Those smiling eyes belong to one of the happiest and laid back chefs I know, Bruce Aidells. His artisan sausages grace the shelves of every supermarket. I met Bruce while managing the Charleston Wine + Food Festival in Charleston, SC many years ago. He had me stuffing pork through a meat-grinder as the process takes time and constant hands-on. Ratios of mixing meat, fat and spice were magically made into some of the best tasting sausage I have ever enjoyed. Buy one of his 12 cookbooks (the newest: The Great Meat Cookbook) or catch his TV show and learn how easy it is to make sausage or master roasting meat, there is no one more knowledgeable on the subject.
It’s no wonder that Bruce has not one, but three kitchens in his California home. A sausage kitchen that can be hosed down, a Tuscan fireplace in his main kitchen for wood-burning and an outdoor kitchen where he can make pizza and roast meats. Ready for a visit? Me too. Bruce walked me around his kitchen and some of the genius ways he built it out to be efficient and beautiful.
So, let’s get started…what do you love about your kitchen?
First off, never let an architect design your kitchen. I mean it. It is Rule #1. Hire someone like me (or you, Caroline) to consult and work with the Architect or Interior Designer. Architects have no idea how to make your kitchen function well. Aesthetic, yes, but not function. They do not know your cooking style and how you cook, what you cook and how often, that is so important. Do you entertain? Do you always have people in your kitchen when you entertain? (Who doesn’t?) All these things determine the layout.
My kitchen is built around a pot rack inspired by the Inglenook Fireplace at the Gamble House, designed by Pasadena architects Green & Green whose work from the early decades of the 20th century was in the Arts & Crafts style. Built around two items, a massive 6×11 foot butcher block island and an 11 foot pot-rack which hangs on beams, there is also a built in fireplace that I wish I could use more often, but doing so means going to bed with live coals which we can’t do, so it is often left for storage. Currently I have some dutch ovens and baskets holding place in the fireplace and in the built-in brick wood storage area; oh, and the compost bin (laughs). My kitchen island is designed with a ‘business-end’ opposite the stove where my wife (famed-chef, Nancy Oakes of Boulevard in San Francisco) and I don’t allow people to congregate. It separates off the dining area from the cooking area and the other side allows for a buffet along the outside which faces the dining table, which works well.
First off, never let an architect design your kitchen. I mean it. It is Rule #1
What’s your favorite kitchen utensil?
My knife. A good kitchen knife is essential and a proper way to store it. If a knife block takes up too much space or isn’t safe on the counter, a drawer with proper storage slots is important. Also, dull knives are more dangerous. Keep your knife sharp. I use a big 14″ Japanese knife.
What storage trick have you adopted that you cannot live without?
I find that storing lids for pots and pans, as well as platters and sheet pans are all the most tricky. You always want the one that’s on the bottom. So I chose a sort of record rack approach. I have deep drawers divide into slots and keep everything racked in drawers. Pegs are great for storing lids and can be purchased at most big kitchen stores. Also, my pot rack is also wonderful, no searching for the one you want, just reach for what you need.
What green thing do you do in the kitchen?
We are very green. We compost, recycle everything and use a trash compactor, there is so little we throw away.
Is your pantry neat?
Pretty neat. I mean the food is at least all on one side. Up high there are specialty items like Chinese steamers and coolers, then I have a lot of containers, for food storage. My wife and I cook only in large quantity, so we need a lot of storage containers. I prefer restaurant-grade storage containers like Cambro which are great because you can store things hot. I buy these at restaurant supply stores.
What unique pantry item do you always keep on hand?
We are heavy on the Italian side of things, lots of oils and vinegars and pastas.
What is your favorite pan/pot?
I love cast iron and agree it is the best. I have several copper pots on my rack, and don’t believe in keeping them shiny, it doesn’t affect their cooking performance, but I rarely use them. I have several non-stick Analon pans I love too, and like all non-stick you have to replace them every couple of years because of the carbon build-up, but they are great. For sauce pans, I like All-Clad.
What thing did your mother do that you would never do?
(Laughs) Several. My mother’s knives were such crap. Never-sharpened. So, I ended up giving her a sharp French knife and steel. She’s too afraid to use it, it just sits in the drawer. Oh, and her spices are from when she got married in 1940 sitting on her shelf in the same containers. I told her not to throw them away now, they are antiques and worth something. (Do they even have a scent?) The cloves and nutmeg now have a kind-of dust-smell.
“…her spices are from when she got married in 1940 sitting on her shelf in the same containers.”
What kitchen appliance makes you happy?
I have two. My Hobart for meat-grinding. (If you can’t have a restaurant-grade meat grinder I recommend the Viking. The KitchenAid is ok, and best for most, but the plastic housing can crack when grinding hard fat. Hand-grinders are good, but then you need a counter you screw them into.) Secondly, my convection oven by Fisher & Paykel (many know this brand from the drawer-style dishwashers they make). I only cook with convection and think everyone should too, the true convection setting is great.
Do you ever make ice cream at home?
(I have been waiting for this question, I saw it on your other profile.) Yes! It is pretty much our standard dessert. We built a permanent ice cream drawer and fitted it with our Musso ice cream maker. Often Nancy brings home a quart of base from the restaurant and we mix in toppings, making it ourselves means a little more organizing to allow for chill time. I recently made banana and our strawberries are just coming in now, chocolate chunks, prune & armagnac, you know, the options are endless.
Many thanks to Bruce for spending time with me in his kitchen.
Do you need help designing your kitchen? Caroline stylizes, organizes and also design kitchens.
Here is a recent article with pictures from “Channeling the Greene Brothers” which appeared in Fine Homebuilding magazine’s issue #211. Reprinted with permission 2016, The Taunton Press, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Luco Trovato