L.A. at Home

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Category: Mission: Kitchen

Clifford Wright's kitchen: worldly, with a dash of Three Stooges

Clifford A. Wright
Clifford A. Wright is an earnest culinary scholar who has worked at the Institute of Arab Studies and has written 14 books. His kitchen is a history of his travels. But over his kitchen sink hangs a Franklin Mint plate on which Larry, Curly and Moe, wearing chef’s jackets, are about to get to work on a turkey.

Wright takes food seriously, with a dash of Three Stooges demeanor.

Three Stooges plateA careful look around reveals charm and humor again and again. As he puts it: He is a scholar who writes for people who watch their happiness before their weight.

The author of the classic “A Mediterranean Feast” was testing recipes one recent morning: Frittata‘i Rosa Marina (eggs and smelt) and Chiculliata (a salad of tuna, capers, anchovies, olives and chile). He has thousands of tested, unpublished recipes in his files and two new books — “Hot & Cheesy,” released this month, and “One-Pot Cookery” due out in 2013.

Wright, who worked for years at think tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Institute of Arab Studies, found his way to culinary scholarship combined with good food on many journeys; the mementos fill the galley kitchen and adjacent dining area of his house in Santa Monica, where he moved in 1996, just a few blocks from the Pacific.

Coming up the stairs and into the room, rows of colorful plates on three sturdy shelves grab the eye. There are a few, from France, where Wright lived as a child. Others come from Sicily, the subject of one of his cookbooks; still others from Turkey. And that institutional-style white one decorated with a pineapple? That came from the Encyclopedia Britannica cafeteria in Chicago, where Wright held his first job, as a proofreader.

“So I stole it,” he says.

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Foundry chef Eric Greenspan's home kitchen

Chef Eric Greenspan and his fiancée, Jamie Molever
Chef Eric Greenspan and his fiancée, Jamie Molever, share the kitchen of the future.

More accurately, the kitchen of their future. In the present, it gets used just about never.

“This was the first apartment that I even looked at the kitchen,” says Greenspan, the chef at the Foundry on Melrose and the Roof on Wilshire, in the boutique Hotel Wilshire. In previous places, his feeling toward the kitchen was: “Who cares?”

This time, he cares. He and Molever, above, are getting married this spring in Palm Springs, and they plan to have children. When they do, they plan for the kitchen to be a center of their home.

So two years ago, when they moved into the apartment just south of Melrose, they made sure the kitchen would suit. What Greenspan likes is the plentiful granite counter space, including a bar that looks into the dining area, counters on both sides of the stove and the double stainless steel sink.

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Chef Suzanne Tracht comes home to a cozy kitchen

Suzanne-Tracht-home-kitchenChef Suzanne Tracht is quietly elegant; her teenage daughter is beautiful and casually fashionable in black leggings. Their kitchen? Kind of like grandma's house — and that's just how they like it.

Tracht doesn't want to spend her off hours in a modern, stainless-steel kitchen that feels like the kitchens at her restaurant, the Beverly Boulevard chophouse Jar. “I don't want to come home from work and see that,” she says.

The atmosphere was set when she moved to the house in Beverlywood about a decade ago. Her friend, the artist Jill Young-Manson, painted a still life of pretty pink and yellow flowers in a pale blue vase near two blue teapots.

“It's done on the back of a grocery bag,” Tracht says. “It was the first thing I put up in the house.”

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Celestino Drago's haven at home, his backyard kitchen

Celestino Drago beehive
Walk in the front door of chef Celestino Drago's Sherman Oaks home, through the soaring foyer and the wide-open designer kitchen and out the back door, and you might think you've shape-shifted your way to the Italian countryside.

Celestino Drago pizza“The best thing for me is when it's Sunday and I am here with the kids in the garden, picking what I want to go and cook,” says the chef, whose restaurant Drago Santa Monica just celebrated its 20th anniversary. That could mean a simple pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil. Or vegetables to grill with chicken or fish.

PHOTO GALLERY: Drago's backyard kitchen

Drago seems fairly indifferent to his indoor kitchen, though it's the sort of room that agents use to sell a house. “To be honest, we don't use the one in the house much,” he says.

No wonder. Outdoors, he has a huge beehive-shaped wood-burning oven, a massive dining table and everything else necessary for cooking and eating. Drago can look out, past the pool, to the hills. Or he can sit and watch one of two flat screens set high on walls at either end of the long, rectangular, open-sided room.

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Cookbook author Amelia Saltsman's Rustic Canyon kitchen

Amelia Saltsman kitchen On a recent Wednesday afternoon just about the time the Santa Monica Farmers Market is closing, Amelia Saltsman shows off the bounty from her weekly trip. She talks about food shopping the way Imelda Marcos might have discussed buying shoes. “I get pretty crazy,” she says. “It's a lot of impulse buying.”

She bought a case of Costoluto Genovese tomatoes for canning. Shell beans spill out of a cloth bag onto her big kitchen island, topped with butcher block and a green stone from England. Nearby are squash and Buddha's Hand citron. Half a dozen pears sit in an oval clay dish.

