Chefs and restaurateurs cook at home

by Kaitlyn Goalen

photographs by Geoff Wood

When it comes to cooking, even the most passionate and enthusiastic home cooks fall victim to overcooked steaks, school lunch ennui, spilled bottles of olive oil, and an embarrassing reliance on the delivery guy.

In these moments of weakness, it’s hard to imagine our favorite chefs and restaurateurs ever having to endure such cooking tedium. Rather, we picture them and their home kitchens as culinary oases, free of blunders and full of delicious dinners.

Just consider the fictional paradise for a moment: a gargantuan set of perfectly polished French copper pots; a sink that has never seen a dirty dish; weekday breakfasts of eggs Benedict and afternoon snacks of mile-high soufflés. Their kids never turn up their noses at a school lunch packed with asparagus gribiche or homemade headcheese. And that distinct aroma of burnt food never dares perfume the air.

Before such fantasies lead you to throw up your arms and walk away from your cooking aspirations forever, read on. Five Raleigh restaurant professionals invited us to explore their kitchens and cooking habits, and in doing so, breached the gap between their reality and our fantasy. It turns out, even the most successful cook is subject to dirty dishes, and their home cooking routines are all the better for it.

WM_WalterRoyal_AngusBarn_1001_gwWalter Royal

executive chef, Angus Barn

The sheer volume of food prepared in the kitchen of the Angus Barn is something epic. And the man overseeing it all is Walter Royal, who has been at the helm of the restaurant’s menu for nearly two decades. After dishing up scores of steaks and sides each night, Royal still has energy to cook for himself and his 87-year-old neighbor, Harold, when he’s back at home.

Post-shift, he opts for a tuna sandwich, but if he’s preparing dinner on a free night, Royal sticks to his favorite comfort food dishes, like roast chicken or a pot of grits. “I always keep eggs and bacon in my refrigerator, and grits in my pantry,” he reports. His garden supplies fresh herbs and tomatoes in the summer, and he rounds out his sundries at King’s Red & White in Durham and the State Farmers Market.

One of Royal’s favorite dishes to cook at home is a classic macaroni and cheese, for which he uses a blend of cheddar and Gruyere. Royal rounds out the meal with greens from his garden.

WM_WalterRoyal_AngusBarn_0951_gwWalter’s Macaroni & Cheese
2 pounds elbow macaroni
1 pound white sharp cheddar, shredded
1 pound regular cheddar, shredded
½ cup shredded Gruyere
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half & half
1 cup milk
Grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
Pinch dried basil
Fill a large saucepan full of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the cheddars and Gruyere together, and reserve.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir constantly until the mixture thickens and turns a very light brown, about four minutes. Add the heavy cream, half & half, milk and a pinch of nutmeg and keep stirring until the mixture thickens into a velvety sauce. Add ¾ of the reserved cheese, the garlic and basil, and stir until the cheese has fully melted.
In a large bowl, mix the cheese sauce with the macaroni until the noodles are well coated. Transfer the mixture to a buttered ceramic baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the surface. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until gooey and melty.


WM_AngelaS_Centro_0113_gwAngela Salamanca

co-owner, Centro

At home, Angela Salamanca’s eating habits are all about healthy, fresh ingredients. In warmer months, she’s a regular at the downtown farmers market, supplementing with stops at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and International Foods. Her dedication to fresh produce informs her pared-down cooking approach. “I keep things simple because my time is limited and fresh quality ingredients don’t need much to be amazing.”

When she’s cooking for her two daughters, Sara and Ana, breakfast is mandatory, and ranges from a fresh fruit smoothie to hot chocolate with cheese and arepas, or Colombian corn cakes.  But when Salamanca has guests over, she reverts to a favorite dish from her childhood: ajiaco. This traditional chicken-and-potato stew from Colombia is all about the garnishes; guests can doctor their bowls with sour cream, capers and aji, a cilantro-based sauce.

“I consider myself a cook rather than a chef,” says Salamanca. “I was never trained in the kitchen, but my love of food and comfort led me to this career – and I’m still grateful every day to be cooking.”

Angela’s Black Bean Salad
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups of roasted yellow corn (or frozen corn, sautéed with 1 tablespoon coconut oil)
½ avocado, diced
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
Olive oil
Cider vinegar
Kosher salt
Fresh ground Szechuan pepper
In a large bowl, add the beans, corn, avocado and onion. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Toss gently and taste; adjust the seasoning by adding more oil, vinegar, salt or pepper as desired.

Charlotte Coman (Poole's) and Sunny Gerhart (Joule) in their home kitchen.Charlotte Coman and Sunny Gerhart

chefs, AC Restaurants

When both members of the household are chefs within Ashley
Christensen’s AC Restaurants empire, the propensity for delicious food – and full schedules – is high. In reality, Poole’s Diner sous chef Charlotte Coman and Joule Coffee chef Sunny Gerhart don’t do much cooking at home. “When we get off late after cooking all day, the last thing we want to do is cook more,” Coman admits. “There’s a lot of pizza delivered to our house.”

The infrequency only makes the home-cooked meal more special. “We make a project out of it,” Coman says. “We’ll spend a whole day making something, often different forms of ethnic food.” These monthly cooking projects are a way to learn about cuisines that the couple is less familiar with – most recently Greek, Mexican and Thai, generally with the help of different cookbooks.

