At Home on the Range
Three local chefs with different cuisines and kitchens
When adventurous palates meet imaginative chefs, magic ensues. And where the magic usually happens is in state-of-the art restaurant kitchens. What happens, though, when those chefs take off their toques and go home? Do they cook for themselves? What kind of appliances do they use? What are their favorite gadgets? What guests would they invite to dinner?
Those questions were inspired by a recent visit to chef Farina Wong Kingsley’s new home kitchen in Tiburon. We posed them to Kingsley and to Roxanne Klein and Scott Howard, two other acclaimed chefs who live in Marin.
The Cultured Chef: Farina Wong Kingsley
Raised in a traditional Cantonese family in San Francisco, Kingsley leads a life infused with both the culture and cuisine of China.
Armed with a degree in East Asian Studies, she studied Mandarin and completed culinary programs in the Bay Area and abroad, including Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco, the Oriental Hotel Cooking School in Bangkok and the Hong Kong Kowloon Restaurant School in Hong Kong. She cooked at the Shanghai Eating Club in Hong Kong and at the Ritz-Carlton Dining Room in San Francisco under top chef Gary Danko.
A cookbook author (Asian for Williams-Sonoma) and a recipe tester and contributor (to Nonna’s Kitchen, A Spoonful of Ginger and Savoring Southeast Asia, among others), Kingsley is also a designer for her family’s two furniture companies. She serves as Asian specialist and culinary instructor at Tante Marie’s Cooking School and as consultant for the Center for Culinary Development in San Francisco, where she develops and publishes recipes. Her two latest books, The Aqua Restaurant Cookbook and Food Made Fast – Asian for Williams-Sonoma, will soon be in bookstores.
Kingsley’s house, which she shares with husband Chris and daughters Sophia and Lane, is in the Tiburon hills. The 700-square- foot kitchen with granite countertops and taupe hand-painted cabinetry has a gracious, California-contemporary style. During its refurbishing, Kingsley kept the existing stainless steel appliances, including a Viking cooktop, ovens and warming drawer, along with two dishwashers and an espresso center from Miele, and added a Kitchen-Aid icemaker, a U-Line wine cabinet and a Sub-Zero refrigerator.
Who was your cooking inspiration? My paternal grandmother from China, who taught me the foundations of Cantonese and Shanghainese cooking.
How does cooking at home differ from cooking at work? Cooking at home is more about convenience, being efficient with my time and being able to watch my girls while preparing meals for my family.
What are your kitchen essentials? Fresh and dried ingredients from Clement Street in San Francisco, local farmers’ markets and my home vegetable garden in Tiburon; sharp knives; and a high-BTU stove with a powerful vent.
What are your favorite kitchen tools or appliances? My mini food processor, mortar and pestle, and double dishwashers.
What is the best surprise of your kitchen? My pot filler faucet above my stove. It’s perfect for filling large pots and stir-frying.
How would you improve your kitchen? A large wok burner in addition to my six-burner Viking stovetop and deeper cabinets for storage of large platters and woks. Down the line, I would like to replace the Viking stovetop with either a larger Wolf or a Jade cooktop, both of which simmer at a consistent, lower flame than Viking. They also offer sealed burners that are much easier to clean.
What are the top dishes that you cook at home? Thai curries, Asian-style dumplings of all kinds, and grilled marinated meats wrapped in banana leaves. I always try to experiment with unique fresh ingredients in authentic Asian recipes, such as interesting greens, herbs or different cuts of meat.
What would you serve at your dream dinner party and whom would you invite? I would serve stations of Singaporean street food from Laksa (such as curry noodle soup), assorted satay on skewers, wok-seared chili crab and wonderful exotic fruits. My ideal guest would be my paternal grandfather, whom I never met and who passed away long ago. He was an entrepreneur who traveled the world and started the ground transportation system in Macau, China. Also, Aung San Su Kyi, the democratic leader of Myanmar, and Nelson Mandela.
What are your plans? I would like to continue to write food-related books, maybe something on Asian street food or how to create and cook from an Asian pantry.
Raw Energy: Roxanne Klein
When Roxanne Klein opened her innovative restaurant Roxanne’s in Larkspur in 2001, she put the little town back on the foodie map, much like Bradley Ogden had done earlier with the Lark Creek Inn. Her raw (aka living foods) cuisine is based on fresh, local organic ingredients, primarily fruits, vegetables and nuts, which are transformed into exciting dishes using little or no heat.
A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Klein worked in some top San Francisco restaurants, apprenticed in French Provençal kitchens and consulted with raw foods pioneer Juliano Brotman before breaking out on her own. In 2003, she coauthored Raw with famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter.
Klein’s restaurant, constructed and accessorized with eco-friendly materials, reflected her environmental commitment, garnered international press and ignited a discussion within the culinary world about the raw foods trend. When Roxanne’s closed in 2004, it left disappointed patrons. Klein, though, is back, and this winter is launching a line of raw foods-to-go named—what else?—Roxanne’s.
Klein prepares her home meals in a 500-square-foot Mill Valley kitchen. Remodeled seven years ago, the kitchen has a clean, fresh look, with white Carrera marble and stainless steel finishes. Her appliances include a Miele dishwasher, a full-size and an under-the-counter Sub-Zero refrigerator and a Viking stove.
