The first thing you notice when you walk into Cheyenne's loft in the SOMA District of San Francisco is the light. It floods through skylights and a bank of west-facing windows in this 1920s industrial building turned condo. The ceilings are high, the palate is white with lots of wood and pops of color, and the style is spare and modern, but the overall effect is welcoming and warm. It feels like the sort of place you want to be.
Cheyenne bought into the building in 2000, but she hasn't always lived there. She's moved frequently, often renting the loft out (lucky tenants). At one point there had been four moves in six years. This process helped pare down her belongings. Even her spice rack has been pared down. "I used to have the whole thing filled," she says. "Now I just keep the ones I use all the time."
What is left are the things she finds truly useful, beautiful, or sentimental in some way. The king's head cookie jar belonged to her grandmother ("My grandfather always used to give us two cookies when we visited—one for each hand," she explains); an old silver and glass condiment carousel is an heirloom from her father's family in Wyoming; and her fridge is covered with photographs taken on numerous trips. "It says a lot about my priorities," says Cheyenne with a laugh. "I could have bought a nicer fridge and stove, but instead I buy plane tickets."
Cheyenne is as adventurous a cook as she is a traveler. She throws the sort of dinner parties that make guests feel special, not hesitating to cook for friends with complicated dietary restrictions. A recent cooking project has been to can her own tomatoes. My favorite thing in her kitchen, however, is a Moleskine journal in which she records recipes in sections divided seasonally. It's part personal cookbook, part journal, each recipe connected to memories of meals past and those who may have shared her table. As Cheyenne says, "Cooking is one of my favorite ways to love people."
10 Questions for Cheyenne (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Cooking is one of my favorite ways to love people. When I have friends or family over for dinner, I find I have so many ideas to make people happy I have to severely limit myself so we don't end up with a Versaille-like meal.
When I'm cooking for myself, I'm pretty focused on health. I try (mostly) to stock my kitchen with only ingredients I want to put in my body. That makes for a different kind of creativity, but just as fun. Almonds, beets, carrots and miso salad dressing — go!
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
The Breville espresso maker. I bought it 6 or 7 years ago with that pang of anxiety: 'Is this going to be one of those expensive things that just collects dust in my house?' I don't think it's gone unused a single day since I first plugged it in. While it wasn't cheap, that thing has made thousands of coffees, is bulletproof and never complains when I'm crabby in the morning.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
I'm glad to say I can't answer this question. I have too many happy competing memories.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
I LOVE the fact that the kitchen lends itself to conversation with guests while cooking. I'm also a bit ADD and am so easily distracted by those same lovely conversations I can forget what I'm doing. I've had to learn to have most of the cooking done by the time people arrive so I can have fun with them without forgetting to cook the rice.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I won't lie. I have dreams about a Wolf range and a refrigerator upgrade, but so far I've chosen to spend money on travel rather than renovation, experiences over possessions. I have absolutely no regrets on that score, but each time I turn on the 70s era electric burners, I do imagine they are gas jets with some serious BTUs.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
The espresso maker (see above)
Alternate answer: the photos on the refrigerator door. All that travel, over years and years, cost tens of thousands of dollars. The best investment I ever made.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
(the appliances – see above)
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
I like to take inspiration from recipes and then head out on my own. As the child of a single mother, who grew up on fish sticks and mac & cheese, my cooking skills are all self-taught. Initially I followed recipes like religious commandments, but as I've gained confidence I began to have a pretty good idea what would happen to flavors of a soup if I substituted an ingredient or two – usually because of what was already in my fridge or not. I'm much more relaxed about it now. Except for baking. That's still a mystical process involving elves and pixies, and I try not to mess with it.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
It wasn't a tip so much as an inspiration. I will never forget the day a decade ago I went to a friend's house for dinner and learned she'd made her own chicken stock. Crazy to say now, but back then she might as well have told me she took a trip to Jupiter last weekend. I didn't realize real people could do things like that. It started up my curiosity engine, and here we are, years later I almost never used canned stock anymore. The flavor difference is incredible with real stock. Beef, chicken, fish — it's all so good and truly so easy.
10. What are you cooking this week?
It's spring, so asparagus soup is on the menu. And lots of salads.
Resources of Note:
- Counters: Laminate of some kind. They were there when I moved in.
- Fridge: A GE 18.2 cu foot model that is about a hundred years old. Ok, maybe 15 years old.
- Stove: The burners are an 80s era GE appliance and the double stove is a 70s era Thermatronic II by Thermadore.
- Table/chairs: From a store that has closed down.
- Prep cart: Design Within Reach (I don't believe they still stock it)
- Paint color: Yolo Colorhouse in AIR .01. I love this color. It's neither white, nor ivory. More like yummy vanilla ice cream. All their paints are amazing. Gorgeous colors and zero VOC, so no toxins or icky paint smells.
- Coffee maker: Breville (mine is an older model)
- Tea storage box: from a company called Island Bamboo. I got it at Rainbow Grocery in SF.
- Pink clock: I got mine from a museum store in Munich, but this one seems almost identical.
- Dishes: All IKEA, except the wine glasses which are from Crate & Barrel.
- Candlestick holders: Bo Concept
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(Images: Tara Austen Weaver)