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My life may be an open book but not when I’m cooking. There are some things in life that really need to be private, and my kitchen is one of them. Nobody needs to know about the time I let out a yelp as I yanked a cake out of the oven just as it was starting to rise — or rather should have been; I’d forgotten the baking powder. Or the time I lost my cool in the thick of making lasagna for 10. I couldn’t remember if the mushrooms went into the béchamel — or was it on top of the ricotta? — and could not, could not put my hands on the damn recipe. It didn’t help that I was muttering curses and leaving tomato sauce thumbprints as I googled madly. Turned out my phone, the default source of all culinary wisdom these days was out of juice.
This is the kind of situation in which I need to be alone, especially if dinner guests are already at the table, on the edge of their seats as they ask what’s on the menu. You know, like the last time we had friends over, whenever that was, maybe two years ago?
The first time my husband and I saw our Midtown Manhattan apartment, we worried about the distance from the kitchen to the dining-living room. In case you’re curious: a dozen steps. We wondered how we would ever get food to the table while it was still hot. Maybe we could get a bar cart — perhaps one with a motor?
Today though, as we pad back and forth, balancing dishes and asking if there’s anything else we can get for each other, it’s hard to imagine returning to the open kitchen of our youth. A closed kitchen is just so much more… grown up. Also, in a closed kitchen, no one knows you are swilling the wine you were supposed to put in the stew.
Not long ago, thinking we might be ready to move, we started looking at new apartments. Gone is the tidily enclosed kitchen of yore, off to join its bereft cousin, the private office. Today it’s all about having an open-concept plan, which is basically an invitation to plunk critical prep space — fancifully known as the “island” — right in front of the sofa.
Open kitchens may be on-trend, but they give anyone short of Jaques Pépin two choices: Finish up every bit of cooking and cleanup before the guests arrive (room-temp pasta: that could be a thing?) or embrace the transparency, figuring it’s in the same tradition as New York apartments without window blinds.
Go ahead and make dinner on stage. Act like it’s no big deal when you drop the steak and brush it off with your stained apron. Smile when you crack the salad spinner before it comes to a full stop, shooting wet lettuce across the table.
I’ll be in my private place, plating dessert. Oops, there goes the garnish — pardon my fingers!