We need to talk. About kitchens, and my obsession about them as the single most important room in a house.
The kitchen is the pulse of a home. It’s where people congregate during parties. It is nourishment. It can be the site of epic dinners and emotional meltdowns.
After my people, my kitchen is my most longed-for thing that I left in California. I spent a year planning it, taking a detailed inventory of every pot, bowl, utensil, plate, and tool and designing a place for it. I could cook in that kitchen blindfolded. I accounted for every detail — how I work, where I stand, how light pours over my shoulder to my workspace, how I unload groceries or load dishes.
I did not have a wedding planner, but I hired a kitchen designer.
I have been looking for a new place to live here, and I have looked at dozens of places. It is generous to say that kitchens here are lacking. Not just small, but shoved into the darkest, most pathetic, dreary corner of the house or apartment. It’s beyond an afterthought: no thought at all. Imagine a submarine galley and you get the idea.
Even supposedly “updated” kitchens are more suited for making toast and capsule coffee than composing and orchestrating memorable meals. They are almost always stark white, clinical affairs.
Perhaps it’s the long history of faux-nobility where “the help” works in the kitchen, even in many modest homes. It doesn’t need to be welcoming, let alone beautiful or bright or central if no one but the cook enters. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing or an urban thing, but it also seems that no one really entertains at home. Instead, gatherings take place at restaurants. On Sunday afternoons (pre-COVID) you’d see long tables of families enjoying a long lunch.
But the home kitchen in Portugal (Lisbon, at least) is truly a sad state of affairs.
When I was designing my kitchen, people told me that most people plan for the once-a-year kitchen: Thanksgiving. Many people design a show kitchen that ultimately is little-used to its grandiose potential.
I am not those people. Or I wasn’t.
Perhaps what I really miss is what the kitchen represents — memories of gatherings, of long hours with my mom, of teaching the neighborhood kids how to use a knife and make gnocchi, of New Year’s Eve bacchanals, and supper clubs. It represents my identity as host, cook, gatherer.
But, really, it’s the kitchen. I can’t lie.