Brian Solem and Cyndi Fecher are the co-editors of Graze magazine, "a food-oriented lit mag dedicated to the food on your mind and the thoughts on your plate." The two met in college and lived in the same building in Logan Square for several years. Over time the kitchen has seen many dinner parties between the first and second floor. Cyndi now lives right down the street, but that hasn’t put a stop to their kitchen collaborations.
Brian admits his kitchen favors function over form, because after all, the focus is the food. The space is open enough to allow several people to create a meal together. Cyndi and Brian worked comfortably side by side to prepare an afternoon cocktail which we dubbed the Dapper Viking (recipe below). The back door opens up to a small patio where, in the summer months, cocktails can be enjoyed with a view of the neighborhood. A few vases and stacks of cookbooks are the only decor, if you don’t count the counter top full of appliances Brian uses for his culinary experiments. "I like cooking to be a project," said Brian, "I really enjoy using a technique or ingredient I’ve never tried before."
Both walls of the kitchen are outfitted with large cabinets, offering plenty of storage. A long hallway leads to the dining area decorated with beautiful mid century chairs, a vintage formica table and glassware for every occasion. As proof of their venerable hosting skills, Cyndi and Brian filled our table with a delicious spread of smoked salmon, Reno bagels, citrus salad and lemon bars. Good food and good conversation - the recipe for a perfect Saturday afternoon.
10 Questions for Brian and Cindi (and Brian's Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
B: My kitchen is inspired by utility. It's not terribly decorated. Science inspires my cooking. I love the science of cooking and the act of creating something completely different from the ingredients. I’m inspired by challenging recipes and trying new things.
C: The CSA box. I started getting it a couple years ago and I hate wasting food, so I feel like I have to use it all. Which means I've eaten a lot of turnips in the last two years. The challenge is being creative with leftovers.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
B: My OXO stainless steel tongs. I made fun of my ex for spending so much money on tongs, but once I got them myself I thought they were incredible. I use them probably every day. My favorite new tool is my soda siphon, I've been making a lot of fun sodas with it.
C: My microplane. I use it all the time, especially for ginger.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
B: Our Korean meal. Cyndi used to live downstairs and we had a Korean inspired dinner party; it was wonderful. We made a pork shoulder from the momofuku cook book - a giant piece of pork that cooked for six hours.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
B: Only one outlet works! And an electric stove which I had never worked with before.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
B: I have what I have. There's not much that I would change. It's functional and has a lot of storage. There are some aesthetic challenges but there's a place for everything.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
B: The food. Honestly that's it. It's a weekly splurge at Whole Foods, The Dill Pickle and Joong Boo Korean Market.
C: I just bought really, really good red wine vinegar. Which is the first time I decided to spend money on fancy vinegar. And I don't even have the right words for it, I just want to drink it, which is NOT what you're supposed to do! Actually I’ve mixed it with tonic water as a drink and it tastes great. It's perfect on a salad, on anything!
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
B: I'm quite content with the kitchen right now, but I would love a better coffee grinder and permission to paint the walls. It's a bit staid for my taste.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
C: It's a little particular, but pretty easy going. I don't mind throwing things together, and it doesn't have to be perfect. Unfussy with a taste for “some assembly required” I like to work for it a little bit.
B: To me it's adventurous. I'm drawn to recipes that force me to try a different technique or a new ingredient.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
B: Don't burn your garlic.
C: Have a sink full of soapy water while you cook.
10. What are you cooking this week?
B: Well it's not Sunday at 6:00 so I have no idea! That's usually when I need to figure out what's going to last me all week long.
C: I'm making mushroom risotto for a group of friends.
Resources of Note:
The Dapper Viking
3 parts Aquavit (I used Gammel Opland, but Linie is easier to acquire in the U.S. and possibly a bit smoother)
2 parts Campari
2 parts Sweet Vermouth
1 hesitant splash of bitters (seriously, don't go overboard)
Combine ingredients in shaker. Shake vigorously while dreaming of global conquest. Pour into three lowball glasses that each contain a glacier-sized ice cube. Garnish each glass with a hearty strip of blood orange peel. Sip from your ship.
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Related: Julie and Andy's Bright, Happy Kitchen
(Images: Lucy Hewett)