When Jessica Koslow quietly announced to her friends last year that she was starting a business called Sqirl, making fruit preserves from organic, locally-grown fruit using only natural pectin, nobody blinked an eye. Jessica knows how to make things happen, and nowhere is it more evident than in her remodeled mid-century kitchen, where big marble countertops give her plenty of room to experiment with flavors (blood orange and Campari marmalade, yum) and deep blue cabinets store ingredients gathered during her travels around the world.
When Jessica moved into her house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, she was dismayed to see a kitchen covered in ugly brown tile and outfitted with wood cabinets that blocked the downtown views and made it difficult to interact with guests while she was cooking. Post-remodel, she now has plenty of room to serve buffet-style meals to a houseful of friends, lots of storage space for the quirky vintage dinnerware she picks up at thrift stores, and a relocated dishwasher that no longer crashes into the oven door every time it's opened.
She spent months perfecting her jam recipes in this kitchen, the counters covered with boxes of fruit from local farmers, a pot of hot pectin bubbling on the stove. Although her jam-making has moved to a commercial kitchen elsewhere, Jessica's home kitchen is still where she returns to play around and get inspired every day.
10 Questions for Jessica (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Minimalism. A few great products are all I really need. A Viking stove and a well-seasoned skillet. A couple of free-range eggs and Guistos flour equal bright yellow pasta. Using seasonal and local ingredients from purveyors that care about their products and building a new kitchen with a few great pieces. Buying lasting pieces allows the products to speak for themselves time and time again.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Can I give two? In jam making, I'm looking for that sweet spot of 220-221 degrees Fahrenheit, when I can be pretty certain that the preserves will set. My Cooper waterproof digital thermometer has slipped into a pot of bubbling jam (more than once admittedly) and has yet to fail me. The name of the thermometer needs to include "jam proof." The other favorite is my Prospect 240 knife from Cut Brooklyn. It's the only thing I use to cut my fruit — the blade has exceptional weight and slices cleanly through the most seedy mandarinquat.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
About a month ago I picked up a chicken from the Atwater Village farmers market and made the Bouchon Chicken brine and roasted it in a skillet a la Thomas Keller. Placed on a wood board with homemade mustard, pommes Anna, and Lacinato kale salad with preserved Meyer lemons, it was simple and just beckoned us to "get in there." Finished with thyme ice cream, there was no pretense, and that's what I love about home cooked meals.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Keeping the marble stain-free! It requires quite a bit of upkeep. No glasses on it, no whoopsie I spilled lemon juice or red wine. It's more of an aesthetic thing than something practical.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
if I could do it again I might consider going for more of a commercial look. The kitchen is my version of an artist's studio. It's where I work and create; it's a place of sanity. I was just at my friend's studio yesterday making a video for Sqirl and there was paper, paint, brushes, you name it...everywhere. And I love that. I crave a bit more freedom to spill a thing or two. So if I renovated again, I'd make the kitchen more of a playground — more industrial, like a commercial kitchen.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
The Sub-Zero refrigerator, definitely. Because the kitchen is so small the redesign meant a narrow fridge to accommodate the cabinets. This Sub-Zero fit the size requirements, but I just couldn't pay full price. After six months of scouring Craigslist, eBay, and restaurant supply stores, I fell upon a floor model. Success!
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
Just lights over the island. I found some incredible Brendan Ravenhill lights, so they'll be making their way in shortly.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Whether it's the process I use in preservation or in cooking a meal, there's always consideration about how the final product can honor the ingredients in it. And the road I take typically revolves around slowness. Miniature Scarlet Nantes carrots are pickled in their full form; during citrus season, jellies and marmalades are made with a pectin that takes three days to develop. Lamb is braised for hours and finds itself on homemade pasta. In a time when everything moves so quickly, to allow a product time to reveal itself naturally creates something genuine — something to remember.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
A watched pot will finally boil. [Everything in due time.]
(Said while watching a water bath coming to a boil for preserves processing.)
10. What are you cooking this week?
I'm gearing up for Artisanal LA so I'll be living in my commercial kitchen making preserves this week. My kitchen will be lying dormant. Want to come over and use it?
• Check out Jessica's jams at SqirlLA.com
• Architect: Bruce Bolander
• Countertops: Marbolis Marble Yard
• Cabinets: L+T industries
• Laminate: Abet Laminati (Color 852 SEI)
• Hood and stove: Viking
• Fridge: Sub-Zero
• Sink: Blanco
• Faucet: Hansgrohe
• Knife Rack: IKEA
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
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(Images: "Before" photo by Jessica Koslow; all other photos by Anjali Prasertong)