If you met Maggie Nemser, the founder of Blackboard Eats, a free service that encourages diners to eat at top restaurants by offering specials handpicked by food editors, you wouldn't be faulted for assuming that she and her husband eat out a lot. You would be right. You would also be wrong. Despite the fact that Maggie's work often finds them making reservations instead of recipes, they love throwing dinner parties. Give Maggie the thinnest of excuses and she'll fire up her Breville sandwich press. In fact, the day we stopped by to take these photographs, the table was already set for that night's guests and Maggie insisted on making grilled cheese sandwiches, which we ate too quickly to document.
The open plan kitchen — which flows easily into the dining room, living spaces and the two garden areas — is the natural center of the house. But it didn't feel that way when Maggie and her husband first moved in. The walls were dark, the floors were red oak, and the kitchen was a cramped box cut off from the rest of the house. Maggie and Jeremy set to work: floors were lightened and brightened, walls were painted (and two walls, the back and side walls in the kitchen, were blown out), sliding doors were installed, windows were replaced and the back deck was raised to level it with the living room floor, visually marrying the indoors with the outdoors. Now, with the kitchen commanding center stage, it's a gathering place for friends who share Maggie's love of food. (It was her job as the food critic at Yahoo, where her inbox was flooded with pitches from publicists offering specials to encourage her to eat at the restaurants they represented, that germinated the idea that grew into Blackboard Eats.) Food, Maggie believes, whether eaten out or at home, is always more fun and festive when it's shared with others. I definitely agree.
10 Questions for Maggie Nemser
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
The desire to make my friends happy. I love strong flavors and always go for dishes that have some element of surprise. My love of cooking came from my father. He had a way of being uninhibited in the kitchen. When making soup he'd toss in things with abandon — V8 juice, clams and just about anything in the pantry — until the result was thick and delicious. He would watch us enjoying the results, smiling brightly when we raved. I've definitely got the same gene. I don't feel very satisfied when I'm cooking for myself but feeding others makes me happy.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Definitely my Breville sandwich press.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
My husband and I decided to cook for 50 people for a somewhat last-minute party. Neither of us had ever made lasagna before but for some reason the idea of cooking lasagna three different ways sounded fun and ideal for a crowd. We made a pesto, tomato and mushroom lasagna, a meat, tomato and mozzarella lasagna and a caprese lasagna. We didn't really follow a recipe. We were winking at each other all night, wondering when we'd be found out as lasagna newbies. They were a hit!
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
I am short, as in 5' 1.5" - and the kitchen is made for taller people. I overcome this challenge with a tiny step stool that I move around as needed but it would be cool to get a friend a wine glass without climbing on a stool.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
We have not renovated our kitchen. We redid the windows and wall paint and floors but the cabinetry has remained the same. The black cabinets bug me. They feel so heavy and dark. I love walnut and bright kitchens so I have a fantasy of switching it up one day.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
Nudo olive oil. It's not cheap but man is it life changing. We aren't crystal people nor are we into fancy appliances so most of our tools are pretty reasonable and the less reasonable ones (the coffee maker and the sandwich press) were very generous gifts.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I'd like to make it friendlier for shorter people like myself!
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Spontaneous, tasty, unconventional and filled with love.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
My husband is an amazing cook. He blows me out of the water. His advice is to always have water boiling early and to methodically clean as you go.
10. What are you cooking this week?
Beef fajitas with carmelized onions, jalepenos, guacamole and cilantro. A caprese salad with burrata and mint and saffron chicken thighs.
• Fridge: LG
• Stove top and oven: Fridgidaire Electrolux
• Pots & Pans: All Clad and hand-me-downs
• Plates: Nembe
• Glasses: both wine and regular glasses are from CB2
• Dining room table & chairs: These were a wedding gift from Jeremy's parents which he restored. He grew up with them!
• Napkins: Tortoise on Abbot Kinney
• Placemats: Pearl River in New York
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
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(Images: Bethany Nauert)