“When you talk to chefs who cook at a certain level, all of a sudden the kitchen becomes sort of a trophy kitchen,” says Nancy Silverton, cookbook author, chef, restaurant owner and founder of the venerable La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles. “So there’s equipment that’s much more restaurant quality than home quality. What they do with that I’m not sure, but I do not have an interest in having that kind of home kitchen. I have that in the restaurant.”
When Silverton says “restaurant,” she means Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, foodie meccas on the corner of Highland and Melrose in L.A. that have spawned sister sites in Newport Beach, San Diego and Singapore.
Silverton’s kitchen in her prairie-style Craftsman home in Hancock Park looks homey yet classy. Recent tours of her culinary digs and those of cooking royalty’s first couple, David Lentz and Suzanne Goin, who live off a posh stretch of Outpost Drive in the Hollywood Hills, reveal kitchens that are functional and lived in, with an air of unpretentious elegance.
Lentz is the chef behind seafood haven the Hungry Cat, with locations in Hollywood, Santa Monica and Santa Barbara; Goin is the high priestess of Californian-meets-Mediterranean fare — Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern, which she runs with business partner Caroline Styne.
All three chefs — Lentz and Goin, as well as Silverton — are known for the parties they host, but unlike their restaurant menus, at home, they like to keep it simple, taking advantage of guest-friendly outdoor spaces that revolve around the grill.
“When we have a dinner party, we’ll start out with cheese,” says Lentz. “Everyone can sit around and drink, and eat cheese. And we’ll do either roasted chicken or grilled steaks. As a home cook, you don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen. You maybe prep out, but you want to enjoy your friends.”
Silverton is of the same philosophy. “The most dreaded parties are going to somebody’s home with a host who’s sweaty, pale and trying to get everything ready at the same time in the kitchen,” says the chef, who lives with boyfriend Michael Krikorian, a crime reporter and novelist. Steaks, salads and grilled veggies are her preferred metier. “Not only is my favorite way of entertaining outside using a wood-fired grill, my other favorite way of eating is food that is room temperature,” she says.
As opposed to Lentz’s heavy-duty outdoor Viking gas grill, Silverton’s alfresco setup, replete with chimney, was built as a companion to the Batchelder tile fireplace in her living room. A stack of hardwood logs is piled to the side, and the two grates are adjustable. “I wanted a fireplace that looked like it was part of the home,” she explains.
When she moved in 19 years ago with then-husband Mark Peel of Campanile fame, the outdoor fireplace was the centerpiece of a backyard renovation that included a patio with a stained concrete floor, a long bench for dining supplemented by a handful of tables, and a lap pool. A long, wood-topped counter lined with stools serves as a staging area for buffet-style entertaining.
Lentz’ and Goins’ backyard — with its tile tables, stone walls and brick flooring — looks a tad untamed by comparison, with a steep, almost treacherous path leading up to a vegetable garden where herbs, lettuce and indigenous blooms are harvested for dinners and such. That is, when they’re not pilfered by wild critters that roam the hills.
“Last year, we were having a party, and we found some lemon verbena up there, and I made a simple syrup with it,” Lentz says. “And I made gin drinks with muddled grapes, thyme and mint, with the lemon verbena simple syrup. It was super good. But we use whatever’s freshest at the time.”
With a pair of 6-year-old twins and a 5-year-old, Lentz and Goin are more likely to cook at home than Silverton, whose three children have grown up and moved out. The evidence? Banks of well-worn copper and stainless steel pots and pans that hang from a pair of racks in the kitchen (no nonstick in this house); a six-burner stove next to another stove with a built-in griddle on which Goin cooks the kids French toast four or five days a week; a Kenmore double convection oven in the adjacent breakfast nook that was converted from a butler’s kitchen (the house was originally built by John Barrymore, with such subsequent owners as Lee Marvin and Charles Coburn); and perhaps their most enviable item — an industrial-sized Sub-Zero freezer for stocking proteins, homemade stocks and other perishables.
The dining room wall is lined with framed illustrations by David Lance Goines, known for his Chez Panisse cookbook covers.
Silverton, too, displays collectibles, including vintage candy molds, rolling pins, egg beaters and bread wrappers that date back to ’20s. “I never liked this pushed-out bay window,” she says of a feature that was obviously an addition, “and decided to adorn it with the egg-beater installation.”
Her most-used tool? A Francis Francis espresso machine made by Illy.
Silverton, Lentz and Goin are friends who enjoy each other’s hospitality. For the past three years, Silverton has hosted a night-before party targeted at chefs who support the couple’s (and Styne’s) annual fundraiser, for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer.
At the Silverton house, gatherings for Labor Day, Memorial Day, Easter, Christmas Eve and New Year’s have become a tradition. There’s enough Heath ceramic ware in her cupboards to serve 70, but her parties can swell to 100 people or more.
“We’ll always say, ‘Let’s have a New Year’s Day party, but let’s keep it really small — no more than 20,’ ” she says. “And then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, it can’t be 20, we can’t forget so-and-so!’ ”