We can't help but wonder what's inside the kitchens of the celebrated chefs whose food we love. Do they live like us culinary mortals and have mismatched cookware, electric burners and shallow sinks? Or are their kitchens lavish with gastronomic gold?
We peeked inside four area chefs' home kitchens to find out, and along the way, learned about their favorite at-home dishes and trustiest tools, and what their own dream kitchens would entail.
"I like to play in the kitchen," says Donatella Trotti, chef and owner of Magnolia Avenue's continually praised Italian eatery, Nonna Tata.
In her pink-painted Park Hill neighborhood home, Trotti's kitchen is cozy, featuring 1930s-era cabinets, a pull-out floor-to-ceiling spice rack and restaurant-size bags of flour she carries on her hip like a baby. Trotti admits her dream kitchen would have more counter space, deeper sinks and bigger burners, but she says it's silly to fuss with unnecessary features that won't be used.
"I feel like it's a waste of time and space if you have a big, beautiful kitchen but don't ever use it," she says. "If you just use a microwave, then get the best and get 10 of them."
She's serious when it comes to acquiring appliances in bulk. Trotti has worked through about a half-dozen KitchenAid mixers in her lifetime. She says she could have the motors replaced, but it's simply faster to buy a new one. The Varese, Italy, native uses the machine to not only mix pasta but to roll it using a special attachment.
"A friend once told me, 'There's life before and after the KitchenAid.' She was absolutely right because it will change your life," Trotti says.
Creating pasta is like putting on a sock for Trotti, as she can seemingly do it with her eyes closed. This fall she created a restaurant special by stuffing dark buckwheat pasta with roasted butternut squash and cauliflower along with three kinds of cheese. The dish sold out on the first night.
Terry Chandler is a man of many kitchens. The Fred's Texas Cafe owner has two restaurant locations, a chuck wagon named Ought Zero he uses for authentic ranch cooking and now a burger-slinging food truck.
But the fun-loving cowboy cook with the contagious giggle seems most comfortable in his home kitchen, which is actually his back yard. Chandler thanks his longtime blacksmith buddy "Bulldawg" McLeroy for outfitting him with an outdoor cowboy cook box -- it's an iron contraption that's part fire pit, part Brazilian-style grill, complete with a cruciform pole for hanging wild animals to roast. Chandler says his dream kitchen would look very similar to his current setup.
"I would have an indoor, wood-fire, Brazilian-style char grill, which takes a big ol' Vent-A-Hood and plenty of fire extinguishers," he said.
Chandler, who is always working with an open flame, says his must-have kitchen gadget is his iron liver hook, another handcrafted piece from McLeroy. The long rod allows Chandler to easily handle meats, like New York strip steaks, and flip them from a distance. In the cooler months, the outdoor grill serves a dual purpose of prepping dinner and keeping him and his family toasty.
"Cook outside," he says. "That way, Mama's happier."
After closing her highly regarded Bistro Louise in 2011 after a 15-year run, Louise Lamensdorf wasn't quite ready to pack away her whisks. She's now a busy caterer who teaches cooking classes in her house, which means functionality in her home kitchen is imperative. She installed a new stainless-steel Wolf oven, the brand she used at Bistro Louise.
"They are the top of the line. I can do rack of lamb, tenderloin, special desserts and soufflés perfectly," she says.
But Lamensdorf aspires for more when outlining a dream kitchen designed to accommodate her entertaining needs.
"It would have two warming ovens, six Wolf burners, a faucet in the wall to fill stock pots and two dishwashers," she says.
The right gear is important, too. The Mediterranean chef adores her copper-bottom double boiler with ceramic inset she purchased in Paris and uses it for the hot fudge sauce that tops her steamed chocolate fig pudding. She says the copper bottom allows for more even heating.
"Chocolate and figs are a Mediterranean combination I love for fall," she says.
With three young boys, ages 6, 8 and 10, Brian Olenjack is constantly on the move, traveling to and from his namesake restaurant in Arlington and Little League practice back in his quiet Willow Park neighborhood. (There's many a trip to Sonic in between, he admits.)
Cooking in his home kitchen, which features works of crayon art hanging from the cabinets, is a rare occurrence often reserved for holidays and special occasions. It's then that the busy dad uses many of the same tools found at Olenjack's Grille, some of his most important being the French black steel pans found dangling above his kitchen island.
"They're just like cast iron. They conduct heat and season very well and are light but super durable," he said. "At the restaurant, people always want to buy these pans. You can find them at any restaurant supply store."
The Chicago native uses the pans to create a rich and hearty pasta dish he remembers as a fall Sunday favorite growing up, with meaty cremini mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and buttery egg noodles.
"For me, a great kitchen means having the basics: a gas stove, a grill, and just the pots and pans that support it," Olenjack said.
"But if I could have my dream kitchen, it would have a produce market right next door that carried everything."
