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Casual and bustling is just perfect for the Armistead family

March 17, 2012 |  6:00 am

Shelley, left, Isaac and Matthew Armistead at home in their kitchenNothing is perfect in Matthew and Shelley Armistead’s kitchen — which, in their case, is just perfect. The glass-fronted cupboards have a mishmash of glasses and Champagne flutes, vintage egg cups, a Superman mug, African tea cups and Beatrix Potter oatmeal bowls from Shelley’s childhood. The counters are covered in fresh produce and dishes in progress, some of them trials for Soho House, the private club in West Hollywood where Matthew is chef and Shelley is general manager. Friends and colleagues drop in. The couple’s two little boys wander in and out. The scene is the essence of casual and cool — perfect because it’s not entirely perfect.

Cans painted with religious icons serve as planters for fresh herbs at the Armistead homeIn the three years the Armisteads have been in Los Angeles, they have had three homes, finally settling in Mar Vista in a house with a light-filled kitchen with five windows that open onto the backyard. The yard, kitchen and adjacent dining area are the home’s heart.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Armisteads at home

“We have this big house and we never use it. We’re always in here,” says Matthew, 40, a former furniture maker who started cooking as a way to fund a skiing habit.

“Just messing around in the kitchen, that’s what I love. You can literally just do something you’ve never done before.”

Mix and match tea cups at the Armistead home and saucers
He is English, and Shelley is South African. They fell in love while working at the famed London restaurant River Café. The vintage Murano glass vases Shelley collected for their wedding decorate the kitchen.

Matthew ArmisteadWhile he’s making chicken piri piri and cauliflower with wild rice, jalapeño and ginger, Matthew dispatches a friend outside to check on the coals. His wife leaves the kitchen briefly, reminding him to keep watch over the lentils she’s cooking.

The four-burner stove is gas — a requirement, Matthew says. Nearby are jars of tea, Maldon sea salt, a black granite mortar and pestle, and bottles of oils and soy sauce.

“I go through gallons of olive oil,” he says, standing at the stove in shorts and a shirt, a dish towel tossed over one shoulder.

The kitchen walls are painted a pale pink, and the glass-fronted cupboards contribute to the feeling of a sunny homespun bakery. Cake stands hold muffins and bread from the Soho House; a green milk-glass pitcher stands ready. In the cupboard, there’s a stack of lush Wonki Ware plates from Di Marshall Pottery in South Africa.

On a wooden counter that separates the kitchen and dining area, a blue bowl holds Brussels sprouts. Other bowls and baskets contain squash,
Piri piri chickenkiwi and pomegranates. Potatoes and limes go in a rustic wooden box. 

Many decisions in the kitchen are kid-centric. Joseph, 7, and Isaac, 3, eat limited amounts of wheat and dairy, but they already know their way around the spice drawer next to the stove.

“Food brought us together as a family, and that’s why I got into cooking,” Matthew says. “That’s what we do on the weekends now with our friends.”

Shelley says she loves experimenting with food too.

“I love trying to persuade Matt on new dishes. I love cooking for my kids,” she says. “I just get to be bossy in my professional life.”

Outside, at the grill, Armistead spreads piri piri sauce on the chicken, but the grown-ups are not the only ones cooking: In the yard, there’s a well-used pint-sized kitchen, with toy utensils and eggs on toast.

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-- Mary MacVean

Photos, from top: Matthew and Shelley Armistead with their son, Isaac, making dinner; cans painted with religious icons serve as planters for fresh herbs; mix-and-match teacups and saucers; Matthew bastes chicken with a bunch of herbs tied together with string; the finished chicken piri piri.

Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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