On most days, the kitchen is stocked with a few limited essentials: coffee and fixings for sandwiches. “I’ve perfected the art of the late-night sandwich,” says Charlotte.

Charlotte Coman (Poole's) and Sunny Gerhart (Joule) in their home kitchen.Charlotte’s Mediterranean Salad
4 cups cooked barley, warm
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 bunch (about 8) radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped dill
½ red onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped mint
Red wine vinaigrette made with olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine the barley, feta, radishes, celery, cucumber, dill, onion and mint. Dress with vinaigrette and lemon juice, a tablespoon at a time, tasting as you go to achieve desired flavor. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve alongside hummus.

WM_ColeenPoshNosh_0383-Edit_gwColeen Speaks

chef and owner, Posh Nosh Catering

“These days, my cooking is completely dictated by my kids,” admits Coleen Speaks, professional caterer. “It’s really a complete gamble.” While she doesn’t relish packing lunches each morning, adjusting to her children’s ever-changing palates has led to some surprising and delicious discoveries.

Most recently, it’s Indian food. “Both of my kids – even the picky one – really like Indian flavors, so I’ve been doing a lot of shopping at the Patel Brothers market” in Cary. Speaks has been experimenting with classic Indian dishes, from butter chicken to green beans with coconut, to change up the home rotation.  She always makes more than enough, in anticipation of unexpected guests. “I have a habit of inviting anyone I meet over for dinner; we always have drop-in guests.”

If dinner is a time for experimentation, weekend breakfasts in the Speaks household hew closer to tradition. “We always start with some sort of baked thing, like muffins; while they’re baking we’ll make another dish, usually eggs of some kind.”

Since she cooks at home quite frequently, Speaks keeps her refrigerator full, relying on a heavy collection of condiments. “I make a point to shop for home whenever I’m shopping for work; I try to kill two birds with one stone,” she says. Frozen chicken stock is a constant, too, and Speaks keeps homemade and store-bought versions on hand to make quick soups and stews.

WM_ColeenPoshNosh_0429_gwColeen’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp
1 tablespoon olive oil
Small shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 – 4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cayenne (more or less to taste)
A couple dashes hot sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 medium lemon, zested, juiced, and halves flattened and julienned
1 cup dry white wine
5 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
2 pounds large shrimp, still in their shells (heads on is best)
1 handful parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 baguette of crusty bread
Saute shallot, garlic, bay leaves, and cayenne in olive oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add Worcestershire, hot sauce, lemon zest, juice, julienned lemon rind, and white wine.  Cook until reduced by half. Reduce heat to low and stir in butter.  Add shrimp and cook, stirring often, until shrimp just turn pink. Stir in parsley and adjust seasoning. Serve straight from the pan with bread to sop up the sauce. Remember to put a bowl on the table for the shrimp shells.

Van Nolintha of Bida Manda in his home kitchen. Cooking Pork LarbVansana Nolintha

owner, Bida Manda

Bida Manda, downtown Raleigh’s hugely popular Laotian restaurant,
recently celebrated its first birthday. Co-owner Vansana Nolintha still spends most of his days within the restaurant’s walls. As a result, he only cooks at home for himself a few nights a week. But that hasn’t prevented him from creating certain ritual around his cooking routine.

It starts with rice: “I’m really particular about my rice and how it’s cooked, so I always use a rice cooker. I make a big batch at once, and leave it on the ‘warm’ setting all day. There is always warm rice at my house,” he says. There’s also always garlic, ginger, Thai chiles, lots of fresh vegetables, and hot sauce that Van has his relatives ship from Laos.

But Van’s favorite dish to make at home, noodle soup, requires a bit more time. On his days off, generally Sundays, Van will make a three-pound batch of rice-flour noodles from scratch. “It’s very labor intensive, so I only get to do it once a week,” he says. When going to all of that trouble, Van invites a few friends over for dinner, filling bowls high with his noodles, broth and plenty of fresh herbs from his garden.

The rest of the week, he admits to indulging a late-night eating habit: “I generally don’t get home before midnight, so I eat really late, around 1 a.m. Often my meal is made up of leftovers and a glass of wine,” he says.

Van Nolintha of Bida Manda in his home kitchen. Cooking Pork LarbVan’s Pork Larb
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground pork
¼ cup chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped fresh Thai chile
¼ cup chopped lemongrass stalks
¼ cup kaffir lime leaf (the hourglass-shaped leaves of the kaffir lime tree are available at specialty stores like Grand Asia Market at 1253 Buck Jones Rd. in Raleigh)
¼ cup chopped galangal (similar to ginger, and available at specialty stores like Grand Asia Market)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup mint leaves
1/3 cup chopped scallion, white and green parts
3 to 4 tablespoons fish sauce
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
Lettuce leaves, for serving
Jasmine or sticky rice, for serving
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil, ground pork and a pinch of salt. Cook the pork, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, until it is well browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the juices and transfer the pork to a medium bowl. Let cool to room temperature.
When the pork has cooled, add the garlic, chile, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, cilantro, mint, scallion, fish sauce and lime juice. Toss gently, and taste for seasoning.
Serve the larb inside lettuce leaves or over rice.