The Tastemakers: Smitten Kitchen
Welcome to The Tastemakers, a series in which we chat with the most talented, connected and influential people in the world of food and drink.
Before starting her home-cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, Deb Perelman was working full time as a tax reporter for a business magazine. In her words, "Talk about glamorous stuff."
In search of a place to flex her creative muscles and experiment with recipes that would appease her admittedly picky eating habits, Perelman began blogging about her cooking endeavors, expecting the experience to last for about six months. Ten years, one cookbook and hundreds of thousands of followers later, Smitten Kitchen is still thriving, with a strong presence on Facebook, Instagram and more. Perelman is now devoted full time to writing, recipe testing and growing Smitten Kitchen, where she hopes to make any and every home cook really excited about making dinner.
We chatted with Perelman about her go-to meals, her least-favorite foods and the tiny kitchen where it all began.
What does a typical day look like for you?
"I've got two kids now, so the mornings mean getting the older one off to school and grabbing some coffee, then meeting the babysitter at home for the younger one. Then, at least a few days a week, I'll write, edit and update the site in the morning and try to get a new recipe out by noon. If not, I'll use the time to do research, emails, etc. The afternoon is when I like to cook and recipe test. By then, I feel like my brain's kind of fried for writing and high-level thinking."
What are a few items that are always in your fridge?
"Oh, gosh, too much stuff. I have a horribly overpacked fridge—it's an embarrassment! We always have a lot of different types of mustard; I don't know why. I wanna say five or six right now, but there really could be eight in there. That seems normal, right? That's a good use of your small fridge. And we always have normal things like apples and carrots. And then at least two or three pickled things, though that's partially because I'm married to a Russian."
What are some of your favorite Instagram accounts?
"There's this photographer out of Chicago named @pauloctavius who's a lot of fun to follow, and then Elisabeth Prueitt from Tartine (@lizprueitt_tartine). I'm not a gluten-free baker, but whether you're gluten free or not, she's worth a follow. She's been doing a lot of really fun things, and she shares the recipes right on Instagram. I just think she's very inspiring.
And then @rachelaliceroddy in Rome. She also has a blog called Rachel Eats, but I love following her Instagram of her daily life in Rome. She often posts about what's in her sink after she goes to the market, and it's so great to see the kind of fresh produce she can get. I've just learned so much about simple, day-to-day Italian home cooking from her."
Are there any dishes or ingredients you can't stand?
"I can't stand beets. I just find them inky and sweet. I mean, I'm not going to spit them out, but I would never seek them out.
I'm also one of those people for whom cilantro tastes weird and soapy, but I've learned to kind of just accept it in my life.
And my other deep dark food secret is that I'm really not the biggest seafood eater. I tend to like shellfish and clams in certain dishes, but I would never choose to just eat a piece of baked fish. I wish I could get over it!"
Your blog describes your work space as a tiny, 42-square-foot New York City kitchen. Do you have any advice for other cooks who don't have a lot of space to work with?
"Over the years, I've learned a lot from cooking in small spaces. First of all, you need to get everything off of your counters. You can't have any tools or appliances using up that precious space.
You absolutely must get a pot rack; it's the greatest investment. Make sure it's strong and can hold a lot of weight, because getting all of those pots and pans out of the way, but still within reach, is a major help. And stick to the essentials that serve multiple uses, like one good cutting board and one good knife.
Also, watch out for chefs' recipes! They're the worst. I mean, you might make something amazing, but no recipe created in, for or by somebody who works in a restaurant kitchen is going to be well suited for your tiny apartment. I try to make the recipes on my blog a bit more accessible for any home cook with any kitchen."
What do you cook for yourself when you don't feel like cooking anything?
"Scrambled egg tacos, all the time. They're the easiest thing. You can keep flour or corn tortillas around and some salsa that you like, or just chop up some tomatoes, jalapeño and lime with canned black beans and some crumbly, salty cheese. It's so cheap, and you can keep a lot of the ingredients around."
Who would you consider to be your culinary influences?
"I'm a big Ina Garten fangirl. I've actually met her, and she's incredibly down-to-earth. You get the feeling that the life she represents is actually hers, and that's why it comes off so naturally.
I love Yotam Ottolenghi's cooking and his restaurants. I would love to just hang out for a day and watch him develop a recipe, because there are always elements of his dishes that I would have never thought to put in.
And also Danny Meyer, because I love the service focus in his restaurants. It shouldn't be a radical act to be known for really good service, but it somehow is. It means a lot when you're in a rush, and you want to just stop at a restaurant and treat yourself to a nice salad or a glass of wine, and no one in his restaurants makes you feel strange for just stopping in. It should be a no-brainer."
What was the best meal you had in the past year?
"We went to Kings County Imperial, this Chinese restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, shortly after it opened, and it was so good! I mean, it was one of our first night's out without the baby, so maybe that's why it seemed so amazing, but we just loved the dinner so much. We haven't stopped talking about its garlic chicken since."
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