As we get used to the idea of ‘living together separately’ (albeit, we hope, temporarily enough to ‘look back’ and ‘learn lessons from’ sooner rather than later), some of us at Day True HQ (Tony, Hayley and me in particular) have become a bit obsessed with taking an opportunity to take a look around the kitchens of those super-skilled in using theirs. Some stars in the firmament of professional cheffery are going ‘IG Live’ and streaming their real lives as lived in some very real kitchens – no editors, no stylists, no gloss – this is life as streamed through the silver-lining of #keepingitreal – a gift generously offered from one domestic lockdown to another.
With a nation looking at store cupboard ingredients they didn’t remember they had, or never did really know what to do with – or just eager to learn from some real masters how to cook some ‘basics’ (and I use that word loosely – these are serious skills on display) – this is also an opportunity that may never be gifted again: to ‘cook-a-long-in-real-time’ daily bread and daily fare with expert tuition and a shared understanding of ingredients currently: available; running short; that we may not have used before, … [delete as applicable …]. This is as much a time to learn ‘supply’ as it is to redefine ‘demand’.
To honour this gift to our professional curiosity, we are starting a temporary blog series of some observations gleaned from our favourite #chefsinrealkitchens. Look out for our notes, queries, screenshots and some shared attempts at some of the recipes offered over the coming days/weeks (@tom–kitchin has already multi emoji-applauded Tony’s version of his ‘Leek and Potato Soup’ (with Perfect Poached Egg) as demonstrated at the weekend)
There is more than one hero out there, taking the time and putting themselves on view in full domestic glory (dogs barking, doorbells ringing, domestic harmony and discord all incidentally and unavoidably present – hands up all those home schooling!); but today’s post is mostly dedicated to the focus of our current obsession/crush/addiction – @tomaikens – holed up in a Wiltshire country kitchen filled with the glorious humanity of two families with young children, self-isolating (literally) together – with the occasional ‘noises off’ from the dog (not yet seen, but once heard worrying at an unexpected –to the dog at least– sourdough ‘slam-down’).
Our business is to design ‘better homes’; it is our obligation to be forensic in our observation of lives lived and, originally assuming this was Tom’s own kitchen (we soon learned that it’s not), we were keen to observe some of the choices and practices of this normally Mayfair based, internationally renowned, Michelin-coronated chef. Why the choice of a flame throwing range cooker chef? (we hadn’t, at this stage, even seen the full five door white AGA on the other side of the room). What material surfaces might you favour if your day job requires worksurface as workhorse –as capable of keeping pastry chilled as not cracking under the stress of the occasional(?) hot saucepan – and, yes, we do worry at such things.
We see the aprons hanging behind the door, the dishwasher tablets stored on the opposite wall to the dishwasher; we know that this family is not averse to gadgets on the worksurface – at least when they earning their place there (shout-out to the KitchenAid as one many will recognise); we know which chopping boards are much loved wedding presents; we even know where the bins are and what they are being used for.
We are watching the ease and the pain points of the choreography of everyone who is using the kitchen every day (it’s not always just Tom). We see the need for some stable chopping/working/landing space closer to the stove, and we are wondering at the lack of obvious extraction (and thinking about how that back wall might be reconfigured if Fiona (whose kitchen it actually is) really doesn’t like her range (heard on Monday calling across the room: ‘Don’t buy one!’ to the observer asking the question: “what brand is …?”)
And then there is Harriet (known as Harryo), the other star of this show; she chooses and comperes the questions that Tom is being asked to answer – she knows when they might be getting tedious for him, but she is diligent and careful with the questioners all the same. She is NOT one of Tom’s daughters, she does not want to be a cook/chef, she has other plans – but Harryo need not, in any case, be defined by her relationship with anyone else or by what other people think she might be good at – she is a charismatic, charming, beyond competent ‘10 year old’, all in her own right!
We are observing ‘kings of their realms’ (when in pristine white jackets), seem comfortable at this moment in their civvies – T-shirts, shorts, roll necks, lumberjack shirts, socked or bare-footed, often catering to the most demanding audience of all – the unforgiving honesty of children and the people who know them best, friends and family. It’s humbling, edifying, intimate, generous, levelling, comforting as well as educational – locked down like the rest of us, keeping whatever routine is possible, going through some daily rituals and emotions in real time – and demonstrating to us how people yearn to be ‘together’ in kitchens, no matter what the circumstances.
History and memory is being created in front of us – and we are as much participant as witness. We are learning new things about what we do, why we do it, and about the kind of detail nobody normally even remembers or thinks about during their ‘normal’ day to day. These times, of course, are not ‘normal’, and they may change our habits for a lifetime, which is why it feels important to learn as much as we can, as soon as we can; so that we can also respond to new needs, to newly recognised values, to new ways of seeing and being in the world and at home.
And Tom, if you are reading, we are loving what you are doing, we are learning so much from you (not just about the cooking), and we would love to do more with you, now or when all this is over, if you are game to help us learn some more.
Silver Linings Playbook written by Erica Husain,
Day True’s better life consultant.
During the ‘lockdown’ Day True are available for design consultations and advice, please feel free to get in touch on 0207 788 9229 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org and please follow us on the usual social media channels, we would love to hear from you. x