Deb Perelman: big ideas in a small kitchen

 ,  |  Updated: November 13, 2013 12:32 IST

Deb Perelman: big ideas in a small kitchen

Deb Perelman writes one of the world's biggest food blogs from a galley-style New York kitchen. How would she cope on a boat?

"I am staunchly opposed to single-use kitchen objects," says Deb Perelman in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Yet Perelman, one of the world's most-popular food bloggers - known for producing beautiful food from her "puny 42 sq ft" Manhattan kitchen, is currently chopping shallots on a boat in London and pining for her onion goggles, 3,450 miles away in New York. Surely onion goggles are the very definition of a single-use kitchen object? "I'm such a baby when it comes to onions," she explains. "What I have a problem with is a store telling you that you need all these things. When you're setting up your first kitchen, get a skillet, one cook's knife, a chopping board and a roasting pan. What drives you crazy that you don't have? Buy that."


Cooking in a kitchen smaller than Nigella's china cupboard hasn't stopped Perelman, a former IT reporter and art therapist, from becoming an on-, and now offline sensation. Her blog Smitten Kitchen receives more than 5 million visitors a month. Gwyneth Paltrow and Yotam Ottolenghi are among her many fans, and the cookbook is a New York Times bestseller. It's this book she is in the UK to promote, not to mention discover Marmite (she's firmly in the "love it" camp) and cook on a boat.

Surely this galley is smaller than Perelman's galley-style kitchen? "This is triple my counter space," she says as she preps her harvest roast chicken. "This is very comfortable; you can cook everything you need in this kitchen."

So what does make the grade in Perelman's kitchen back in New York? There is no bulky microwave on the single work surface. There is a food processor, on top of her fridge. Salt and pepper shakers and other useful objects line the windowsill, looking down on to a busy Manhattan avenue; pots and pans hang from the ceiling. "My No 1 rule is to clear the decks and take stuff off the countertops," she says. "Our great-grandmothers didn't refuse to cook because they couldn't fit their blender on the counter," is a typical Perelman-ism from the book's introduction.

She also keeps a collapsible step-ladder on hand to retrieve gadgets from the top of the fridge and cupboards, and frequently uses her son Jacob's play kitchen as an extra surface. She stores plates and equipment in other rooms and forgoes the weekly big shop: "I load up on vegetables at the farmer's market," she says, "but no more than I need for a few days."

Perelman is passionate that limited space need not limit culinary ambition. She regularly cooks for groups of up to 16 friends. "Go for one 'ta-da!' dish, one or two sides and bring in everything else. No one needs you to be a martyr." She advises going for one-pots, "big braises, roasts and stews. I'm a fan of something you can finish prepping in advance."

The harvest chicken dish Perelman is making today wouldn't make the menu for 16, because it would involve scaling up to many pans, but it's a favourite dinner for three or four. She browns the chicken legs in a cast-iron frying pan before adding rosemary, grapes and olives, then placing the pan in the oven. The boat is filled with the smell of toasting rosemary. One pan, a chopping board and a knife - so far, the washing-up count is pleasingly minimal. "You need to be more organised in a small kitchen," she says.

Perelman points out that cooking delicious food in a small space is not unusual: "In a restaurant, every cook has a tiny station and they put out hundreds of meals a night." But what she has done - building a worldwide following and a full-time job out of her love for creating inventive comfort food dishes in a 42 sq ft space - is impressive. Smitten Kitchen strikes a natural balance between glamorous (she lives in Manhattan!) and accessible (her kitchen is tiny!). No wonder it's one of the world's biggest food blogs.

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Photo: Deb Perelman cooking harvest roast chicken with grapes, olives and rosemary in the boat's galley. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian



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