Shan is an amazing traveler and cook. Her recipes and wares are eclectic as the locales she's visited — Niger, Mexico, India, Turkey, France, Indonesia — the list is long and fabulous! Every place she visits informs her cooking and culinary perspective.
Nestled into the hills of Santa Barbara, California, Shan is perched in a spectacular, open hacienda-style home with an unbelievable view and stunning kitchen. An avid cook, she and her late husband David, often threw parties and cooked for about 100 guests at a time (wow!). Shan is an enthusiastic gardener and relishes in her edibles nearly every day. The verdant vegetable garden is perched upon a cliff and Shan takes great joy in weeding and throwing the debris over the edge. It's an exhilarating location, that's for sure!
Shan's kitchen blends personal style and function seamlessly. Her extensive international travels have yielded a wild collection of bowls, pottery, textiles, cooking utensils, artwork and sculpture that are adored and used every day. When I asked how she makes all the disparate elements work in such a harmonious way, she explained, "If you love it, it will work." Shan's celebratory sense of travel and appreciation of handmade items are certainly evident in this remarkable kitchen and garden.
10 Questions for Shan (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Feeding people I love, thinking about what I'm going to make for them, the calmness of prep work, showing the people I'm feeding through my actions that they are special when they are in my kitchen. I think people can taste love, whether they realize it or not, and subconsciously they feel cared for.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
David and I cooked together for days for our wedding, lots of memories of past dinners with friends and huge parties where David and I cooked for 100.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
There isn't one.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Yes, I would have had my counters slant slightly to the sink and back to keep water off of the cherry cabinets.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
I couldn't afford any indulgences when I built the kitchen 25 years ago. Well, I guess the cherry cabinets built by an old friend, luckily I got it right. Also my counter height is 38 inches, built for me. I have a stool for short people to help.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
A better tray cabinet.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Earthy, peasant, local.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Smashing garlic with the side of my knife (olives too) — I didn't learn that 'til I was 40. My mother was Irish and never cooked with garlic.
10. What are you cooking this week?
I'm living alone so I'll be eating simply out of my garden: Artichokes, beets, spinach, avocados and loads of lettuce.
• My main resource was my husband who loved to read cookbooks and was a recipe follower, which I am not. My repertoire increased hugely cooking for him and with him, not that I ever used his recipes.
• My former mother-in-law who was Lebanese and trained me when I was 18. I still use her exact methods even though she never gave me any recipes or let me write things down. She taught me to use my nose, then my mouth and then the eyes.
• Oven/stove: Wolf
• Pots, plates: all over the world
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(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)