Butternut squash-stuffed buckwheat canneloni
Buckwheat pasta (recipe follows)
Béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
Pasta stuffing (recipe follows)
1 cup fresh asiago cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for garnish
Hazelnut butter (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread 1 tablespoon béchamel sauce on each pasta sheet. Divide pasta stuffing and the three cheeses evenly atop all sheets. Fold sheets lengthwise to seal. Place two each onto buttered oven-safe individual plates and top with 1 tablespoon béchamel sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Bake until pasta is puffy, then top with hazelnut butter before serving.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 1,041 calories, 84 grams fat, 48 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 238 milligrams cholesterol, 1,078 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 72 percent of calories from fat.
2 extra-large eggs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon buckwheat flour
Dash of extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon water, plus more if needed
1. Using a food processor, combine all ingredients until they just come together to form dough. The dough will be quite dry. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
2. When ready to prepare pasta, bring a large pot of water to a low boil.
3. Using a pasta roller or KitchenAid pasta-rolling attachment, work the dough into long, very thin strips, about 4 inches wide. Lay the strips out on a floured surface and cut every 8 inches into small sheets.
4. Place the sheets, four at a time, into the low-boiling water for two minutes. Remove and set aside until ready to assemble.
2 cups butternut squash, diced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups cauliflower, separated into small florets
1 cup green cabbage, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine butternut squash with 1/4 cup olive oil, brown sugar, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Spread squash onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake until the squash begins to brown. Set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, combine cauliflower with 1/4 cup olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Spread onto a separate cookie sheet and bake until browned. Set aside.
3. In saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add cabbage, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until tender, adding water if needed. Set aside.
2 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
1. Heat milk in a small saucepan. This will cut your cooking time.
2. In a separate pan, melt butter over medium heat and then whisk in flour.
3. Pour milk into butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Add nutmeg and salt. Keep whisking until it reaches a boil and cooks to a thick consistency. Set aside.
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
Over low heat, melt butter and add hazelnuts. Cook until butter turns brown.
New York strip steak with seasoned vegetables
1 yellow squash
1 sweet potato
4 large green onions, bulbs only
2 tablespoons garlic-infused extra-virgin olive oil (Chandler likes the Crescendo brand, available at Central Market)
1 teaspoon Outlaw Chef Brand Heifer Dust Spice Rub
Salt and pepper to taste
Four 1 1/2-inch-thick New York strip steaks
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Granulated garlic to taste
1. Cut the beets, squash and sweet potato into 1/2-inch-thick wedges and cut the avocados in half. Toss all vegetables together with the garlic oil, spice rub, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Set aside until ready to grill.
2. Rub steaks with olive oil, salt, pepper and granulated garlic.
3. Grill vegetables all at once until slightly charred.
4. For rare steaks, grill over high heat until steaks begin to sweat on the top, then flip. For more well-done steaks, grill over lower heat to desired doneness. Serve right off the grill.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 537 calories, 38 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams protein, 84 milligrams cholesterol, 455 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber, 63 percent of calories from fat.
-- Chef Terry Chandler
Steamed chocolate fig pudding with hot fudge sauce
Chocolate fig pudding:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup Frangelico
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 small squares of Baker's semisweet chocolate
1 cup canned figs, drained and mashed
Fresh figs, for garnish
1. Grease a 1 1/2-quart pudding mold with a lid. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until well combined. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Add cocoa powder and walnuts and mix well.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
3. Alternately, add the combined dry ingredients, milk and Frangelico into the mixer a little at a time and mix until combined. Fold in the chopped chocolate, chocolate squares and canned figs.
4. Place mixture into mold. If the mold is not specifically a steamed pudding mold, securely cover the top with foil, than attach the lid. Place the mold in a very large pot and pour enough water into the pot to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Cover the pot, place over medium heat and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
5. Cool mold on a cake rack for 10 minutes. Unmold and garnish with fresh figs and hot fudge sauce (recipe follows).
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 8, without sauce: 566 calories, 32 grams fat, 64 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 112 milligrams cholesterol, 299 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.
Hot fudge sauce:
Makes approximately 2 cups
About 7 ounces bitter chocolate
6 squares Baker's chocolate
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup rum
In a double boiler, slowly melt all ingredients except rum over low heat. Remove from fire, add rum and stir.
Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving: 115 calories, 7 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 7 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 54 percent of calories from fat.
-- Chef Louise Lamensdorf
Tagliatelle with caramelized onions, applewood-smoked bacon and cremini mushrooms
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 pound applewood-smoked bacon, cut into thin slices
2 sweet onions, julienned
1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound tagliatelle pasta, also known as egg noodles
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add bacon and onions and cook until caramelized. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until mushrooms are well caramelized. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Place pasta in water. Cook until al dente, approximately 8-9 minutes. After pasta has been cooking approximately 4 minutes, when it's about halfway done, take a cup of the pasta water and add to the skillet mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium heat until the liquid reduces, then add the chilled butter.
4. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet mixture. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley and more pepper. Toss lightly and serve with more cheese for garnish.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 979 calories, 53 grams fat, 97 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein, 94 milligrams cholesterol, 661 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.
-- Chef Brian Olenjack