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Kitchen of the Week: Chef David Tanis’s Low-Tech, Economical, and Beautifully Soulful Kitchen in the East Village

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Kitchen of the Week: Chef David Tanis’s Low-Tech, Economical, and Beautifully Soulful Kitchen in the East Village

November 15, 2018

We’ve been following chef David Tanis over the years and wondering how he pulls it all off; after heading up the kitchen at Chez Panisse, he made an arrangement with Alice Waters that allowed him to work half time in the Berkeley, California, restaurant and live half time in Paris, where he ran an under-the-radar supper club called Aux Chiens Lunatiques with Randal Breski, his partner, the former maître d’ at Chez Panisse.

These days, the two live in a two-room garden flat in the East Village (they bought it from their friends, artists Bruce Nauman and Susan Rothenberg, who occupy the upper levels of the townhouse), and David writes the weekly City Kitchen column for the New York Times and produces cookbooks. His latest, David Tanis Market Cooking, is a beautifully photographed exploration of “how to be more discerning in the market and freer in the kitchen.”

One Saturday last fall, we dropped by to poke around his kitchen, ask a few questions, and admire his low-key approach to cooking and entertaining.

Photography and styling by Heidi’s Bridge for Remodelista.

a set of steps descends to the apartment&#8\2\17;s entry, which opens direc 17
Above: A set of steps descends to the apartment’s entry, which opens directly onto the kitchen. David and Randal found the Ikea shelving on the street and mounted it atop two vintage wooden blocks. They’ve stocked the shelves with an artful display of vintage and newer ceramic pieces they’ve collected over the years.

Remodelista: What do you love most about your kitchen and living space?

David Tanis: The two rooms are 20-by-20-foot each, so there’s room for guests to gather in the kitchen for drinks, although we usually dine in our main room, what we call the West Wing, for dinner parties. Casual dinner in the kitchen is on stools, maximum four people. The island is on wheels and easy to move, which is great for opening up the space when needed.

RM: How do you use scent in the home? Smudge sticks and incense, et cetera? Is that for covering up cooking smells? (A Frenchwoman once told me she burns incense when she cooks fish.)

DT: I like to burn incense on the “veranda,” the exterior stairway entrance to our apartment, to mask traffic fumes, especially when guests are coming.

the island on wheels is from crate & barrel; david and randal added a canti 18
Above: The island on wheels is from Crate & Barrel; David and Randal added a cantilevered butcher block top to extend the work surface. For something similar, consider the Belmont White Kitchen Island from Crate & Barrel ($499) with an added set of Four Casters ($26). The bentwood counter stool is vintage.
RM: Did living in Paris influence the design of your NYC kitchen? Living with a smaller fridge, for example?

DT: Our Paris kitchen was minuscule. Living with a small, under-counter fridge was really no problem except when we had t0 store food for big parties, in which case we used a large picnic cooler. But even with the tiny kitchen we managed to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for 45 expats one year. So when we moved to New York, we adopted the under-counter fridge once again (although we do have a mid-size fridge in the cellar where we chill wine and store bulky stuff). We usually shop at the farmer’s market four days a week, but there always seems to be something needed daily from some other source, like the butcher, fishmonger, and supermarket.

david and randal slotted in four stacked ikea cabinets in a recessed corner of  19
Above: David and Randal slotted in four stacked Ikea cabinets in a recessed corner of the kitchen for additional storage.

RM: Kitchen appliance/gadget you think is absurd and unnecessary?

DT: I’m really a mortar and pestle person—you saw my collection. I avoid using electric appliances, if at all possible. An electric spice mill can be handy, though, and a blender is useful. Why anyone would use a garlic press is baffling.

a freestanding vintage ethan allen dresser painted black serves as a storage pl 20
Above: A freestanding vintage Ethan Allen dresser painted black serves as a storage place for spices, linens, and more. A copper tray perched on a lazy susan corrals essentials.
RM: You mentioned you like to shop at stores in Chinatown for items such as colorful plastic colanders. Favorite specialty/ethnic shops in your neighborhood?

