Last year when I photographed the home of John Saint-Denis for his house tour, I immediately fell in love with his kitchen. It's quite stunning, with a presence that lingers throughout the rest of his home. When my friend (and Top Chef Just Desserts winner) Yigit Pura came to visit a couple weeks ago, we took a tour of John's kitchen.
During our quick visit I asked them both about the essentials of their kitchens and then we got a lesson in desserts from the chef himself. John talks to me about the remodeling and decorating of his revamped kitchen:
1. How long have you lived in this home?
2. What renovations, remodels and changes have you made to the kitchen?
I renovated the kitchen from the ground up. I literally had to pull out the floor and subfloor which was damaged by old leaks, and got down to the earth underneath to redo all the plumbing and electrical and rebuild the floor. I demolished the ceiling, windows and outside wall to install a new window in a better location (higher so that you could see the sky and get a sink, counter and backsplash under the window).
This allowed me to rearrange the layout of the kitchen to include a laundry center.
I had new upper and lower cabinets and counters made to look like what might have been in an old mansion from the 20's. Lots of wood and painted lacquer surfaces. I added a movable steel and marble island to give it a little bit of modernity. I put in a dark oak floor to match the rest of the apartment, added recessed lighting in the new ceiling, as well as under cabinet lighting, and a giant industrial pendant over the island.
3. What is your ideal meal to cook?
Penne Bolognese with a hearty Italian sausage base and lots of rosemary, oregano and basil from the back garden. Brussels sprouts on the side baked in olive oil. Plenty of red wine. Hot black coffee and raw almonds for dessert.
4. What is your favorite element in your kitchen?
I love the mahogany countertops. They add warmth and a solid feeling to the kitchen and tie it to the trim and furniture throughout the house. I had them made in solid one and a half inch mahogany so that they could be sanded and refinished every 20 years or so if necessary.
5. What is the most challenging element in your kitchen?
Space! I always feel like I'd like an extra 2 feet all the way around so that 8 or 10 people could hang around, but as it is, often four of five friends will gather around the island to drink wine and eat nibblets right off of the marble. I sometimes wish I had added a second sink on the other side of the room. Maybe next year!
6. Can you list your appliances?
• Stove, microwave, and dishwasher are Viking.
• Sink is Kohler.
• Refrigerator is Sub-Zero.
• Washer Dryer is Asko.
• Patterned Italian plates and server pieces are a pattern from Deruta, Italy. I bought most there, but I've replaced a few pieces from internet searches. Other dinner, dessert plates, and silver serving utensils are from Williams-Sonoma Home.
• Various bowls, antique service pieces and art are from Creato Finito Home (www.creatofinito.com).
7. Do you have any advice regarding kitchens, when searching for your ideal home?
I think kitchens should integrate well with the design style of the rest of the home. I think an abrupt shift from sophisticated living spaces to a cold utilitarian kitchen doesn't feel right to me. I do, however, prefer a kitchen with doors, so that you can close it off if you are having more formal gatherings in the dining or living areas. It's good to be able to seal cooking smells from the rest of the house (unless you are making a warm cinnamon pear dessert like Yigit's!).
Always look for, or add an operable window with lots of light. I think its nice to avoid having every bit of the kitchen built out; so that you can have a chest of drawers or other furniture not normally found in a kitchen. It adds warmth, substance and individuality.
• See his roasted pears recipe: Chef Recipe: Spiced Poached Pears from Yigit Pura of Top Chef Just Desserts
1. What does your dream kitchen consist of?
My dream kitchen would have nothing less than a top of the line Viking oven. For a home kitchen it's really the best. And being a pastry chef I would make sure I have a good working surface for prep, and I would go one step further and make this a wood working surface area, so if I were to do any laminated dough, scones, etc, I could get my hands dirty and get right to it. Also something people may not think of, but I think natural light is really important in a kitchen. Nature helps directly in being creative and inspired.
2. What are the most essential elements in a home kitchen?
A good layout, spacious work space, and making sure you have adequate storage space for all your ingredients and tools. Make sure it's a space where you're going to want to get in there and actually cook, not simply for magazine style aesthetics.
3. Besides dessert, what else do you love to cook?
I eat so much sugar, so when I'm at home I really cook very simple healthy dishes. I am obsessed with my rice cooker. I cook anything from rice to quinoa to barley in it. Set it before I get to work, when I get home from the gym it's ready. Some spiced wholesome grains, with sautéed dinosaur kale, and a good piece of local fish, that's my kick these days.
4. For all the "non chefs" what are the golden rules to a well equipped kitchen?
I'm of the school of thought to buy slowly, but buy good tools. A good set of Knives will last you forever (but have them professionally sharpened at least once a year). Same goes for quality cook ware. And always stay curious and when you go to specialty cooking stores, see what new gadgets they have, but feel free to ask them which would be used by actual professionals so you're not led to buying kitschy tools.
Thanks, John and Yigit!
Images: Bethany Nauert