Gallery: A Virtual Tour of Kenji Alt's Food Lab Kitchen

  • My Tiny Kitchen

    Here it is—this is where pretty much every Food Lab/Burger Lab experiment takes place. As far as NYC apartment kitchens go, it ain't half bad. The open space, window, and outward-facing counter ensures that I don't get depressed while working in there, while the walls ensure that the rest of the apartment only smells a little bit like hamburgers, instead of a lot.

    This last bit is essential for the harmony of my marriage.

    The Work Space

    The awesome wooden cutting board is one of two that was given to me by Boston chef Barbara Lynch back when I worked for her. Boston said "no" to wooden cutting boards in restaurants, so I happily gave them a foster home in my own kitchen. They've served me well.

    Next to the stove I've got a couple of IKEA utensil holders (no, I don't always follow my own recommendations). One houses metal utensils, while the other holds wood and silicone. The dark bottle next to them is EVOO, and the green is canola. The tinted bottles and the rate at which I go through them ensures that they never go rancid before I'm done.

    There's also my salt cellar, my pepper mill, some burger testing-in-progress, and a few bottles of overflow wine and vinegar from the storage cabinet above.

    Part of a Laaaaaaarge Pantry

    Above my cutting board I store my liquid pantry, as well as backups for spices, dried chiles, and various other things. Vinegars (chinkiang, rice, black rice, etc.) and fortified wines (sherry, madeira, etc.) are kept on the left because they can withstand being a little warmer next to the stove. Oils (A few EVOO, argan, sesame, etc) and such are on the right to offer them a little more protection.

    Other items in the top shelves include: roasted sesame seeds. Cocoa powder. Espresso powder. Dehydrated black olives. Uncooked shrimp crackers. Piri piri peppers. Potassium alginate. Dried morels. Agar agar. Sichuan peppercorns. Fried shallots. Rennet tablets.

    Not shown, but underneath my cutting board is where I keep my various rices and grains, and dried East Asian staples (various seaweeds, dried fish, dried fermented soy beans, dried mushrooms, etc.)

    The Back Wall

    Behind the stove is where my rack for small, every day pots and pans resides. I keep all my most-used items here, like my 10 and 8-inch regular and nonstick skillets, some small saucepots, measuring cups, and strainers. Spices are also kept on the rack here (backups are under the cutting board). I keep my spice containers only partially full since sunlight can damage them.

    Above the spices are some of my Japanese and Chinese style knives. More on those later.

    Storage Central

    I find that the absolute best containers for storing foods are the plastic deli-style containers that you get from Chinese takeouts. Unfortunately, you can pretty much only get them online or at restaurant supply stores, and they come in packs of like five million. My advice: go in with a friend and split them. The great part about them is they come in cup, pint, and quart sizes, with lids that fit all three sizes, so no fumbling around looking for the right size lid. They are also space efficient, and stack nicely.

    I keep other flat-style generic plastic takeout dishes ready so that I can pack lunches for my wife Adri. Most of these have come from saving, washing, and reusing doggie-bag containers from restaurants.

    The Cold Zone

    The freezer is in need of some major spring (fall?) cleaning. Amongst other things, it's got: ice, various frozen dumplings (homemade, store-bought...), udon and ramen, chicken bones, beef and pork scraps, an ice cream machine base, ice packs, my meat grinder, cryovacked chili, yeast, bay leaves, lemongrass, kaffir lime, lulo puree, coconut milk, my (deceased) cat, butter, sausages, shrimp, ice cream (for which I didn't use my ice cream maker), and oodles of other stuff.

    In the fridge, at the moment I've got (roughly from the top down): chili pastes, fermented bean pastes, chili oil, miso paste, pickles and preserves, curry pastes, cooked sauces and prepared foods like kabayaki, orange purees, pestos, anchovies, dog food, apple sauce, four varieties of barbecue sauce (testing for the Serious Eats book), cooked vegetables and meats, onion juice, cole slaw, eggs, milk, heavy cream, buttermilk, Japanese barley tea, sausages, cheese (including the ends of 500 slices of American cheese, which had to be trimmed to fit sliders), eggplant, lettuces, zucchini, peeled garlic, scallions, mint, lemon verbena, shiso, celery, and carrots.

    In the door are condiments, more pickles and preserves, and way too many other things to mention.

    Kitchen Gear

    My gear collection long ago overwhelmed my counter and cupboard space. This is all overflow into the dining room, including: a toaster oven, mixing bowls, spice grinders, spare cutting boards, bamboo steamers, large-format pots and pans, graters, ricer, large whisks, ladles, skimmers, a Thermomix, a food processor, a rice cooker, dry dog food, extra oil and condiments, a pressure cooker, a juicer, a stand mixer, a blender, cast iron cookware, a waffle iron, a panini press, various flours, and a couple of presses (tortilla, arepa, patacone).

