Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Praise of Tiny Kitchens

Hooray for Mark Bittman, who reminds us that you don't need a gigantic, expensive kitchen to cook well.

So Your Kitchen is Tiny. So What? (NY Times 12/13)

My own kitchen, which is what many New Yorkers would consider halfway decent (and is much like the one my mother cooked in when I was growing up), is about 7 feet long and 6 feet wide. It has a moderate-size refrigerator, what was once considered a full-size stove (as opposed to the compact “apartment-size” stove or the monsters recently gaining popularity), annoyingly little counter and storage space (yes, I sometimes must remove the stored pots and pans before using the oven) and even a small dishwasher.

I complain, but I make do. And it’s here where I develop and test most of the recipes for my cookbooks and articles. So imagine my surprise when I posted a picture of my kitchen on my blog a few weeks ago and received a flood of e-mail messages from readers who wondered how someone could write large and evidently useful cookbooks, even a weekly column for The Times, while suffering such deprivation. (In the middle of all this, a young journalist called and asked what, after all, I considered essential in a modern kitchen? “A stove, a sink, a refrigerator, some pots and pans, a knife and some serving spoons,” I answered. “All else is optional.”)


Sounds very similar to my kitchen set-up. In my old studio apartment, I had an even smaller kitchen, probably about 5x5'. I will never come anywhere close to Mark Bittman in terms of cooking skill, but I totally agree that it is very possible to cook good meals with minimal equipment and space. I can see why people like to spend money on kitchens-- gadgets can be fun and labor-saving, and if you spend a lot of time cooking, a nice kitchen will be more pleasant.
I know someone who has gorgeous cabinets in her kitchen, very high-end-- she has a lovely built-in spice rack and other customized storage spaces, and everything feels heavy and solid. You can tell it's good quality woodwork that will last way longer than the cheap cabinets at my place. But when it comes to the actual experience of preparing meals, there's no real difference between my kitchen and hers, and hers must have cost a heck of a lot more.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I watched a fascinating segment from Food network, in which they showed traveling kitchens on RV and coats. Most of these kitchens are only 4' wide. They still managed to cook great meals.

KWInsider said...

"As runners run and writers write, cooks cook, under pretty much any circumstance." What a GREAT line!

SandyVoice said...

The kitchen in my last apartment was 4' x 4'. It had a tiny four burner stove with an oven too small for any but the smallest turkey or roast, a half refrigerator with no freezer unless I defrosted every week, a tiny sink, four small cabinets, and 5 square feet of counter space. I made sit down dinner for 20 in that space every year for 25 years. Mind you, there was no place to sit down, since the apartment was 11' x 18', with all the usual furniture, but the food got made and served, and everyone found ways to eat. It's amazing what you can do with a little ingenuity.

WhiteStone said...

I once lived in an apartment with ONE FOOT of counter space. Needless to say, I didn't entertain a lot. Later, we lived in a home with a small galley type kitchen. I was apprehensive about such a small area, but it was wonderfully efficient.

Gord said...

As long as you've got the compact triangle working (fridge,stove,sink) everything works fine unless a bunch of people insist on "helping" you.

Miss M said...

I'm not going to complain about my small kitchen anymore, I forget how bad New Yorkers have it! My kitchen is small by modern standards, ~7'x12'. My main beefs are it is cut off from the rest of the house and only one person can be working at a time. But I have no problem cooking a gourmet meal in it. I did have to say no more kitchen tools for christmas, I have no room to store them.

Chicago Rob said...

My parents raised 4 kids in a house with a 12X10 eat in kitchen, and we did just fine. I laugh when I see people's "must haves"...stainless, granite, etc, and all they have are 2 small kids. Not surprising why we're in this economic mess we are now.

MissGoldBug said...

My kitchen, by Midwest standards, is small. My whole apartment is less than 525 square feet. I wouldn't trade my tiny kitchen for any huge monstrosity that qualifies as a "kitchen" today. I had a friend who I cooked with and walking the space between the fridge, sink and stove was enough to wear you out!

Ginormous kitchens are overrated, my tiny one has serviced me well. Efficient planning and use of space is classic and timeless...as well as a huge sink!

Beatrice said...

The most beautiful kitchen I've ever seen was the in house of a person who didn't cook at all...

I don't need a huge kitchen, but I look forward to the day when I have a kitchen window.

Sara said...

That makes me feel a little better about my (what I consider to be) smallish kitchen... I will agree that you don't need a big, fancy kitchen to cook well, but it sure makes it easier when you have plenty of counter space to use. I find it frustrating when I take something out of the oven and can't find a place to put it down, or have to move things out of the way to find room to set down the cutting board.

Bitty said...

Like Chicago Rob, I am bemused by people who wrinkle up their noses at a good-sized kitchen and declare it entirely too small! Since I watch a lot of HGTV, I get to see this often.

My own kitchen, recently remodeled by my son and I, is about 10 x 8, not counting the eat-in area. Now that it's been reconfigured as a U (originally built as an L), it's super-efficient and has plenty of counter space.

One of my favorite past kitchens was a galley kitchen. Everything was right there, no more than a few steps away. I don't know why people complain about them.

bugbear said...

Actually, the cheap cabinets in your kitchen will probably last 80 years or more. In 5 years, a hinge might pull out from the cabinet and you can fix it with any number of hacks, as I have fixed mine (which are not so cheap, but are 50 years old and were originally built (as in, by scratch) by my grandfather in the early 1960s.

One of the hinges in mine came out because a screw backe out of the wood and I fixed it--that was 3 years ago. I'm ready for the next screw now.

westindianladee said...

This definitely makes me more appreciative of my small kitchen; all the cabinets, appliances are pretty old though so one day I'll be able to replace them, but on a very small budget. Nonetheless, good food cranks out of my kitchen daily, my lovely aunt makes do, and we have a roof over our head for which I'm extremely grateful for ;-)

retire-at-40 said...

Agreed. My kitchen is pretty small and whilst I'm not a great cook, I get enjoyment out of being in it and doing things. I guess I wish it was slightly bigger but that's ok, I'm happy with what I've got :-)