Samin Nosrat’s Kitchen Is a Small and Efficient Dream

The ‘Salt Fat Acid Heat’ author and her designer share how to make the most of what you have, even if it’s not much at all.
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Samin Nosrat’s kitchen—much like her books, recipes, YouTube videos, Netflix show, and mere presence—will make you want to cook. With the help of Young America Creative in Oakland, CA, the veteran chef and bestselling cookbook author designed a workhorse of a home kitchen meant for home cooking and professional prep work; one that’s compact yet airy, pristine yet prepared for a mess. Eye-catching aesthetic choices, like the sea green tile, wall-to-wall maple cabinets, and raw brass fixtures, are apparent, but the bulk of the kitchen’s beauty is in its obvious efficiency. It’s hard to gaze at photos of the space without instantly fantasizing about what you’d cook there first. Leave it to the chef who famously distilled the art of cooking into four essential elements to apply a similar kind of brevity to her home cooking space. 

When Nosrat first approached YAC co-founder Meghan Dorrian to work on the kitchen, she shot for the moon. This was the first time in her life that she had ever had the budget to build the kitchen of her dreams—a privilege she repeatedly acknowledged to me with a gleeful humility—but when Dorrian found out that dream involved bringing in the bulky and energy-sucking conveniences of a commercial-grade kitchen to her house, she talked Nosrat back to earth. 

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"She was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, let’s rethink this and let’s do what's actually reasonable," Nosrat told me of one of their early chats. "‘Just because it’s commercial doesn’t mean it’s better. It also uses an ungodly amount of energy.’" Nosrat credits Dorrian’s expertise in both residential and commercial kitchens—that ability to design on both sides of the galley, so to speak—for her eventual return to reason. "I’m still not Ina Garten in a barn," she says with a laugh. "I had to make real world choices that have to do with space and efficiency."

Think efficiency!

Not everyone in the real world is a professional chef with the talents of Dorrian at their disposal, but anyone with a dearth of cooking space can learn plenty from Nosrat’s kitchen. Some of the space-saving elements on display were ideas Nosrat could have never dreamed up on her own, like Michael Mellon of Mellon Winslow’s maple cabinets that open at an angle to keep the center aisle clear, and the prep table that was rounded on the edge to accommodate easy sliding in and sliding out of the seat. But many choices were largely centered around a hallmark of small kitchen design Nosrat has long-utilized: making the most of vertical space. 

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She uses a European-style draining rack over her sink instead of a dishwasher, stores pots on a custom-made metal rack designed by Henry Defauw of Defauw Design instead of the precious real estate of the kitchen’s three drawers, and hangs her most frequently used doodads from one of the "gajillion" S-hooks on the custom brass rail above her prep table. "I have very much been restraining myself from drilling holes into the beautiful maple, but as time passes, I may end up continuing to use more vertical space. I do think sometimes it’s the only space you have in life!"

Listen to your space

Daydreaming about kitchen renovations is obviously a ton of fun (blame HGTV for pioneering the commodification of renovation aspirations), but one of Nosrat’s most helpful pieces of advice for people with small kitchens requires taking a step back before letting your imagination run wild: Take plenty of time to learn how you use your space before you start changing it up. 

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"It’s been over a year now [that I’ve had the kitchen], but I’m still figuring systems out. It’s a small space, and so I’m hesitant to make any permanent changes until I really get it. I don’t want to ruin any of their beautiful craftsmanship with hasty choices until I really, really know that I need [them], you know what I mean? It took a lot of people a lot of hard work to make this." Similarly, she says a good way to avoid clutter (and wastefulness) in a small kitchen is to utilize your community’s tool library (if there is one) and to avoid buying appliances or gadgets unless you use them multiple times a week. Otherwise, Nosrat says, "It doesn’t deserve real estate on your countertop or in your drawer."  

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Though she still wishes Dorrian had been able to find a way to fit a dishwasher in the small kitchen of her dreams, Nosrat thinks there’s a virtue in avoiding maximalism for maximalism’s sake. "Over time I’ve realized that having space and being able to use my space and making it delightful and enjoyable and pleasant to be in is worth so much more… than hoarding many inexpensive ding-dongs." But she does recommend that everyone buy the "magical" $4.99 pineapple corer she just bought at TJ Maxx. "It’s so delightful." 

More kitchen ideas right this way:

How to Design a Kitchen That’s Ideal for Entertaining

10 Design Tips for Kitchens, According to Expert Renovators

 What’s the Most Overlooked Feature When Planning a Kitchen Renovation?