Chicago chef Paul Kahan is fresh from a recent kitchen remodel; the paint was drying on the walls while I took pictures. He codesigned his kitchen with his wife, Mary Klonowski, and general contractor Nate Loevy. Using Seattle company Henrybuilt's design services, they took a wall down and relocated the plumbing stack from above, enlarging some doorways and redoing the floor. Paul and Mary already had all the appliances: Sub-Zero Pro 48-inch refrigerator, Viking 6-burner range with griddle, Viking hood with external blower, Miele dishwasher and Kohler sink.
Don't worry about Burgermeister the cat — the counters get a complete scrub before any cooking goes on here.
Q. What's your ideal kitchen layout? It looks like you guys sort of have a broken U-shaped kitchen due to the existing windows.
A. Well, you know, I work in this environment that is full of clutter and stuff everywhere. At home I’m really into clean, uncluttered looks — I don’t like wall cabinets with doors on them. It's a 110-year-old house, and we're slowly modernizing it, keeping within the bones of the house.
We have a lot of open shelving, and the pantry was completely redone by Henrybuilt as well. The pantry has a large Julia Child–style wall with sliders and pots and pans. I've got something like 30 different pots and pans that I can hang; larger ones that I can’t go on shelves. The peninsula has seating on one side and houses the main sink — it feels more like an island.
What's important: Ample counter space to cook on and lots of storage, which is why I got the big fridge. I like to have things that are beautiful on the shelves, not everyday clutter. The kitchen table is counter height, and it’s on wheels and moves around. Six people can sit at it, and because we have limited space, you can put it up against the wall and use it for prep. Lots of times when we have parties, we wheel it on the back porch and use it as a buffet.
If I had all the space in the world, I would build the kitchen around entertaining. Everyone gravitates there anyway. I would do a multipurpose area with an island that had a sink and prep area, with a wing that comes off it where people could sit and dine at.
I'm kind of an espresso nut, and our La Marzocco espresso machine sits next to the sink on the peninsula. I'm also an audio freak working on great sound in the kitchen, living room and dining room at the moment as well.
Q. And your ideal cooking appliance arrangement?
A. You know, for years I’ve lusted after a La Cornue … but I don’t know if there’s anything on the residential market that really functions like a true professional stove for the home. I've currently got a 48-inch Viking with two ovens and an infrared broiler, and it works for us. Love the setup of four burners or a French top. I would do a multipurpose area with an island that had a sink and prep area, with a wing that comes off it where people could sit and dine.
Q. What do you think of open burners versus closed burners for a range top? Would you do an induction cooktop as a replacement to gas — or as a supplement?
A. If I had a different house or kitchen, I think I would do two induction burners, and the prep sink and gas range on the main wall. I worked in a friend's kitchen in D.C., and the induction top took a while to get used to, but they’re amazing. They work well for everything, great for sautéing. For me, I'll be cooking with gas until I die, but I’ll use induction too. They’re really clean, you just wipe them down, and they’re functional. I might do it slightly recessed so I could do a cutting board and have extra counter spaces.
Q. What one extra kitchen cooking gadget would you suggest for a home cook?
A. I’m not much of a gadget guy; I’m a pretty straightforward cook. But I do love my smoker from Texas in my backyard. In the kitchen a Vitamix is crucial; every pro chef loves their Vitamix. A good immersion blender and a food processor. I have a ton of All-Clad pans and some French steel ones. I have a lot of knives — I love knives — and my Kuhn-Rikon peeler; that’s great.
Q. What sort of refrigeration arrangement do you like?
A. It would be great to have a couple of burners on the island to cook on, a 48-inch gas range on the wall, an oven and a half or two ovens, and refrigerator drawers in that main prep area, and another refrigerator further away. Right now my refrigerator is a bit far away.
Q. What’s your ideal cleanup arrangement? Sinks first. I can see that you've got some pretty great organization in the island as well: a drawer for cleaning products and a tilt-out drawer front for sponges in addition to drawers for silverware, utensils and everyday plates.
A. Again, if I had a different house, dishwashing and cleanup would be moved to a separate zone. We've currently got a single-bowl sink in the peninsula that's made out of the same material as the countertops.
Q. What about faucets? Few people really think about how they can make life easier depending on the design, but as much as I like function, I can't stand an unattractive faucet.
A. We ended up with an Axor faucet, a sleek cousin of one of the more industrial ones. It’s a single hole with a nice big lever and a pullout spray from the head. It's nice and clean and covers both bowls in the sink. No electronic touchless faucets for me. I prefer mechanical over electronic.
Q. What’s your favorite backsplash material?
A. We ran the countertop up the wall. So far, so good. It's white, and there are some discolorations, but no major issues. It's durable, and it feels good.
Q. Your favorite countertop material?
A. The peninsula is Caesarstone; everything else is wood. They're beautiful oak tops with a waxed finish, but we have a plethora of cutting boards and a big Boos block that we use to prep on.
Q. What’s your favorite material for a kitchen floor?
A. The only one I’ve ever lived with is wood. We did a wide-board maple floor. Would I like tile in a different house? Sure. We’re doing cement tile in our new restaurant.
Q. Your opinion on ideal lighting for a home kitchen? By the way, I love that ceiling treatment where you exposed the joists in part only.
A. Thanks. The contractor did a great job fitting in new joists to replace the old when needed. We did a combination in regards to lighting: three pendant lights, pin spots in the area with exposed beams [and] large cans in between the beams.
Q. What do you cook when you’re not working?
A. I'm a pretty serious gardener. My wife and I eat very simply — dinner might be fish, some kind of vegetable from the garden and sometimes a starch. We keep a bunch of vinaigrette in the fridge, and we love this one buttermilk dressing. We might have a kale salad already marinating in the fridge. I have a smoker in the yard; we use it for parties and events at the house. I love to grill in the summer, just go out and grab veggies from the garden. I really like to eat simple food. We have a butcher shop, and we do great charcuterie, but we eat that in small amounts.
Q. What dishes would you cook to test-drive a new appliance?
A. I’d probably cook a whole fish — large skillet, 2½-pound fish. Get the pan ripping hot and finish it in the oven. Some people might cook a quiche or a cake to test an oven, but I’ve got fish on the brain. Sear it on the stovetop and finish it in the oven.
Q: What do you have growing now?
A. We have a 15- by 30-foot plot, plus flowers and herbs and some produce our local farmers and suppliers don’t grow. There's nothing like picking stuff and cooking it: chicory, lots of garlic, celery root, arugula, Chioggia beets, peppers — Hungarian sweet, wax, serrano and Jimmy Nardellos — broccoli, cucumbers, leeks, asparagus, lovage, Swiss chard, sage, wild arugula.
Q. What ingredient could you not live without?
A. Olive oil.
Delicata Squash, chef Paul Kahan's recipe
2 delicata squashes
6 cloves garlic, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
2 sprigs thyme
½ teaspoon chili flakes
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut off the tops and bottoms of the squashes ¼ inch on each side and then in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Lay each half cut-side down and slice each into ½-inch circles, leaving the skin on.
Preheat a large sauté pan (large enough to fit the squash pieces evenly in one layer) over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the olive oil.
Add the squash circles in a single layer, lightly brown on one side and flip each piece. You may need to do this in two batches; just keep the cooked squash warm.
Working quickly, add the butter and sliced garlic to the pan and sprinkle the chili, brown sugar, thyme, salt and pepper over the squash. Once you've added the brown sugar, watch for burning!
When the garlic begins to lightly brown, move the squash around to sauté it.
Test the squash for doneness. Add more salt and pepper if desired and squeeze a lemon wedge over it to taste.