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Quarantine Cooking Puts Home Kitchens in the Spotlight

Among 2020's many peculiarities, perhaps strangest of all is the mad scramble for-wait for it-yeast. Quarantine cooking has would-be kitchenphobes experimenting with food (and yes, bread) like never before. Among Williams-Sonoma's current best-selling kitchen gadgets are tools for sophisticated efforts, including ravioli molds, manual pasta rollers, and containers for homemade ice cream.

The culinary commotion even includes chefs' spouses. "My wife tends to leave the cooking up to me," says renowned local chef John Howie, "but during these pandemic times, like many others, she has begun to bake and is making some incredible breads."

If such gourmet exploits sound typical for a chef's home life, they're actually quite unusual. People are often surprised to hear how simply chefs cook for their own families. Rarely do they arrive at home following a fourteen-hour day in the kitchen only to prepare an elegant flambé. Instead, they typically lean on quality ingredients prepared simply using trusted tools.

But where a chef's culinary life is more likely to live up to epicurean expectations is in the furnishing of their home kitchen. Here, years of food service tips, tricks, and favored tools are on clever display. Julia Child's home kitchen, frozen in time at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, is one of the museum's most popular exhibits, a smattering of rustic spoons, copper pans, and an extra-tall stove named Big Garland.

While not yet catalogued in the Smithsonian's collection, the Howie family kitchen is gaining attention for more reasons than one. In addition to its intensified usage, the chef's personal culinary quarters are being hailed as a preview of kitchens to come.

Through a partnership with Puget Sound-based homebuilder Conner Homes, a true chef's kitchen is breaking free of the museum circuit. The Chef John Howie Signature Kitchen will soon be available for new home buyers at Kirkland's upcoming Heron community by Conner Homes.

Chef Howie's kitchen designs pull from decades of experiences in kitchens both big and small. One memorable kitchen, located on the ground floor of a four-story Greenwich Village brownstone, was the setting for five distinguished invitations as guest chef to the James Beard House. Howie was honorably tasked with serving 90 discerning guests scattered amongst the three floors above, cooking from a cramped and intimidating kitchen saturated with inspiration.

But Howie's true brainstorming began in the line kitchens he built at John Howie Steak, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, Beardslee Public House & Brewery, and the most important kitchen of all: the one he shares with his wife.

Some of the features - like luxury Woodbrook cabinets - are near-replicas of his home kitchen. "We created a rolling spice drawer that displays containers at a 35-degree angle," says Howie. "You can put tons of stuff in there and see everything at once." Other features, like the high-BTU gas burners, are more commonly found on the lines of high-end restaurants. Howie explains: "The way you get something to sear, like Cajun food, is with really high heat." As for the less-than-hospitable aroma of smoke from a piping hot cast iron skillet, Howie thought of that too: "We installed a vent that can handle that kind of cooking." Gourmet customization options include chef-inspired accessories ripe for experimentation, like built-in sous vides and high-end woks.

First project rendering of Heron kitchen

As for the unprecedented usage the kitchens will likely receive, Howie applauds the new level of epicurean interest: "People have time right now. Some things are amazing because they take time." Asked to recommend a recipe for a special evening at home, Howie tore a proverbial page from his own cookbook: lobster mac and cheese complete with an entire Maine lobster, fontina cheese, and an onion cream sauce.

It's the kind of recommendation you'd expect from a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restauranteur nominee - and one he's unlikely to prepare at home tonight. "Probably tacos," he admits. They may be simple, but they'll be prepared in a kitchen fit for a chef.

January 2021

For more information about Chef Howie's new kitchen, visit Conner Homes' website at:

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