Romancing the Stove

A food lover reminisces about the joy of creating—and cooking in—his first gourmet kitchen.


Photograph by Dave Bradley. Food styling by Rowena Day. Prop styling by Lauren Niles.

The first time I felt true kitchen love was in 2006. Of course, like any red-blooded gastronome, I’d had my share of youthful dalliances—one-night stands in kitchens equipped with dual-fuel double-ovens; fantasies based on Architectural Digest’s Viking-studded culinary porn. But the kind of kitchen love I’m speaking of here is something more mature, something more enduring.

And, like most true loves, it didn’t happen at first sight.

A year prior, my spouse and I had purchased our first place together: a condo on the top floor of a loft-style building in the Leather District. The deluxe units offered prime city views, generous square footage, and fully loaded kitchens featuring commercial-grade appliances and beautiful Zephyr range hoods that vented through the ceiling. The unit that we could afford offered none of the above.

Like a petulant child, I spent the first few months in the condo in an envious funk. But soon enough, we swapped our entry-level General Electric range for a gleaming Professional Series Thermador, which we selected as much for its potent BTUs as for the way the blue backlighting played off our granite countertops. We tricked out our drawers and cabinets with hydraulic systems, effectively tripling our storage space. We built a shiny backsplash from beautiful chocolate-brown tiles, then outfitted it with an oversize knife magnet. We even hooked a wrought-iron pot rack over an exposed beam, which freed up the cabinets further.

The crowning glory, however, was the ventilation hood, for which we passed over Zephyr in favor of an industrial-strength European model. For installation, we hired a guy from our building’s original construction team, who, we figured, would be familiar with the quirks of the roof we’d be cutting holes through. As it turned out, his insider intel wasn’t limited to roof design. Those Zephyrs in the deluxe units, he tattled, had been installed 12 inches too high—the designer liked the look better. Did we want looks, he asked with a gleam in his eye, or did we want performance?

But the fact that our tiny apartment’s kitchen now rivaled any in the building hardly mattered to me anymore—I’d found true love. Like any new lover, I found myself obsessively concocting scenarios to maximize our time together. Week-end dinner party. Weekday dinner party! Brand-new cookbooks.

Braising, baking, frying…I loved it all. But none better than searing, with the burner and fan bumped up to high. Installed at a pan-kissing 22 inches, the vent hood proved so efficient that I could start, and finish, char-crusting a rib-eye right on the cooktop. Sometimes I’d turn out the lights so guests could marvel at the solid white plume of smoke as it moved from the steak’s surface to the workhorse fan, so perfectly dispatched it resembled a cigarette model French-inhaling a Gauloise.

My lovely Leather District kitchen and I eventually parted ways, though amicably. He took up with some French fellow who, according to my real estate agent, is a super-swell guy. I genuinely hope they’re making beautiful croissants together. Me, I’ve moved on, too, to bigger and, in some ways, better. But that sweet, sweet sear? You really never do forget your first.