When my friend's parents bought an airstream trailer a few years ago, I fell so deep into a Pinterest hole of "tiny homes" that I created a savings account to someday buy myself an airstream trailer. While my plan of someday living in an airstream has adjusted (the rest of my Pinterest boards decidedly don't fit into a trailer), I'm still fascinated and impressed by those who are able to live gracefully in tiny spaces. When I came across Bela Fishbeyn's Instagram @belafish, I spent hours poring over the photos and blog posts that document her compact life, nestled in a 300 square-foot home in northern California mountains. In preparation for Thanksgiving, which I'll be cooking in my own small (albeit far from tiny) kitchen, I asked her to share some of her top tips for cooking in a small space. And who better to ask? Her husband Spencer is a former chef at Craft, and they frequently cook feasts together in their 55 square-foot kitchen where every inch is design to maximize space. I hope you enjoy her tips as much as I do! - Leslie
All you need to make the highest-quality food are five, maybe six, products. Really! No kitchen is complete without a quality carbon steel sauté pan, which is my go-to for everything from scrambled eggs to roasted salmon. Carbon steel has all the advantages of cast iron at a fraction of the weight, and with much more finesse. Since it’s a tool that lasts a lifetime, we’ve invested in American hand-forged pans from Blanc Creatives, but Matfer Bourgeat manufactures a pan with similar performance as a really reasonable price.
Add in a quality Japanese knife, a steel fish spatula (Peltex if possible, though it's often out of stock), a GIR silicon spatula, and a nice spoon, and that’s just about all you need. A Nutribullet or Vitamix is a nice bonus for making all sorts of lightly processed foods (butters, smoothies, drinks, etc.), but we don’t think there’s anything else you truly need to make the highest-quality food.
If you do have the option to splurge though, my absolute favorite tool is my Primo ceramic grill. These can roast, bake, smoke, grill, and do just about anything else you can think of. They’re not cheap, but they last forever if properly maintained and make some of the most delicious meats you’ve ever had, all with close to zero cleanup.
I think the biggest way to make a kitchen seem larger is to really hone in on how you want to cook and what you want to eat. Get everything that you need to accomplish that goal together and get rid of the rest. Sell it, donate it, throw it away. If you don’t use it, get it out of your life.
We keep to a ketogenic, plant-heavy diet comprised of mostly whole foods. We eat lots of salads, light protein portions, eggs, bulletproof coffee, and a whole bunch of other fats like avocados and coconut. We also practice intermittent fasting, so we only have an eating window of an hour or two each evening (our two-year old daughter does eat three meals, though). Focusing in on just one meal a day makes it really easy for us to prepare crazy delicious feasts day in and day out for the whole family using only a handful of tools.
I’m in love with our ceiling-mounted pan rack. It’s funny because we've never had room for one of these in a traditionally sized kitchen, but we designed our tiny house kitchen to fit one perfectly. The rack hangs directly above our fridge and provides easy access to all my essential pans, plus storage space above for items we use less often.
It seems too easy, but my number one go-to meal is a salad composed of field greens, avocados, zucchini, cilantro, apple cider vinegar, and MCT or olive oil with a protein (usually pan roasted salmon or grass-fed beef) on the side and a big serving of roasted or steamed veggies (usually asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or squash). This only requires one pan to prepare and there’s nothing that takes more than a few minutes to get ready. Start-to-finish, it’s generally only fifteen minutes, as long as you put your sweet potato in the oven ahead of time.
We love to follow our meal up with a high-fat “dessert," like a bowl of coconut butter, pecan or walnut butter, cacao nibs, and a few berries. Coconut butter will seriously make your eyes roll back in your head and you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing with your whole life before having tried it. It’s super easy to make at home and you’ll never miss sugar when you can eat this every night! We like to unwind and end our evening with an adaptogen “milk” with grass-fed butter, powered coconut milk, turmeric, ashwaganda, reishi, and collagen peptides. I also add some sunflower lecithin and xanthan gum to thicken and hold the emulsification. Incredibly yummy and the perfect way to close the day. Our daughter, Escher, loves to drink it while she takes her bath!
I do wish that we could take on more fermentation projects, but I have yet to find a way to work this into our lives. With limited counter-space, we can’t have a bunch of belching jars hanging around taking up space. Add in all our travel and it’s just something that we’ll sadly have to keep waiting on!
We also used to eat a lot of stir-fry but have really moved away from it since moving into the tiny house. Although it’s quick to cook, there is a surprising amount of splatter mess and prepping all the veggies and sauce components ahead of time can take up some serious space.
There’s a lot to be said for a magnetic knife rack—we installed one almost as soon as we moved in. It’s so much better than having your tools in a drawer or having a block cluttering your counters.
I also love my small Fisher & Paykel dishwasher! It’s the perfect size for a day’s load of dishes, so after dinner I wash everything and start the day fresh. Since the whole thing only takes a couple minutes to unload, it’s never much of a burden and because the machine is smaller, it can also be much higher quality for the same cost as a traditionally sized dishwasher.
Since our house was fully customized and we spent a lot of time fine-tuning the design, we barely had to make any compromises in the kitchen, despite the small space. We still have a full-sized fridge, countertop espresso machine (we have our priorities...), 36” Wolf range, and a 30” porcelain sink. However, I would have loved to have a full-sized steam-convection combi-oven. These ovens allow you to precisely control moisture within an oven and can operate at very low temperatures. They’re really in a different world of performance for sous-vide cooking, braising, slow-roasting, baking, steaming, and anything else you’d normally use an oven for. Unfortunately, we didn’t think we’d have enough electricity to power one and saving some pantry space by leaving it out was a plus.
Instead, we were able to find an excellent countertop combi-oven that provides a very similar experience, albeit without as fine of a dial. It’s still great for toasting, baking, steaming, and everything in between. I’d take my mini steam-convection oven over a full-sized conventional oven any day!
It’s a little difficult to find a balance between having our daughter, Escher, in the kitchen and keeping her out of the space while Spencer's cooking. She’s old enough to show an interest, but not old enough to really contribute in a meaningful way. This means she’s usually just hanging around trying to sneak treats off the countertop!
We've definitely had to increase our awareness of where we leave knives and what kinds of things are around that she could accidentally knock over. At the same time, we encourage her to take an interest in cooking and she’s absolutely obsessed with food! It would be a shame to bar her from the space during meal preparations, since it’s probably her favorite thing in the world. We think soon she’ll be able to handle the responsibility, but for now it’s one of our daily dances.