In 1994, Zachary Smith took a crowbar to the interior of his small North Beach house and completely demoed the place himself, all the way down to the original walls, which were horizontal planks nailed to studs and covered with cloth. The house dates back to 1906 -- one of the thousands of hastily-built shacks that sprang up all over San Francisco after the earthquake. When he was done with the demo, Zachary sat down and drew up the plans for his new, minimal, Japanese-influenced interior.
Visiting his house today, it's hard to believe that he undertook this massive project almost 15 years ago. The kitchen, in particular, is very expressive. Like Zachary, it's creative, quirky, and way ahead of its time...and yet there is something very down to earth happening here, too. This is a kitchen that is truly used and loved and appreciated everyday.
The walls are clad in etched galvanized sheet metal and some of the original horizontal planking. The countertop is a beautiful smooth pool table slate but the surface was left unfinished, so it needs to be protected from acids like lemon juice. The stovetop is GE, the oven is Thermador and the dishwasher Bosch but the refrigerator stands out as unique: a super-efficient, handmade Sun Frost, custom wrapped in stainless steel.
After several years away in Boston and Italy, Zachary and his wife, Marsha Platt, returned to their North Beach neighborhood with their two young daughters, Corona and Milena. When Zachary first remodeled his house, he didn't necessarily have a family of four in mind. But, it turns out, they all fit rather well and the kitchen serves its classic role as the primary place for everyone to gather.
Here's our kitchen tour questionnaire -- with the whole family pitching in with answers!
What’s your favorite tool or implement?
Zachary: My Bunmei cleaver.
Corona: The Squeez-inart!
Marsha: The media center for looking up recipes.
Everyone: The Nespresso aeroccino milk frother.
Best cooking advice or tip you’ve received?
Zachary: Don’t be afraid of spices...and if you love to eat, then you have to love to cook.
Marsha: Edward Espe Brown’s quote about when you cut the vegetables, just cut the vegetables. Nothing extra.
What is the biggest challenge in your kitchen?
M: Not enough storage and the fact that we can’t have more then 3 or 4 people at a time over to dinner.
Marsha: The classic Chez Panisse mantra: good ingredients cooked simply.
Zachary: Make it up as you go along with whatever’s around, mad scientist-style. In Italy I learned how simple good food can be. I was also influenced growing up by my Japanophile father and later the Mexican, Thai and Italian food in San Francisco.
Triple cream cheese and the Nespresso set up.
The most whimsical thing in your kitchen?
The blue sink.
What’s always in your pantry?
Z: Rice, olive oil, tofu. I used to cook a lot with sherry but lately I’ve replaced it with balsamic vinegar. It’s got the same sweetness but with more intense flavors.
Everyone: Gomasio, a Japanese toasted sesame and salt combo that we sprinkle on everything.
Z: Trader Joe’s. And Whole Foods because of the Wall of Broccoli. I feel very fulfilled by the Wall of Broccoli.
Desert Island Cookbook?
M: I would print out or clip all my favorite recipes and put them in a binder.
Your culinary childhood?
Z: My Mom served a lot of balanced, healthy meals. Then my Dad was hit with Japan Fever and we ate a lot of Japanese food, or our attempts at Japanese food. My Mom also took up the whole hippie vegetarian food thing, which consisted of a lot of badly cooked brown rice.
M: Meat, veg and starch combo--very classic. I grew up in LA, so I was exposed to Mexican food pretty early on. But our favorite place to eat was an old diner on Peco called The Apple Pan. It’s the restaurant where if everybody ate there, there would be world peace.
Interesting fact about Zachary: When he lived in Boston, Zachary built a traditional Japanese tea house in his back yard. He designed and constructed the entire thing by himself, mostly using traditional Japanese hand tools. (Well, he had some help in the end from Marsha.) It took him two years to complete, then the family sat down for one cup of tea before they left to move to Italy. Says Zachary: "I haven't seen it since. I think it's a bicycle shed now." Details and some of Zachary's poems are here.