Joanne Weir is an award-winning cookbook author (her new book, Wine Country Cooking just came out), a cooking teacher, a chef who cooked for five years at Chez Panisse, and a television personality.
When she's not leading culinary tours and classes through the Mediterranean, she lives and works in a thoughtfully designed, colorful and comfortable Grand Victorian house in San Francisco. The kitchen is an intensely personal space, much of it designed by her. Here she hosts spirited dinner parties, drinks wine with her fiancé, and whips up her morning smoothie. But her kitchen is also the set for one of her television show and her laboratory. It is a work/live space that works.
I had the honor of meeting Joanne last April when we both attended the annual International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in New Orleans. She came up to me after I spoke in a session about food blogging, and I practically lost my breath when she bothered to tell me her name. I knew exactly who she was.
When I found myself in San Francisco some weeks later, I stopped by her place for a tour and a glass of Rosé. I didn't leave for hours.
When I entered the space, the first thing I noticed was the fireplace. "It took many bottles of wine to build that fireplace," she told me. It has a spit fire and Joanne says she actually does cook in it often. I believe her; get close and the brick is faintly perfumed with herbs and oils and meats.
Then I noticed the colors. The kitchen (the whole house actually) is a warm yellow, with golden blown glass lights. One entire wall is a custom-built Heritage cabinet that displays her enormous collection of Majolica dinnerware.
The anchor piece in the kitchen is a gigantic kitchen island with a Wolf Range, see in the lead photo at the top of the page. The counter top is maple butcher block, which she sands and waxes once a year. She likes the stove in the center, "that way I'm part of things" whether entertaining, or filming her television shows.
A second island is behind the first, running alongside the double-doored Sub-Zero. There is no lack of counter-space in this kitchen, although Joanne claims "there isn't enough storage space."
Underneath the second island are two shelves where she keeps her cookware. The surface is a perforated metal material that was also used on the Golden Gate Bridge. She can toss her gear in there, slide it in and out and not worry about scratching or discoloring any other kind of shelving, like stainless steel or wood.
- How would you describe your cooking style?
I love anything that has to do with olive oil, tomatoes and garlic. That puts me smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean, the area of the world I feel most at home. Oh, don't forget the wine!
- What inspired your kitchen?
My travels and my teaching in the Mediterranean. The colors in the plates I have on my wall that I found while driving around Spain inspired the colors in the house. I was driving from Catalonia to Valencia and went through a village with plates hanging everywhere. I screeched on the brakes and bought everything I could carry back in my suitcase.
- What is your favorite tool or implement?
It's a toss-up between my Wolf range, my under-counter wine fridge, and my faucet. I love all of the above plus I love my Vita-Mix. Same horse power as a chain saw. I also love my Messermeister serrated peeler for tomatoes and peaches. It's summer and I couldn't live without it. The Oxo Cherry Pitter is great for this time of year too. The red cherry juice doesn't spatter all over you.
- What is the best cooking advice or tip someone else has given you?
Get the best education and experience that you can and the rest will fall into place. I got a Master Chef Diploma from a year of study in France with Madeleine Kamman and cooked at Chez Panisse for 5 years. I'll never look back.
- What is the biggest challenge in your kitchen?
I don't have enough storage space. I live in the city and there never seems to be enough space for things.
- What is the biggest indulgence in your kitchen?
[My] trash compactor... not sure that's an indulgence. I think it's actually an embarrassment. It's so 50's but it works well in a city kitchen. If I don't have any garbage in it, I find I can just keep packing it down and I don't have to take the trash out for several days! Probably the real indulgence in my kitchen is the $10,000.00 Tuscan oven. It is pretty cold in San Francisco and I love it because I can grill and spit roast in the kitchen.
- What is your dream splurge?
I would love to have the space to have a real wine cellar!
- What are you cooking this week?
Right now I am teaching a 5-day cooking class with students from all over the US and we are cooking up a storm. Today we made Roasted Corn, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Soup. Tomorrow, we are making a Torta Rustica, an Italian layered pie with wilted greens, ricotta and salumi and Friday will be so cool. We are starting with a Summer Berry Sangria and doing paella on a Spanish burner on the balcony.
- What is your desert island cookbook?
It would have to be something Chez Panisse, or Judy Rogers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook or even Susanne Goins' Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
- Describe a meal you cooked here that you're really proud of.
I love simple fresh, seasonal food. And I love a lot of different foods but if you asked me what I love to serve to guests it would be spit roasted lamb with tzatziki. But it has to be the best lamb rubbed with really good virgin olive oil, summer garlic and fresh Greek oregano.
- Describe something in your kitchen that you made or thought of yourself that you're really proud of.
I pretty much designed the whole thing myself. Again it would be the fireplace where I can grill and spit roast. I put a 1 rpm motor into the wall so it turns on its own. It's both magical and sensual when someone comes to dinner and they walk in to see the glowing fire with lamb slowly turning on the spit or golden and glistening. And it smells so good! AND then the taste! A glass of red wine and I'm transported to the Mediterranean. We all are!
• Joanne's website, including her teaching and television schedules.
• Wine Country Cooking by Joanne Weir
• Weir Cooking in the City: More than 125 Recipes and Inspiring Ideas for Relaxed Entertaining by Joanne Weir
• From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the Mediterranean by Joanne Weir
• Joanne Weir Cooking Class (DVD)
• Weir In Your Kitchen Bakeware
(All images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)