Amelia Saltsman gourd-rificIn the center of the island are the most dramatic items of her haul. She bought three large speckled swan gourds from McGrath Family Farm. Next to them is a kabocha squash with her name etched into the skin, a gift from farmer Jerry Rutiz.

When Saltsman, cooking teacher and the author of “The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook,” says that “serious work goes on here,” she's not talking only about her professional life, but also about her kitchen as the heart of her family and social life. “I cook because I love family. I love my family,” she says. “Food is not frivolous.”

Her kitchen renovation was designed to encompass both, in tiny details such as multiple sets of measuring spoons that save steps mid-recipe, and in broad strokes such as the fireplace with a hearth that's raised off the floor, so it's visible from anywhere in the room and can accommodate wood stored underneath.

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At home with Carla Corona, M Street Kitchen's pastry chef

Carla Corona blue door
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.”

Carla CoronaOne 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.

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Chef Joachim Splichal's home kitchen

Chef Joachim Splichal's kitchen


Splichal StephaneWith a food empire that spans two coasts and includes more than 60 cafes and restaurants, chef Joachim Splichal spends a lot more time these days filling out paperwork than plating diners’ orders. To do what he loves most -- cook -- the founder of Patina restaurant turns to a kitchen in that most personal of spaces: his home.

The San Marino estate that Splichal shares with his sons, 15-year-old fraternal twins Nicolas and Stephane, has two kitchens. The Monterey-style home opens onto a courtyard with an indoor-outdoor kitchen and poolside dining cabana designed with large-scale entertaining in mind. But the weeknight action happens inside the main house.

PHOTO GALLERY: Joachim Splichal's home kitchen

Compared with the outdoor kitchen, the family space inside is surprisingly minimalist for a chef with a penchant for French farmhouse antiques. But as Splichal prepares dinner for his family, the purpose of the fuss-free design becomes clear: This home kitchen is all about efficiency.

Pictured above: Splichal with sons Nicolas, left, and Stephane. At right, Stephane works by the Kohler vegetable sink. The granite island has 3-foot-wide butcher blocks at both ends to maximize ingredient prep time. 

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Napa Valley Grille chef Joseph Gillard's home kitchen

Joseph Gillard
The pots and pans are what set Joseph Gillard and his fiancée apart in their small, sunny kitchen. “Mine are all beat to heck,” says Gillard, chef at the Napa Valley Grille in Westwood Village.

“The clean ones are mine,” says Ziba Shahriary, a highly organized mechanical engineer. (They've got one of the neatest kitchen junk drawers going.)

The evidence backs them up. In Gillard's case, even a pan that's engraved on the bottom to mark his time as executive chef at Nick & Stef's downtown has been used. A lot. Then there's his 50-year-old, 12-inch Griswold cast-iron frying pan — a family heirloom.

Photos: Joseph Gillard's home kitchen

Last summer, Gillard, 44, moved into his fiancée's pristine home, the second floor of a duplex south of Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. The narrow kitchen reflects two strong personalities on its blank slate of tile counter, floors and walls, all in shades of creamy gray, beige and light brown.

Sunshine streams in through two windows and a back door as the couple, who met on Match.com and plan to marry in 2013, talk about their kitchen. Signs of their love of food and travel — and their love — are everywhere.

In the refrigerator, aside from the wine and beer and other staples, there are four jars of homemade vodkas, flavored with citron, pear, guava or persimmon. And there's a “single-source” hot sauce, made from ingredients grown at Windrose Farm, outside Paso Robles.

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Canelé chef Corina Weibel's home kitchen

Corina Weibel
In Corina Weibel's kitchen, there are no secrets. It's no secret that Weibel takes no shortcuts: There's no dishwasher or food processor, but there are three mortar and pestles that she actually uses and rows of glass jars holding dried beans and grains, vinegars and spices.

It's no secret that Weibel, chef and co-owner of the Atwater Village restaurant Canelé, starts most days with oatmeal and café au lait: Check out the five stove top espresso makers, some with bottoms blackened by use. And there are half a dozen McCann's Irish oatmeal canisters.

Corina Weibel jarsAnd it's no secret that this roughly 6-by-8-foot sunlit room with a shortage of counter space is the kitchen of a real cook: Her favorite steel saute pan, as seasoned as it gets, sits on a burner of one of the few upscale notes in the room: her Wolf range with its iconic red dials and wolf's head logo plate. Surrounding the range, cotton towels and aprons hang on S-hooks; rubber scrapers, ladles and wooden spoons are at the ready.

In Weibel's kitchen, all but the cleaning supplies are out in the open.

Her house sits halfway up a heart-challenging Silver Lake hill. Weibel, who was catering at the time, bought it seven years ago, moving from a nearby rental. After she moved in and made some necessary changes, she didn't have much of a budget for a cosmetic redo of the kitchen.

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