DT: It’s also where I go for Asian ingredients—Chinatown is a ten-minute walk. I love Dual Spices on First Avenue at Sixth Street for spices and Indian specialties.

david stores his spices in jars arrayed upside down in the dresser&#8\2\17; 21
Above: David stores his spices in jars arrayed upside-down in the dresser’s top drawer. “That way I can see what I’ve got, and I don’t have to bother with labeling the jars,” he says.

david stores mixing bowls and cutting boards on an industrial style stainless s 22
Above: David stores mixing bowls and cutting boards on an industrial-style stainless steel restaurant cart with butcher block top and cooks on an NXR 30-Inch Professional Range ($1,899). The low-profile professional-grade ventilation hood is from Zephyr; for something similar, take a look at their Gust line, available from AJ Madison.
RM: Favorite kitchen knife? Carbon steel or stainless steel?

DT: I have a lot of Japanese knives. Generally I prefer carbon steel.

david and randal maximized the space at the far end of the kitchen; under the c 23
Above: David and Randal maximized the space at the far end of the kitchen; under the counter is a refrigerator with a dishwasher slotted in next to it. The kitchen is located partially below street level, adjacent to a church burial yard. “There are caskets stacked on the other side of the wall,” David says. “At one point we were using a vintage porcelain mortuary table as a kitchen island.”
david and randal keep their sink setup simple: dishwashing liquid is decanted i 24
Above: David and Randal keep their sink setup simple: Dishwashing liquid is decanted into an amber glass pump bottle (for something similar, consider the eight-ounce Amber Glass Soap Dispenser with Black Pump ($5.99 from Amazon), the palm fiber Kamenoko Tawashi Kitchen Scrubbing Brush ($7) is from Japan. The single-bowl Domsjo Sink is from Ikea ($299); the well-priced chrome Grohe Concetto Single-Handle Pull-Down Arc Kitchen Faucet is $154.27 from Amazon (see another kitchen that makes clever use of the Grohe Concetto at Aya Brackett’s Hippie House Update in Oakland).

RM: Any takeaways from professional kitchen design that homeowners should know about?

DT: Ideally a kitchen should have a separate area for dishwashing, but it’s not possible in this small two-room flat.

an array of low tech tools: the double egg spoon is by sicilian master bla 25
Above: An array of low-tech tools: the double egg spoon is by Sicilian master blacksmith Angelo Garro of Renaissance Forge in San Francisco (see the single version at The Legendary Egg Spoon of Alice Waters and Fanny Singer, Easter Edition).
proof you don&#8\2\17;t need an arsenal of high tech countertop appliances  26
Above: Proof you don’t need an arsenal of high-tech countertop appliances and gadgets: David’s lineup of old-fashioned kitchen implements includes a stainless steel Stovetop Toaster, his grandmother’s potato masher, a Rok Presso Manual Maker, a wooden-handled whisk, and a vintage marble mortar and pestle.

(For more low-tech tools, see 10 Easy Pieces: Editors’ Favorite Hand-Operated Kitchen Tools.)

a japanese tansu chest holds additional tableware and jars of home pickled vege 27
Above: A Japanese tansu chest holds additional tableware and jars of home-pickled vegetables.
david tanis paper towel holder
Above: David stores paper towels on a vintage brass meat pounder.
a glass beaker holds garlic from the farmers market. 29
Above: A glass beaker holds garlic from the farmers market.
&#8\2\20;we built the bookcases out of cinder blocks and lengths of wood bo 30
Above: “We built the bookcases out of cinder blocks and lengths of wood boards,” David says. His oeuvre includes One Good Dish, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, Heart of the Artichoke.
david&#8\2\17;s latest: david tanis market cooking. 31
Above: David’s latest: David Tanis Market Cooking.

See more soulful kitchens with a Northern California vibe at:

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on November 13, 2017.

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