Eric lives with his wife in a Victorian flat in San Francisco's North Beach, not far from the famous squiggle of Lombard Street. While the flat is beautiful, they are faced with the challenge of making a small rental kitchen suit Eric's full-time kitchen life.
His solution: to annex what would normally be the dining room in order to store appliances and his collection of handmade pottery and dishes, is practical and elegant. The dining room has been conveniently relocated to the adjacent living room which houses his vast cookbook collection.
Eric's dream is to one day have a kitchen large enough to teach classes in. Until then, he travels far and wide, expounding his breakaway philosophy and leaving behind a trail of happy, well-fed friends.
Questions for the Cook
What's your cooking style? Breakaway! Ethnic markets meets farmer's markets. Taking traditional flavors and ingredients and techniques and using them in new ways. Respecting the tradition without being bound by the tradition.
What inspires your kitchen? Fifteen years living in Japan. Simplicity. Not being intimidating. To me cooking is a practice, a learning process. In Japan, when a discipline is taken up as a lifelong endeavor, it's known as "the way of..." The important thing is to relax and have fun. What can go wrong? Any mistake can be fixed or rolled over into something different.
Favorite tool or element: Vita-Prep blender. I use it all the time. It's an investment but worth it. You can grind up anything!
Best cooking advice or tip you ever received: How to hold a knife - to "choke up" on the blade with the handle in your palm and your fingers gripping the blade.
Biggest challenge in your kitchen: Counter space. Because there is no room, I have to stop whatever I'm doing at each stage and wash everything up immediately. But advantage of a small kitchen is that I don't feel any pressure to perform, that I can relax and create and not be attached to results.
Biggest indulgence: Pottery and dishes. What you put your food on is just as important as what you are eating. It should be something you enjoy, that is pleasing. Eating is a very different experience when your plates and bowls are beautiful or have some meaning. I've been collecting pottery from artists all over the world--especially Japan and Aletha Soule in Sebastopol, CA.
Dream tool or splurge: Except for the Vita Prep, I'm not into expensive equipment. My most useful tools are quite inexpensive like a microplane zester. I have several electric spice/coffee grinders--they're indispensable to breakaway cooking.
What are you cooking this week? A good friend is going through his third round of chemo and I'm bringing him some of his meals. It's bit of a challenge for me because he can't take too many spices. Also, he needs to load up on the calories, so I'm using way more butter and fat then I usually do.
Desert island cookbook? You don't need a cookbook on a desert island! That said, Claudia Roden's Arabesque is my current favorite -- it's so fun adding middle eastern ingredients to the breakaway repertoire!
Proudest DIY: My friend Eddie hooked me up with this device that will carbonate almost any liquid as long as it's cold. You can even carbonate milk, if you want! Usually I just chop up some fresh fruit, like lemons and kumquats, mash them up in the Vita-Prep, strain the pulp and add it to plain tap water. It's a lot of fun to experiment with different flavor combinations and it's better for the environment than purchasing water that has been shipped half way around the world.
• Garage sales and thrift stores for cast iron skillets.
• The Gardener and Japan or local potters for dishes
• Ikea for shelves and other storage
• World Market for spice jars and other containers
• Craigslist for the stove
• Vita-Prep blender
• Solis espresso maker
Related: At Home in Paris with David Lebovitz
(All images: Dana Velden)