Who cooks here: Anna Watson Carl of The Yellow Table & Brandon Carl
Where: Manhattan, New York
Rent or Own? Rent
When Anna Watson Carl first laid eyes on the 48-square-foot kitchen in her now-husband Brandon’s Manhattan apartment, she wasn’t sure she could make it work. "There was no pantry, no drawers, and about one square foot of counter space," she recalls with a laugh. "Not to mention the fact that it was up five flights of stairs!" As a private chef, food writer, and creator of The Yellow Table blog, Anna needed a kitchen that could withstand considerable wear and tear – and that could store her extensive collection of pots and pans.
Here's a look into her little kitchen, and the joyful cooking that happens there!
Creating a Space for a Cook
Once they married, Anna and Brandon, a tech entrepreneur, put their heads together and decided to make the space work. They bought an old wooden wardrobe off of Craigslist to use as a pantry, and stored large pots, bowls, and strainers on top. They found brand new bar stools in their building’s trash room, and Brandon reconfigured an old IKEA bookcase into a bar to fit perfectly over the stools. The new bar created additional counter space, as well as a spot for guests to sit and chat with Anna while she cooks for a dinner party. Lastly, they bought a metro rack storage unit with a butcher-block top, which doubles as appliance storage and an extra area to chop.
Ever the handyman, Brandon added stylish black doorknobs to the plain white cabinets, a hook for dishtowels by the sink, and installed under-the-cabinets lighting. Last, but not least, he mounted a magnetic knife strip (a wedding gift) on the wall to store Anna’s knives – and free up counter space.
The Compromises of a Rental
"We rent our apartment," explains Anna, "so we couldn’t go crazy with buying new appliances. Lucky for us, the oven broke about a year ago, so the building gave us a new one."
Their whole kitchen renovation process took about two weekends and cost under $500 (the wardrobe being the most expensive item), and the kitchen is now surprisingly functional. In fact, Anna spent the majority of the past year in her kitchen developing, testing, and shooting 110 recipes for her upcoming cookbook The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings. (Available November 2014)
"Thank goodness we have a dishwasher," says Anna. "It’s my favorite part of the kitchen!"
10 Questions for Anna & Her Kitchen
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
The desire to create simple, healthy meals, and to share them with friends and family around my table. My kitchen is pretty small – not so much inspired as extremely efficient! I do love the way it faces out into the apartment, so I can talk to my husband or my friends while I cook.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
My 8-inch Wusthof chef's knife. I've had it for over 10 years and it's definitely the tool I use most in the kitchen! I hate working with dull knives, so I have mine professionally sharpened every six months or so.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
I've had a lot of memorable meals here, but I'd have to say the first Thanksgiving I ever hosted here, in 2010, takes the cake. Brandon and I had just gotten married a few months before and I moved into his apartment, after driving my yellow table up to NYC in a U-Haul. Thanksgiving was not only the first big meal I cooked in this tiny kitchen, but it was sort of a christening of the yellow table's arrival to NYC. I cooked for days, and even brined my first turkey, which ended up spilling all over the entire kitchen when the brining bag split. The whole thing was a gigantic mess, but the meal ended up being such a joyous occasion, with 12 friends (and a newborn baby!) gathered around the table.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen?
The biggest challenge in my kitchen is the lack of counter (and storage!) space, but Brandon helped me tremendously by building a bar that doubles as extra counter space. We also bought a little metro rack storage cart with a wooden counter top, that sits in the corner and holds all of my appliances. Those two things are lifesavers. But even so, when I'm cooking for a big event, it's hard to find space for dirty dishes so sometimes I just stash them in the bathtub and pull the curtain. That way I can deal with them after the party without having an overflowing sink!
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Honestly, no. I think we are pretty much maxing out this kitchen! I am really comfortable working in it, as I've got things laid out in a pretty efficent way.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen?
My Le Creuset Dutch oven. Worth every penny! (Though it was a gift...so I suppose not really a splurge on my part. But I'd buy it in a heartbeat!)
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
We rent this apartment so we can't really make major improvements. I'd LOVE to have a deep sink one day. Ours is really shallow, so it's impossible to wash a pan without getting sprayed with water. I've got lots of dreams for a future kitchen, with more space, a double oven, a bigger dishwasher, more cabinets and a pantry, etc. But for now, I really truly do love my kitchen – even with all of its quirks!
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking is simple, seasonal, and healthy. I cook according to what's in season, using fresh produce (local when possible), humanely-raised meats and poultry, wild fish, and lots of olive oil, citrus, and fresh herbs for seasoning. I do love experimenting with ethnic foods, but Mediterranean cooking is my comfort zone. I love cooking for a crowd – the more, the merrier.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received?
Julia Child said something along the lines of, "No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." I love that. If you start apologizing over every little thing that's not perfect, it just makes your guests uncomfortable. Chances are, they'll never know if something doesn't turn out right!
10. What are you cooking this week?
Tonight I'm making lamb ragu with fettucine, a kale-raddichhio salad, and chocolate chip cookies. I've got 15 people coming over for dinner, so I've actually got to go start cooking!
Resources of Note:
- Gas Oven and Four-Burner Stove: Frigidaire
- Refrigerator & Freezer: Frigidaire
- Mini Dishwasher: GE
- Bar: Made from an old IKEA bookshelf
- Barstools: Free
- Metro Rack Storage Cart with Butcher’s Block Counter: The Container Store
- Wardrobe: Craigslist
- Knives: Wusthof
- Pots and Pans: All-Clad
- Hot Water Pot: Breville
- Blender: Waring Pro
Thank you so much for letting us peek into your kitchen!
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