20 January 2010

Popular Jersey Chefs and Their Home Kitchens


If you’ve ever observed a professional kitchen in action, you can appreciate the word "hectic."

Picture a dozen or so cooks under the gun, dicing, slicing, shuffling pots and pans over roaring flames, shouting orders at each other. Call it controlled culinary chaos.

This sweaty scenario made us wonder: What happens in the home kitchens of some of New Jersey’s most popular toque wearers?

To find out, we toured the kitchens of James and Nancy Laird, co-owners and executive chef and general manager, respectively, of Restaurant Serenade in Chatham; Scott Snyder, executive chef and co-owner of BoulevardFive72 in Kenilworth; and Scott Cutaneo, chef-owner of Equus Tavern in Bernardsville.

The kitchens varied greatly in size and design — from Snyder’s Colonia kitchen that’s compact but high on counter space to the expansive 800-square-foot cooking and dining area in Cutaneo’s Bernardsville home. What became clear was that regardless of space, decor, expense, or chosen appliances, the primary goal of each was to create a serene setting — a mood far removed from that of their workaday world. Each chef wanted a space that was at once efficient and inspiring. How that was achieved is as unique as the chefs themselves.

A peaceful retreat

James and Nancy Laird moved into their spacious getaway on four acres in rural New Vernon some seven years ago, attracted to the home’s clean-lined simplicity and the calmness and tranquility of its setting.

For the chef, "It’s like always being on vacation.

"It’s peaceful here, that’s why we chose it," he said. "We don’t take long vacations — if we do at all," he said. "Every morning it’s like waking up on holiday — the birds, the wildlife. I have my produce garden out back and a space to raise my heirloom chickens. And we’re only seven miles from Serenade."

Their 300-square-foot kitchen has six large windows that remain uncovered, offering an unobscured view that makes Nancy Laird feel as though she’s cooking outdoors.

"Our goal in designing the kitchen and what keeps us inspired is that we are in an uncluttered space that’s relaxing and comfortable," James Laird said. "It gets me ready for work. It’s not hectic like the job. It gives me the opportunity to reboot."

While the couple has done some kitchen remodeling, the room is mostly original. For efficiency, more spotlights were added over the kitchen island and the couple introduced their own taste with new paint, tile and mid-century modern furnishings.

"Basically, it suited us in its simplicity and feeling of calm and serenity," Nancy Laird said of the kitchen, which mirrors their home’s spare styling.

Like the rest of the house, the kitchen is done in whites and neutrals. The Hamilton Beach roaster oven is white and the Sub-Zero refrigerator is paneled in the same light wood as the cabinetry.

Spots of color come from artwork, and from a glass-front display case within the cabinetry that holds a Russell Wright pottery collection. A vibrant kaffir lime tree is kept in the kitchen over the winter.

The Knoll furniture company’s Bertoia stools are a chic but streamlined addition to the work area, surrounding the large central island that Nancy Laird says is the place where guests and family join them while they cook. Beyond the kitchen is a dining area spotlighting a lengthy Nakashima dining table and Hans Wegner chairs.

The sparse space works for the Lairds because all the pots, pans and small kitchen appliances (except the coffee maker) are tucked away in very large drawers. "This makes our kitchen more efficient," Nancy Laird said. "Nothing is in our way."

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