As more Americans turn to home cooking and entertaining, the functionality of a kitchen is more important than ever when choosing a home.
Over the past half-century, kitchens have become somewhat fetishized; a place to display high-tech appliances and high design cookware, a social hub for friends and family, and a continuation of home style that showcases elegance and considered design choices. Pare it back to basics, though, and today’s kitchen is still essentially what it always has been: a place to prepare food. And homeowners, spurred recently by stay-at-home orders, but also inspired by home-cooking television shows, health concerns and the rising expense of dining out, are increasingly relying on their kitchens in times when eating out is not an option, as well as using their kitchens as additional entertainment space; somewhere to try their hand at cooking for their friends and family. For house hunters who relish the opportunity to regularly entertain and prepare food for guests, it pays to know what to look for when assessing kitchen space during your house search—and the best person to ask is an expert.
Edouard Massih is a private chef and caterer in New York City. He hosts intimate dinners in his own home, giving local diners the experience of enjoying his food in a less formal, more personal way. Massih, who was born in Lebanon, found his love for cooking in his grandmother’s kitchen. Sharing food and creating community has always been the driving force behind Massih’s cooking, and he has discovered a way to do that in his own backyard—literally.
“I wanted to invite people into my backyard, because I had a very unique space in Brooklyn, and not a lot of people [in New York] get to have dinners in a backyard,” Massih says. To bring to life his vision of cooking for the community, Massih extensively renovated his Greenpoint backyard, creating a lush urban escape where guests can enjoy the exquisite food that he prepares in his own kitchen—each dish enhanced by a dash of his grandfather’s olive oil, all the way from Lebanon.
Having worked on his kitchen to ensure that it had everything that he needed to support his at-home dining experiences, Massih has the knowledge of both a professional chef and a home cook. We asked him for some tips to help aspiring culinary hosts to choose the right kitchen space, starting with the five kitchen elements that he finds to be indispensable. First, Massih says, is “the right fridge, or the right fridge space.” Part of taking the pressure off yourself when entertaining, he says, is making sure that you’re prepared in advance. “Entertaining is all about making it simple for yourself when people are there— being able to prep ahead and batching the drinks; having the pitchers of water ready in the fridge; and having everything ready to go. Maybe serve more cold stuff than hot. You can do a pasta salad and an orzo salad, and make it two hours in advance.”
Preparing food in advance, chilling drinks and ensuring that all of your produce is fresh all comes down to having the right fridge. And while interactive fridges with weather forecasts and recipe databases can be useful, the main thing is space—and plenty of it. If you want to get fancy, you could go for a hot-water dispenser and temperature-adjustable drawers, both of which assist in various cooking processes; just make sure that you have enough shelf space to hold all of the food and beverages that you’ve prepped for your guests.
Because you can’t make a lot of food without creating a lot of mess, Massih insists that having two sinks is vital: one dedicated to food prep, and one to cleanup. You can keep your prep equipment near your prep sink (think bowls, colanders, appliances), and dishes near the cleanup sink (which should ideally be close to the dishwasher). In addition, having two sinks creates more flexibility for multiple cooks, and streamlines the flow while you’re cooking.
The third must-have for Massih is “a lot of prep area—lots of counter space.” You need space for laying out, preparing and organizing ingredients, which most people consider when thinking about counter space; but if you’re planning on entertaining groups of diners, you also need enough counter space to plate all of the meals at once. Nobody wants to be balancing plates on top of kitchen stools because there’s not enough room for everything on the countertop.
Fourth for Massih is storage, in terms of both kitchen cabinets and a decent pantry. You want plenty of space, and also space that complements your cooking flow. Pots and pans should be as close to your stove as possible—either on a rack above or in a cabinet below—and serving utensils like spoons and tongs should be close to where you do your plating, to minimize the number of steps you have to take to collect your cooking tools, which helps with efficiency when you’re cooking for a group of people. A walk-in pantry is ideal, with various shelf sizes and storage options for appliances that are not in regular use. For chefs, there’s nothing worse than a cluttered cooktop.
Lastly, Massih emphasizes the importance of, as he calls it, “legit trash.” “You want a trash can that’s near the sink or accessible around [where you’re working], and not one of those little tiny trash barrels that fits nothing,” he says. “Otherwise, every two minutes, you’ll have to take the trash out when you’re prepping.” Massih also spends a lot of time cooking in other people’s kitchens as part of his catering and private-chef business, and the one feature that he is always delighted to see is a back kitchen.
“What is really nice about some of [the private homes that I cook in] is they have a back kitchen, like the ‘help’ kitchen,” he says. “That really does help a lot. If I [had the resources], and I was looking for a house to entertain in a lot or to do a lot of dinners in, then that’s definitely something that I would look for. “A lot of these kitchens nowadays are very open-plan, because the idea of it is that it’s really fun. But it gets annoying when you’re [hosting] a formal dinner, and you can’t do dishes [or hide them away] while your guests are eating. Having a small back kitchen really helps, because then you can hide all of the stuff that you don’t want people to see.”
There’s nothing wrong with a kitchen as a style statement, and most people whose interests lie in kitchens will admit to some fetish-like reverence. Just keep practical concerns in mind, particularly when you have culinary aspirations; remember, you can have a waterfall countertop AND legit trash. That’s what we call the best of both worlds.
For more information on Edouard Massih and his home-style cooking, visit www.edouardmassih.com.