Yes, the chef who made her reputation on raw recipes actually uses a stove at home. “For the kids,” she laughs, referring to daughters Ally and Raja. “I made vegan cupcakes for Halloween and my daughter just used it to make crepes for her French class. The girls are vegan but I believe in a celebration of food. I’m not going to tell them they can’t have pasta.”
What inspired your passion? Having grown up experiencing the lusciousness of the seasonal produce grown on my grandparents’ organic farm. There is nothing like walking into a garden and harvesting all the produce that is at its peak of ripeness, bringing it back to my kitchen and letting those foods be the complete inspiration for the evening’s menu. Such experiences are what I have drawn on to originate dishes that are expressions of the flavors and textures of the season.
What’s essential in your kitchen? Sharp knives! And preferably Japanese. They’re essential for creating beautiful food and textures. A spice grinder to freshly grind all my own spices for the best flavors and aromas in any dish. And a well-stocked pantry.
Your favorite kitchen tools? A Blend Tec blender, an Excalibur dehydrator, and a Dremax electric Japanese vegetable slicer.
What do you love about your home kitchen? It is not the largest kitchen I have ever had, but it is definitely my favorite. I love the layout, the open shelving and especially the setting. It gets lots of natural light and looks out at all the beautiful trees.
How would you improve it? Maybe add some more refrigerated drawers, some more seating, and yes, I would like a round-the-clock dishwashing person.
What food products do you like to use at home? The farmers’ market is my biggest inspiration.
What would you serve at your dream dinner party and whom would you invite? I would definitely create a menu that would be the ultimate sensual experience and invite Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda, Johnny Depp, Tom Robbins, the poet Rumi, photographer Gregory Colbert, fashion designer Margaret O’Leary, Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters and Charlie Trotter.
What are your plans? I want to continue to create new flavor experiences. Make my product line available nationally, then internationally. Write a new book. Enjoy every moment. Change the world one bite at a time.
Finessing the Flavors: Scott Howard
Under the accomplished direction of chef-owner Scott Howard, Fork, the tiny, sophisticated restaurant on the border of San Anselmo’s busy hub, quickly became a tour de force in the Bay Area’s best culinary circles.
Known for its California cuisine with classic French accents in a small-plate format, Fork became one of Zagat’s most popular dining choices in the Bay Area and the vibrant flavor combinations earned Howard rave reviews and the coveted “Future Star” accolade from Gourmet magazine.
This Southern-born chef, who set his sights on a culinary career while still in high school, was mentored at Miami’s famed Amano’s by Norman Van Aken, considered the father of “new world cuisine.”
From there, Howard established a name for himself as executive chef at several award-winning Florida hot spots—Martha’s Tropical Grill, Lure, and Mise en Place Market Bistro, where he amassed multiple “Best New Chef” awards.
Last year, he sold his four-year partnership in Fork and turned his attention to a San Francisco restaurant space formerly occupied by the Cypress Club. Here, Howard indulges his passion for French technique, seasonal ingredients,
complex flavor combinations and stylish
Residing in a Novato home he shares with wife Melissa, director of operations for the restaurant, and their two daughters, Zoe Rain and Sophia Sky, he happily picks herbs from the garden with daughter Zoe and cooks up family meals in a 300-square-foot space.
His kitchen, vintage 1970, has an open-floor plan warm Provencal colors, a General Electric oven and stove, a Jenn-Air refrigerator, and a Whirlpool dishwasher, and proves his motto that “if you can cook, any kitchen will do!”
Who was your cooking inspiration? Norman Van Aken, for his respect for the products and the way they are grown, stored, cooked and presented.
Name your favorite kitchen essentials. A cutting board, because it’s where everything will end up; knives because they allow precision; and extra-virgin olive oil. I can’t cook without it.
How about your three favorite kitchen tools? A juicer. A panini press, which is great for quick grilled cheese sandwiches for my daughter. A little olive oil, cheese and artisan bread. It’s quick, there’s no mess, and you can forget about it and it won’t burn. A chinoise (a fine-meshed conical sieve), which I use to strain liquids. At the restaurant, any liquid goes through the chinoise three to four times before it goes to a customer. My cooking at home is more rustic. I just strain liquids once.
What shows up on your home menu most often? Soy products like miso and tofu, vegetables, and fresh pastas.
What’s the best surprise of your kitchen? The copper hood that is the centerpiece of our kitchen. I discovered it after I pulled off the wooden box that was covering it up. It was the same feeling you’d get if you pulled up a shag rug only to find tongue-and-groove cherrywood flooring underneath.
What do you consider in terms of space planning for either your home or professional kitchen? When I look at a space, everything—a water source, fire, disposal and a space for cutting—has to be within hands-reach. That’s what’s great about a smaller-sized kitchen: everything is right there.
What’s next for your kitchen? We have plans for an outdoor wood-burning oven for summer parties.
Describe your fantasy dinner party. I’d invite Roman Polanski and Robert Evans and serve pizza, roasted pork shoulder from my wood-burning oven, seasonal vegetables, salad and lots of wine.
Photos by Barbara Ries