What unique challenges does your small kitchen create?
Our biggest challenge is refrigeration; we have one reach-in fridge, not much larger than your home kitchen. We are always constantly engaged in the RowHouse shuffle, which is maneuvering so as not to constantly bump into each other. Our tasks are 90 percent of the time kept to the side of the kitchen where we are working. Mostly, we all love our tiny kitchen. Everything is an arms reach away, and mine is an extremely efficient work space. Heat is often a problem, but as they say, “if you can't stand the heat...”
What tricks have you found for making the most of your space?
Rework things till they work exactly the way you want. Do not stop working it until then. Change is only painful until you get used to it. You have to put things in exact spots, and always keep them there. You have to work clean, and you have to stay focused while cooking. I always start with a list, and check things off as I go.
Would any of those tricks work for people in their everyday lives?
Keep things close. Put things back where they go. Wash dishes while you are cooking. Don't leave the mess till the end. Always keep hot soapy water in one of your sinks to make this easy.
Where do you go out to eat when you don’t feel like cooking?
Here in Topeka, I have a few “go-to” spots, when I want to go out for a casual but not fast-foodie, dinner. I'm a nut for El Mezcal on Topeka Boulevard; I eat lunch there once a week and dinner probably once at least every two weeks. I love Tuptim Thai. I love Oriental Express on 29th Street — the sushi rolls, and the Szechuan string beans are so gooooood. I love Via's for pizza, though I do love to make pizza at home. I like the burgers and bar food at Celtic Fox, Henry T's and Varsity Blues.
For quick eats, I'd like to be Jimmy John's Jared, though I'm fast leaning toward the Submarina in the new College Hill area. I Love Chipotle, and Juice Stop in Fairlawn Mall sees me a couple times a week.
When I want a special night dinner, my favorites within driving distance are Pachamama's, in Lawrence. And I love Bluestem in Kansas City. I also am quite fond of Chez Yasu here in Topeka, as well as New City Cafe for a cool night out.
I don't eat at home very often.
Thanks for asking. Have a great week. Check all these places out!!!!!!!!!!!
After Greg admitted his fondness for beer (“Ordering the right drink” on Sept. 4), “ginandtonic” asked: “I know lots of people who love their beer. Maybe my problem is that my experience with beer doesn't go much further than Bud Light. What are your favorite beers?
I am an Irish lad, and my very favorite beer is Smithwick's. I could give you a whole list of the beers I love, but that one is absolutely at the top. I drink it only from the tap — the bottle does it no justice, which is the case with most beers in my opinion. Showing my age, I started shying away from draft beer when in the ’80s and ’90s beer lines were not taken care of, but in the past several years, vendors are taking much better care of their systems, so if you want a good beer, drink a draft.
I also like to vary up my beers. I'll try anything, except most domestic lagers, which some people swear by, but I just don't care for. My go-to bottle beer is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I've also recently taken a liking to Bard's, which is a gluten-free beer. Odell's 90 Shilling, Great Divide's Samurai (Rice Beer), Harp, Boulevard's seasonal Irish Ale... As you can tell, my list could go on, but go to the Celtic Fox, and order a Smithwick's. Make sure you tell them I sent you.
What do you look for in beers?
I like color, and I like beer cold. I like a bit hoppy, and not bitter. I like beer to have some body and not just taste like yellow seltzer water. I prefer local brew pubs, but if I can't find one, I'll always look for an Irish Pub. I love Blind Tiger's beers. I love all the local beers on tap at Via's Pizzeria. I've never met a brewpub I didn't like.
“sweet potato” asked: “Thanks for the knife shopping tips. This is really great that you're sharing all these great ideas. I've got a shopping challenge for you, too. I'm looking for pots and pans. I'm not sure if I should buy a set or separates. Then I wonder, should I get stainless or something else? Name brand? Does it matter what kind of heat I'll be cooking with (gas -- not electric)? Help please.”
I still haven't found my perfect set of pots and pans. I have an assortment of pieces, and have more bad pan stories (sets at least) than good ones. I'll spare you the brand names, because I honestly don't know if the pans were no good or if I was just not the guy to use them. I think this is key. There are so many different types of pans, because there are so many types of cooks.
I like workhorse pans — no frills but strong and sturdy. I don't buy pans because they are pretty or they match my kitchen. Pans can be, but should not only be bought for their kitchen design. Pans should not be held together by screws that you have to tighten. Handles should not wiggle or fall off. Surfaces should not flake off into your food.
