Candid Kitchen

Just what foods do some top local chefs keep in their homes? The answers may surprise you.

March 21, 2001|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What's in the home freezer of a guy who makes his living whipping up dishes like duck with sweet potato gnocchi, ginger reduction and greens?

Great stuff, right? We could probably learn a thing or two about cooking just by seeing what Jerry Pellegrino, the chef-owner of Corks, keeps at home.

We decided to peek into the kitchens of Pellegrino and some of the area's other hot chefs. Would our pantry raid yield exotic ingredients, fabulous sauces and incredible leftovers? Would we learn how to stock a pantry for maximum culinary creativity?

Well, not exactly.

In fact, the home larders of several renowned chefs are either barren or stocked with mundane convenience foods. Can you believe Barry Rumsey, chef and owner of the renowned Bicycle restaurant, keeps Kraft Macaroni and Cheese on hand? Although he says he doesn't eat it, his wife and kids do.

Yes, it's the deluxe version, but still, the mac and cheese Rumsey's family eats is a far cry from the pasta he serves at Bicycle: mushroom ravioli with wild-mushroom-cream sauce and Parmesan shavings.

"People have these theories that a lot of chefs eat exotic food on their days off, and that's not true," Rumsey says.

The truth is, most chefs are too tired or busy to cook much at home. They eat at their restaurants, or other restaurants, or pick up something fast after a crazy day in the kitchen.

Pellegrino's freezer contains the following items: two bottles of Absolut (regular and Kurant), about a half-dozen martini glasses, two bags of decaf coffee beans, a slab of chicken breast and a 3-pound Country Pride chicken, dated Jan. 30, 1992.

"Next year we'll celebrate its 10th birthday," Pellegrino says, holding the ancient fowl aloft and looking at it with something approaching affection. "I can't even imagine the amount of freezer burn on this thing."

Pellegrino can't remember buying the bird but he has no plans to get rid of it. "It's been there so long, there's no reason I can't keep it there a while longer," he says.

Oh, and batteries. One pack says "ideal if installed by July 1999." That, at least, found its way to the garbage can on our visit.

The fridge he shares with girlfriend Elizabeth Streit holds mostly beverages and condiments: some Perrier and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, four bottles of wine (no surprise there, and he has lots more in his basement wine cellar), Kraft Original BBQ Sauce (what? he doesn't make his own barbecue sauce?), mayo, Real Lemon (what? he doesn't squeeze his own lemons?) and some leftover lamb chops and spaghetti from recent meals eaten out.

Pantry items fit in a single small cupboard and don't even crowd it: a box of Jell-O, some Saltines, a can of chunky soup, two boxes of penne, some Near East couscous and a box of nonfat powdered milk.

We ask what the powdered milk is for. "I don't know. It's been up there a long time," Pellegrino says.

Beautiful copper and Calphalon pots hang from the ceiling. Pellegrino says he uses them once or twice a month. His culinary style at home is much simpler than at the restaurant. Because he has to wash his own dishes, he tries to use as few pans as possible.

In the winter, he might roast a chicken and serve it with potatoes. In the summer, he'll toss corn and steak on the grill, he says.

The Cross Street Market is a block from his restaurant and three blocks from his house. "If I'm going to get the night off, which is definitely rare, I can buy ingredients on the way home."

Chefs with families usually have more in their kitchens.

Rudy Speckamp, the owner and chef of Rudys' 2900 in Finksburg, says his 4-year-old daughter likes frozen waffles, fresh fruit and sausage.

"My wife cooks dinner during the week and on my two days off, one day we eat home and one day we eat out," he says. His grill gets a workout, even in the winter, and, on the whole, he does more home cooking than other chefs.

"We try to have a balanced meal," he says. His kitchen is stocked with European breads he gets from his restaurant supplier, cheeses and lots of flavored oils and vinegars.

Rumsey has a family, too: his wife, Deborah Mazzoleni, the manager of Bicycle, and two kids, 6-year-old Celine and 7-month-old Pearson.

Accordingly, his home is stocked with such child-friendly staples as Stonyfield Farm's YoBaby yogurt, Frosted Flakes, Earth's Best teething biscuits and America's Choice peanut butter.

Because Rumsey is a cyclist and Mazzoleni is a bit of a fitness buff, they keep on hand something called Miracle 2000, which looks awful but promises "total body nutrition."

And their convenience foods often have a health-conscious twist. The freezer is stocked with soy burgers, frozen vegetables and flax-fortified waffles. And - surprise - a doll with shocking pink hair.

It's Celine's Makeup Mindy. Apparently, Mindy's makeup, nail polish and hair color appear only when the doll is chilled.

Mostly, the family eats Bicycle food. Even Pearson seems to prefer Rumsey's garlic mashed potatoes and cheese grits to jarred baby food.

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