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‘I’ve become a rummager, a magpie of sorts’: Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat: ‘My best friend travels around the world for his research and we share a love for obnoxiously large utensils.’
Samin Nosrat: ‘My best friend travels around the world for his research and we share a love for obnoxiously large utensils.’ Photograph: Kimberley Hasselbrink for the Guardian

I live in North Berkeley, California, a few blocks from Chez Panisse. I moved here about 9 years ago, when I was 29. I’m 38 now, and I feel like the apartment – certainly the kitchen – has grown up with me. The front door of the apartment opens right into the kitchen; it’s a small room but it has a lot of windows, so it’s beautifully light. And a lot of the time I use the patio as an extension of my cooking space. I have a lot of plants – my living room is like a jungle. I like the idea of bringing the outside in.

I always joke that if I write a memoir it’ll be called A Bay Leaf in Every Pot. Often recipes will call for a bay leaf, and I didn’t really understand what the bay leaf was doing until I had fresh bay for the first time – it blew my mind; the aroma was so incredible. So I bought a small plant, and now I put a leaf in everything I cook.

I went straight from college into restaurants so, from the beginning, my idea of what a kitchen should be was the highfalutin restaurant type – and what I had at home never measured up to that. When I left restaurants, I had to learn to be a home cook. I realised that I didn’t actually need that much: my stove is small and my fridge is old, but I’ve cooked so much in here. I’ve tweaked the space slowly – the wooden surface I inherited when a friend renovated his kitchen. I redeployed an Ikea filing cabinet to organise my spices. And then there are all the things people have given me: an artist friend made the spoon rest and the twine is from Dario Cecchini, the world-famous butcher in Tuscany. He’s a good friend of mine, a real character and was my mentor when I lived in Italy. For a while I had a piece around my wrist. It’s what I ask for anytime someone is going to Italy.

People love giving cooks spoons, I’ve noticed. Or at least they love giving them to me. My best friend travels around the world for his research and we share a love for obnoxiously large utensils, so he always brings me one from wherever he goes. My collection is housed in an old Chez Panisse amarena cherry tin.

I grew up in southern California, which is suburban, sterile and super-polished. If you need something, you go to the store and buy it. Under no circumstances would my mom have allowed me to go through trash on the street and bring it home. I’ve since become a rummager, a magpie of sorts. In Berkeley, there’s a culture of leaving unwanted items on the pavement, and I’m always rifling through, and bringing things home: a copper bowl, a black crepe pan, two red milk warmers … The biggest of my knives is one I got for six bucks in a junk shop. I had it fixed by a cutler, who told me it’s from the 1940s in Chicago, totally handmade. Working at Chez Panisse and living in the Bay Area has really taught me how to see the potential in things.

Samin Nosrat is a chef and author of Salt Fat Acid Heat (Simon and Schuster).

This article titled "‘I’ve become a rummager, a magpie of sorts’: Samin Nosrat" was written by Interview by Dale Berning Sawa, for The Guardian on Saturday 13 January 2018 01.00pm

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