What does the kitchen of a person who cooks 90 meals—that's every breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a month—every January look like? Is it covered, end to end, in flour and splattered tomato sauce? Is it decked out in all of the latest high tech gear? Is it huge and sprawling or compact and perfectly set up for maximum output? What does the kitchen of David Tamarkin, the digital director of Epicurious, author of the COOK90 cookbook, and also my boss, look like?
The reality is, it's kind of normal. Cool! But normal.
David's kitchen is not huge, nor could you categorize it as one of those tiny kitchens we've come to adore on the worldwide Internet blogosphere. The hook here is not, like, Oh wow he makes his own sourdough in this adorable little shoebox in Harlem, how does he do it? Nor is it Wow I aspire to this sprawling suburban monstrosity that's conveniently located in the bustle of Manhattan. It doesn't have any fancy contraptions or particularly decked out elements. It's a kitchen.
Yes, okay, there's a lovely exposed brick wall that gives off some great New York City character. Yes, there's a pot rack that tows the perfect line between chic clutter and streamlined efficiency. Yes, his dining room table is handmade and has a stylish/rustic live edge. Yes, he's got the internet's favorite OXO coffee maker and, when I stop by, he makes me a delicious cup of coffee in it. Yes, I envy that he has a dishwasher (a rarity in this town).
But, mostly, this food editor and cookbook author's kitchen is probably pretty similar to the one you're working with at home. Which is exactly the point of David's annual COOK90 challenge: anyone can do it, anywhere. You don't need any special equipment. You don't need a particularly well-equipped kitchen. Because cooking at home is for everyone.
But, okay, you want to do it well. And for that you still might need some insider tips. Since I was finally getting a glimpse behind the scenes of where the inventor of COOK90 does all of that everyday cooking, I took the opportunity to interview him about the tools—those essential, not over-the-top ones that he uses everyday, three meals a day—to get food on the table. Here they are, for your mid-month COOK90 inspiration boost, and your everyday cooking year round.
Small Mortar & Pestle
Before I visited David's kitchen, I never considered owning more than one size of mortar and pestle. He pulls a larger model down, rarely, for making sauces on special occasions. But the real all-star of his kitchen arsenal is his small mortar and pestle, which he uses on a near daily basis for grinding spices. He knows it seems fussy—but he contends that it's actually easier than using a spice grinder. "I don't grind all of my spices, but I especially like to do cumin and coriander," he says. "And if I'm only doing a little bit of cumin, it's more effective in one of these small mortar and pestles. I find it easier to do this than to pull out the spice grinder. It's easier to clean, and I can better control the size of the grind. Sometimes I want a little texture to the spices—like if I'm doing a tarka or something—and I can achieve that better by hand grinding them."
A Pot Rack
"My philosophy is that as much of my equipment should be on the wall as possible," says David. "My knives are on the wall, my pots and pans are on the wall, I have built-in cubbies for tools and ingredients to be on the wall. I try to keep as much as possible within reach and out of drawers. These pots are super heavy but the rack holds them perfectly, no problem at all. I think if it looks cluttered, it actually looks nice."
$26.00, Bed, Bath, & Beyond
David loves his well-used (read: battered) toaster oven. He uses it during summer when he doesn't want to turn on the oven. But, he also finds it more effective in many ways than his full-size oven: "It gets hotter than my actual oven—and it comes to temperature faster. And you can control the heat better," he says. "I just find it very effective for roasting and baking. I often have cookie dough in the freezer and I'll bake one or two at a time in here. I also love doing fish for two in the toaster oven."
$94.00, Bed, Bath, & Beyond
A Honey Collection
You may have thought all honeys tasted the same. If so, you've been thinking about honey wrong.
"I had this frenemy once and she was so dubious of my honeys. She was like, 'honey is honey and it just tastes like honey,' which is ridiculous because the way honey tastes is totally dependent on the flowers and plants the bees who made it pollinated. Even the cheap honeys you get in the bear are going to taste different from one another. Anyway, I sat my friend down and made her taste every single honey I had. She was a believer after that."
I was a believer, too, after I tasted an odd molasses-y, malty one from David's collection It was bitter, with a really dark flavor profile—it didn't even taste like what I know to be honey, and it was delicious. David uses these varieties of honeys in different ways—the milder ones could be used in cooking, but the complex ones like the one I tasted are really for topping only.
"I collect honeys precisely because they're all so different from each other," David says. "Some are fruity, some are bitter, some are really herbal. And I'm just into bees, okay? I think bees are cool, and I want to support their work."
$6.00, Snuk Foods
A Dough Scraper
"Like everyone, I love using a dough scraper for a bunch of different reasons—and I loved using it even before I got into making bread. But now I use it for actual dough. I use it to clean flour off of the surface of my counter, for scooping up dough off of the countertop and to guide me in shaping it. Of course, I also use it for scooping up onions or garlic that I've chopped. And, along with my rotating cake stand, I use it as a way to frost a cake and get a smooth surface."
David points out that there's absolutely no reason you need a banneton to make bread. He was just at the stage of his breadmaking hobby where he felt he could justify a few fun extra tools. Plus, it gives you those beautiful swirling patterns in your bread dough. "I wanted to see how long my sourdough baking could last and I thought, well, if it lasts three months, then I can buy some toys. This is the first toy I bought. I essentially just have these for fun and as a reward for keeping my hobby going—and because I like using my bannetons, it will keep my hobby going even longer."
Originally Appeared on Epicurious