    Taste Tester Extraordinare

    This is Dumpling. He was awesome. He loved the kitchen almost as much as I do.

    But unlike me, he tended to pee on things that he likes.

    The Cow

    The only souvenir I got from my three years at Cook's Illustrated. Not quite as nice as a gold watch, but still pretty awesome.

    I sometimes look at this while playing with my dog and think about things I probably shouldn't.

    Knives, Part 1: East Asian Collection

    The Japanese/Chinese collection. All the way on the left is a $15 cleaver from Chinatown. It sees some serious use in my kitchen, mainly for dismantling chickens.

    Next three are Yanagi in various sizes, which are used for slicing fish for sashimi and sushi.

    The next is an Osaka-style (rounded head) Usuba, a single-beveled vegetable knife that is extraordinarily sharp. Next is a Tokyo-style (square headed) Nakiri. It's similar to the Usuba, but has a double-beveled edge, making it a little easier to handle, but not as precise.

    Last but not least is my single-beveled Global G-4. The Global was ruined a few years ago at a barbecue that involved low lighting, an entire lamb saddle, and a little too much beer. I was forced to grind it down about 1/2 an inch to remove the nicks I made that night. It's now my "hack and slash" knife—the one I use recklessly on bones, ligaments, and other such abusive tissues.

    Knives, Part 2: The Backbone

    These are the ones that live in the wood block, and get used most regularly in my home kitchen.

    Starting from the left, we have a Misono UX-10 (a great wedding gift), followed by a Global G-2—my first "high end" knife, which is at least 10 years old, and still going strong. Next is a 5-inch Wusthof Santoku that took me through a year of knife-work-intensive garde-manger duty at Clio. Almost daily sharpening has worn the blade down past its granton edge, despite using a 2000-grit stone.

    Next up, a Wusthof slicing knife (great for terrines or smoked salmon), and a small Wusthof paring knife that gets more use now that I share it with my small-handed wife.

    A Henckels bread knife is finally starting to show signs of needing replacing after eight years of hard core service, but the Wusthof 12-inch steel is still going strong, as is my Wusthof flexible boning knife.

    The last one is the only knife my wife had before marrying me. It's a 4-inch paring knife from Ikea, and it's good for prying open jar lids, poking holes in metal cans, and opening packages—anything you wouldn't do with your real knives.

    Knives, Part 3: The Travel Section

    In my roll up knife kit, I keep a Damascus-steel Japanese Santoku from a maker in Tokyo. It might be my favorite knife. I also have a 1943 12-inch vintage carbon steel Wusthof chef's knife that I found at a flea market for $40. That might also be my favorite knife. His name is Excalibur.

    Next is my travel bread knife, a utilitarian job from F. Dick that works really well. To the right of that is my carbon steel Sabatier chef's knife. That one also might be my favorite.

    Knives are like Beatles albums to me. My favorite really depends on my mood.

    Also in my knife kit you'll find some microplanes, various spatulas, an oyster shucker, tweezers, peelers, zesters, a mini whisk, a pastry bruch, chopsticks, fish scalers, corers, scoops, pens, a notebook, a small plastic bench scraper, and some kitchen shears.

    The rest of my knives are superstitious and would prefer not to have their souls captured and stolen by the camera. They live in my closet and must never be touched or looked at, like Nigel Tufnel's prize foam green Fender Bass VI.

    This is What You Get

    Normally, my roll-up kit knives are kept protected by Edge Guard brand blade protectors. I took them off for the sake of the photo.

    This is what happens when you brush your finger against the really really sharp edge of a carbon steel Sabatier when inserting a spatula into your knife kit.

    It cuts so fast and deep you don't even realize it's happened until you see the blood.


    Two Common Sights

    Economy-sized packs of Wee-Wee Pads and full flats of Martin's Potato Rolls are a common feature in my kitchen.

    I can't decide which is more important for my sanity and well being.

    On Our Fridge

    That's me and Adri sharing a slice of pizza on the Brooklyn Bridge on a 12-location pizza crawl last year (I believe the particular slice was from John's of Bleecker).

    Below it is us as South Park characters. See how happy we are?

    To the right is my laundry card (in-building laundry machines rule!), and above is us celebrating a birthday at Shabu Shabu 70 (in case anyone was wondering what happens when you go on your birthday, there's a big hint for you).