If you follow Deb Perelman on her enormously popular blog, Smitten Kitchen, you are already familiar with one part of her East Village, NYC home kitchen very well. There is a 36-inch span of black speckled countertop where she preps, plates and shoots just about anything that ends up on the pages of the site. It's the same little nook, perched high above a busy avenue, blessed with perfect afternoon light, that serves as the set for most of the more than 300 photos in her new book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
So when Deb invited me over to cook with her, I jumped at the chance to see the teeny-tiny rental kitchen for myself.
After writing online for fun for several years, Deb had the idea in 2006 to start Smitten Kitchen. At the time she was an IT reporter (before that an art therapist, record store supervisor, barista, swimming instructor, you name it) a job she kept until 2008. She and her husband lived in an apartment across town in Chelsea with a similarly small kitchen and a positive attitude about it to match. There she began to cook and photograph original recipes and became known as an obsessive home cook.
In 2009, when she was pregnant with her son Jacob, she moved into this place. By then Smitten Kitchen was in full swing and I asked if when looking for her next home she sought one with a kitchen a little more fit for a person making a living from their adventures in cooking. She said the first thing she noticed was the eastern light coming through the large window at the end of the counter.
Get the recipe for Deb's Chocolate Chip Brioche Pretzels from her new book.
"It's certainly not my dream kitchen, but it is my dream job. In terms of what I do with my time every day, I haven't had to downgrade one bit." Her only complaint is that the 28-square foot kitchen is adjacent to her son's room. A thin glass door separates the two, with her three-quarters-sized refrigerator peeking just ever so little over the door jamb.
"I think it actually makes me a better cook," she says, working the chocolate chip brioche pretzel dough on the black countertop, "it forces you to reign in your far-fetched ideas." The genius of Deb's recipes are that they combine great ideas, while only using ingredients and equipment that the average cook has at their fingertips.
I described how I cope with my own tiny kitchen, how the center work island is essential. "You know, honestly, I really don't care that I don't have a center island. There's a window, a dishwasher, even a checkerboard tile floor. It's charming!"
Familiar with the particular challenges of developing recipes for a cookbook in a home kitchen, I asked how she made it through. She turned me around one hundred eighty degrees. The living room serves as overflow: cookware rests on a pair of dining room chairs, and an old china cabinet holds all her flatware, cups and bowls. The kitchen truly is just about cooking. Setting the table and actually eating the food is a different subject entirely. And as for chronicling every single thing she cooks, there's even a special perch for her camera, just outside the kitchen door.
Even her son, Jacob, has a kitchen in the living room. "This is how we do it," she says. "And it works. Right now I wouldn't live anywhere else."
→ Visit Deb's Blog: Smitten Kitchen
→ Check out Deb's Book: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook
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(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)