All that being said, I like stainless steel pots and pans. I have a few Cuisinart saucepans that I love and use daily. I use two sizes of sauté pans for most all of my cooking (also stainless); I purchase the NSF Baker and Chef pans from Sam’s for this. I use a big stainless stock pot with a good lid — fairly heavy duty for soups and boiling. I use a five-quart and a seven-quart sauce pan (also stainless) for other duties. I have one medium size “non-stick” pan for eggs and a few other chores, but will probably scratch it beyond use before too long, so I buy a good one but one that can be replaced.
Most sets of pans, give you more pans than you need, so I buy pans piece by piece. I don't like pans that need special cleansers or too much TLC. Like knives, you should buy the best you can, but make certain you buy pieces that are welded or riveted — not screwed together. I feel the most necessary pans are:
1. Medium-size (nine inch) sauté pan
2. Stock pot
3. Four-quart sauce pan
4. Medium-size, non-stick (if you cook eggs)
Save your “pretty” cookware purchases for casserole dishes and serving pieces. Pans are tools.
As far as gas or electric, I cook on gas. It works better for me. I know folks who cook great on electric, and I myself have a crush on some of the new induction cooktops, especially the Electrolux, that I can't afford.
Cook on what you are comfortable with. That is always the key.
I hope this helps!
“runnermom” asked: “I know things have changed a lot when it comes to dressing up. It's rare to find someone who dresses up for work or church, much less when going out to eat. But I've been out for some nice evenings lately (sans kiddos) and lamented that most folks in a pretty nice restaurant ($25 entrees and up) were wearing blue jeans — if that nice. What gives? And what do you think?”
I puzzle over this myself, not necessarily because I think there is a right or wrong answer, but because there didn't use to be any answer but the one. To Work = Dress well, To Church = Dress in your Sunday Best, To Fancy Dinner Out = Dress up. Heck, we all (maybe many don't remember this) used to have to be dressed up to fly on a commercial airline. I suppose if, as a society, we've decided it's permissible to wear tube tops and flip flops to church and work, the lines just don't exist anymore, and it's just become a personal decision on how we present ourselves and what it means for us.
I admit, for myself, dressing up most often includes a nice (no fade, no holes, no tears) pair of jeans; an open collar, button-all-the-way-up dress shirt; and dress shoes. I think what we wear and where we wear what we wear now has to be for ourselves, rather than doing it for the sake of the "Jones’s." It used to be such a part of the social game to be part of the dressing of the parties and the occasions. I'm sorry it's gone, and I believe many people cross way over the boundaries and dress inappropriately for certain events and places, but somehow we've all just gotten used to it and excepted it as the way things are.
Here at RowHouse my answer to the question of dress, and I quote, is “People tend to dress up when they come here, but we don't enforce a set dress code. We want you to be comfortable, so business casual, or jeans and a nice shirt are definitely appropriate. You probably wouldn't feel at ease in flip flops and cutoffs, but we've never turned anyone away. We see party dresses and suits, and in the summer, nice khaki shorts and polo shirts. We describe the restaurant as intimate, elegant and cool.”
“sweet potato” asked: I know someone interested in becoming a chef. What's the best way to do it? What do you suggest?
I'm no authority on this question, but know the most important factor is to learn about food.
The most direct route is attending a culinary school. I think it's also important to have some base before culinary school as well. It's ridiculous to want to be a chef and never have stepped into and worked in a commercial kitchen in some capacity. I think to be truly rounded, you have to have done all the tasks you will be asking people to do, from mopping, scrubbing, dishwashing, chopping, making reductions, trimming meats, waiting tables, working with managers ... All of it is necessary for you to know not only how to make something, but how to make something work within the confines of the restaurant. It's not enough, in my opinion, to have no “front of the house” experience and do a chef's job well. Restaurants are a tricky business, and what most people see is just the simple eating. Well that equals a lot of different things coming together at just the right time.
So, get some experience in a kitchen, get some experience in the front of the house, and then decide if the route for you is much more experience or enlisting in a culinary program. There are a few good ones not too far away. Johnson County Community College has a culinary program, as well as the Art Institute of Kansas City. There is no question that more prestigious schools exist and can add lots of kudos to your resume as well as tons of knowledge that quicker programs will not have time for.
You must love to cook, but that is only the beginning.
“Barbara Hollingsworth” asked: I'm curious about your listing fruit jams on your pantry must-haves list. What do you do with the jams?
I use jams and preserves as bases for quick sauces and salad dressings. Apricot Jam heated with Butter, a tsp of Red Wine Vinegar, 1 tsp Stone-Ground Mustard, Pepper and a bit of Water to thin to the consistency I want, and you have a magical sauce for chicken or fish. Raspberry Jam does well the same way, and I love to do another version with Orange Marmalade, and leave out the Mustard. Thin Diced Green Onion is a nice addition to all of these.
