Lombardi, who owns the Love Lane Market in Mattituck. “It’s very special to have.”
As she’s carved her own path in the culinary world, she too believes it all comes down to a good knife.
She treasures a set she received upon graduating from the French Culinary Institute in 2014 and offered this advice for anyone in the market for one: “It doesn’t have to be the most expensive set you see at the store,” Lombardi said, adding that it’s important to have a few quality types like a serrated knife for bread and cutting tomatoes and a more versatile chef’s knife.
Ryan Barth-Dwyer, of The Gallery Cafe and Kontiki in Greenport, spent much of his career working as a maître d’ and event planner in Manhattan but knew he’d eventually end up back in a kitchen.
Most days now, you’ll find him there long before the rest of the crew starts their shift. “I love to be alone in a kitchen, so I end up coming in super early just to spend that extra time alone,” he explained. “At home, I definitely feel at peace because for me, cooking is a very meditative process.”
If you’ve worked in a restaurant or seen an episode of “The Bear” on Hulu, you’ll know that isn’t always the case. “At work, everything’s on the go, and you don’t necessarily get that same sense of calm,” he said with a laugh.
One key difference between the kitchen at work and at his Greenport home? Access to specialty tools. “You have everything you could possibly think of right there,” he said, adding that that’s unrealistic for most home kitchens.
Instead, he opts for something more multifunctional, like a Ninja appliance with attachments for blending, food processing and so on.
He’s also learned how to go without certain gadgets — and to multipurpose tools rather than buy something out of convenience. (Think of that aisle in the store that has specialty knives and slicers for every variety of fruit but will likely collect dust at home.)
The kitchen item Barth-Dwyer can’t live without is a simple bamboo cutting board. “I bought the thing for like $10 at TJ Maxx 15 years ago and it has stood the test of time,” he said, and it remains his favorite piece of equipment, despite being a bit faded.
“It’s my happy cutting board and a constant reminder that I’ve accomplished so much with this and it’s still here,” he said.
The humble cutting board is proof that you don’t need the most expensive equipment to make the most priceless memories and a reminder that properly caring for items can help them last. One tip Barth-Dwyer recommends is not letting a cutting board sit flat after washing. Letting the water properly drain can ensure the board doesn’t warp.
Yuki Mori of Stirling Sake in Greenport swears by a Riken pressure cooker he stumbled upon on the cheap in a thrift store. “It looked like an old-school type of cooker, but I was amazed by its quality,” he explained. “Everyone likes new kitchen equipment these days, but old kitchen tools sometimes do a better job.”
Pressure cookers are a kitchen wizard that can help you get dinner on the table in no time using heat, pressure and moisture to drastically reduce cooking (and clean-up!) time.
A wooden trivet handcrafted by Mori’s father also holds an important place in his kitchen and, fittingly for the owner of a sushi restaurant, it’s shaped like a fish. “Every time I make hot stuff, I use [the trivet] and I remember a warmness of my family,” he said.
A native of Fukuoka, Japan, Mori was drawn to the North Fork after discovering the bountiful local produce and fish — and seeing a thirst for sake in the wine region.