At home with Carla Corona, M Street Kitchen's pastry chef
A sense of appreciation often depends on perspective. So when pastry chef Carla Corona says she loves her kitchen because it's so big — big enough to move around in — her perspective is essential. “This kitchen is the size of our whole apartment in Chicago,” she says.
Now that she and her pizza chef boyfriend, Patrick Costa, are settled in Venice, she says she's thrilled with the luxuries of their 100-square-foot kitchen: “I can open the door and the window. I always wanted a window above the sink. And there's a full-size refrigerator.”
One of the things Costa says he likes best is the white tile counter that to more high-falutin' minds might seem even ordinary. But he says, “To be honest, I don't think we had a counter before.” To improvise they straddled a butcher block over the sink, so the fact that there's room for canisters of sugar and coffee is kind of a big deal to him.
Corona and Costa together must spend more time in a kitchen in a week than many couples do in a month. She gets up at 4:30 a.m. and goes off to work at M Street Kitchen in Santa Monica on the motor scooter she and Costa share. He has a later start, next door to M Street, at Stella Rossa Pizza Bar.
And when they're home, happily with the same days off, they spend plenty of time in the L-shaped kitchen, painted an eggshell blue-gray, with a cornflower blue door that's often open and reflects onto the Frigidaire, which has photos of both their families on the side.
“Everything in here reminds me of a family member or my past,” said Corona, the oldest of three daughters raised in a suburban Chicago family that had backyard chickens in the 1970s.
Her favorite thing in the kitchen sits on the windowsill. It's a white wooden sign with the words “Carla's house” painted in dark red. Her grandfather made it for her playhouse, now her mother's gardening shed. “It reminds me of who I am and where I came from,” Corona, 33, says.
Corona and Costa, who met while working at the Chicago restaurant Perennial, serve fresh coffee in mugs her sister Anna made, one a tall swirly blue, another gold-colored, both with thumb rests on the handles. Costa, however, holds a mug from Intelligentsia, a Chicago coffee mecca. When he learned the company had a café within walking distance, he says, “Peace came over me.” (That could be the influence of life in Italy, one of several places he lived with a mother in the Navy.)
They rented their apartment in May, sight unseen, caring most about being near the beach and having a little outdoor space, in this case a patio the size of a small walk-in closet.
“I love it here,” Corona says. “I never thought I would leave Chicago, but I don't know if I want to go back. California is magical.”
“We cook all weekend and sit outside,” Costa, 28, says. Corona makes ice cream and scones. They eat bread and cheese, and use the herbs and tomatoes growing on the patio. “I come home and I have a sweet tooth. ... There's a lot of chocolate in the house,” Costa says, adding that he takes on the tough job of taste-testing Corona's cookies.
Corona's father made their table, a small square set in a corner, with two small benches. The table is for dining and working. Corona takes out a big spackler, which pastry chefs use to temper chocolate. It also works to scrape dough scraps from the table. Over it is a poster of various kinds of cheese. On the table, there's a sketch pad, where Costa has drawn a pig. In a nook against the opposite wall, he's also done a watercolor of a snook fish, in honor of a Florida restaurant where they once ate called the Fat Snook.
Next to the small oven is a small set of Metro shelves. On top they put a butcher block, set in place with four corks. The wood holds kosher salt in one bowl, gray sea salt in another, two bottles of olive oil and two small white ceramic bowls shaped like flying saucers, from the Chicago restaurant L2O.
They're one perk of restaurant work: “If things get chipped, you can throw them away or ask to take them home,” says Corona, who majored in American studies at the University of Dayton after her guidance counselor told her cooking school was “not a smart move.” At 27, with years of catering experience, she went to cooking school at Kendall College in Chicago. Costa came to Chicago to go to Lake Forest College.
The tools of their trade are on another wall, where they hung a magnet strip for their two chefs' knives, two paring knives, a bread knife, measuring spoons and a corkscrew.
There's little they need that they don't have.
“I would like a hood,” Corona says. “We set the smoke alarm off so many times I can't tell you. And it's always at 2 a.m., when Patrick comes home from work.”
-- Mary MacVean, [email protected]
Corrected: An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to M Street Kitchen as M Street Cafe.
Photos: Christina House / For The Times