Each of these, omitting the salty ingredients and pepper, are also great dessert toppings. Raspberry Jam heated with a touch of Butter over Chocolate Cake. Yum.
For Salad Dressing, I've used Strawberry Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar, Blueberry Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar, Apricot Jam with Champagne or White Wine Vinegar, Plum Jam with red Wine Vinegar ... The possibilities go on and on. I simply put 1 part Jam, 3 part light tasting Olive Oil, 1 part Vinegar in the food processor and salt to taste — usually just a pinch. Dry Mustard is another nice addition.
“all of olive” asked: Greg, I love reading this column (and good tip about Julie and Julia--I loved it!) and I love your restaurant. Here's my question: I'm looking for a set of kitchen knives that won't break the bank. I'm no chef but I take my cooking very seriously. Thanks for your help.
Thanks for loving RowHouse, and I'm so glad you went to the movie. I can't wait to go back.
So, about knives. I'm with you. Not all of us can spend $150 per knife, though I do have one. It was a gift from my staff at the Capitol Grill in Nashville. It is a cadillac of a knife, A Wusthof Chef's Knife. I can use it for almost any task, but I leave it at home because it's super sharp, and I don't want it mishandled.
I use a set of Member's Mark knives at RowHouse. I believe they are a knock-off of J.A. Henckels, which are another set I love. Sam's used to carry the Henckels but replaced them with the very adequate Member's Mark set — adequate as long as you keep them sharp. It was around $100. That's a small price to pay for good knives.
Now if that is out of your budget, I'd just buy the knives you will use the most:
*A chef's knife, or a Santoku knife, which is very similar in usabilty. A Santoku knife has a special blade that really makes for good cutting. Both of these are large knives and you need to spend some time and get a feel for the knife and its weight. These knives can chop, dice, slice any way you need, and the large size doesn't keep it from most little tasks.
*The next great knife is a filet knife. Still long, but thinner, great for trimming meats and fish.
*A paring knife, this little guy is great for just that, but I prefer a peeler for many of the tasks people use a paring knife for.
*And, of course, you need a good strong serrated knife for cutting bread.
Cheap knives fall apart, they don't stay sharp, and if you haven't already, you will probably cut yourself. I prefer knives constructed with the steel going all the way from the blade through to the butt of the handle, sandwiched between another material (like wood, or graphite) and riveted. Good knives will last forever, and serve you well the whole time.
Knives are important. They are the tool of the cook. It is one of the things to splurge on and get the best you can afford. Go to a place like the Kitchen Gallery in Fairlawn Plaza Mall. They will let you try knives out. Even if you don't end up buying the knife there, it will give you ideas of what you want and should look for.
“Jeff” asked: Hello Greg, I was wondering: when I dine at a trendy restaurant such as the RowHouse is it ever appropriate or allowed to ask to visit the kitchen? I've always been fascinated by really cool kitchens and the amazing food that comes from them, but wondered if there is a way to get a closer look. Thanks.
Guests are always welcome in my kitchen at RowHouse. We give tours of the house and through the working kitchen every evening. We all love it, and are proud to show it off, and let people see the tiny but clean and orderly space we work in. The door is always open.
I think it is always appropriate to ask if you can see a kitchen, but I do think it is important to remember that there are moments when kitchens are too hectic to go into. I don't think it completely inappropriate for some chef's and/or restaurants to say “now is not the best time visit the kitchen” (they can be a madhouse). I also think it's important to mind your manners if you are invited into a commercial kitchen in action, and be aware that kitchen staff are stressed and hot and busy, so questions should be brief, and touching things or tasting things is completely NOT okay.
Some cooks would go bananas. Please don't take offense to that. Again, my kitchen and my staff are continuously prepared for visitors, but that's how I planned for my kitchen to operate. Most chefs I know are proud to show off their office (kitchen) and really excited when people ask to visit. So go ahead and ask!
I'm going to Portland, Oregon, this weekend, and you can bet I'm gonna ask to see a couple kitchens! I'll let you know how it goes.
What ingredients are must-haves for your pantry?
Kosher salt, balsamic vinegar, cous cous, pastas (especially angel hair or penne), canned tomatoes, Hellman's mayo, fruit jams and canned beans. I'm like MacGyver with those things.
What ideas do you have for using fresh basil?
Basil is perfect in salsas, pestos, I love it in lemonade.
How do you use your fresh tomatoes?
Tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and one of the following out of my garden: basil, cilantro or dill. Throw in some fresh mozz, parm or feta, and I am in heaven.
How can I use thyme?
Thyme is magical in soups and stews, perfect rubbed on meats and also an interesting twist to sweets, like sorbet, lemonade or creme brulee.