Inside the fridges of 11 top New York chefs

Kyle Knall
Chef, Maysville

02

What are your fridge essentials?

Fresh milk. Farm eggs. There’s an American-style Parmesan. It holds for a long time because it’s dried, and it’s great to cook with. Other than lemons, it’s the one ingredient that has to be in there. I also need cold-brewed coffee. We have a pitcher of that every day. Before my girlfriend and I go to sleep, we’ll fill it up, and then it’s ready to go in the morning. It just saves time. I don’t have to wake up and wait. I go straight to the fridge and have a glass before I do anything.

You prefer your coffee cold?

Always. Even if I’m at the restaurant and there’s hot coffee, I always chill it over ice. The cold-brew has a really unique flavor. And just being in a kitchen all the time, it’s always easier to pound ice coffee than hot coffee.

I couldn’t help noticing the PBR. Do you like the taste or the price?

I drink more wine and bourbon than beer usually, and I’ve kinda gotten away from drinking craft beer. I like PBR because it’s light and refreshing. My dad worked for Miller when I was a kid, and in my house there was only Miller Lite. When I worked at Gramercy, we always kept a six-pack behind the bar for whenever he visited. He would probably bring himself to drink a PBR, if he had to. But if it was something like a Heineken, he’d smell it and just say “Throw it away.”

It looks like you have a bag of home-made dumplings. Is that your recipe?

No, no. It’s from my favorite dumpling house in Chinatown, called Prosperity Dumpling. They sell bags of dumplings for six bucks. It’s something I can take out and steam for about four minutes and have for dinner. I got home from Charleston on Monday and I wasn’t in the mood to cook, so I just took those out and had them for lunch and had a nap. It’s something quick and easy and unique and delicious.And certainly different for me. I’m really intrigued by food that doesn’t remind me of work, which is different from what I’m around all the time.

What’s the constant in your fridge, the one food or ingredient that’s always in there?

There’s always chicken soup. It’s basically my mom’s recipe. Also, my girlfriend makes a chili that was her mom’s. Those are two things we always have. There’s always containers in the freezer with chili and chicken soup. About once a month, I’ll make a fresh batch of the soup, and it’s there for us after we get home from work. We’ll just pop a quart out and thaw it for dinner. It’s always there.

Is there something unique about the recipe? Or do you like it because it reminds you of your mom?

It probably helps that in our neighborhood, it’s easy to find quality chickens. And it’s really easy to make. It’s just vegetables and chicken. But yeah, it’s also something I grew up eating a lot. It was always on hand. We never opened a jar or can of soup. So it’s probably tied up in nostalgia. When I was back in Birmingham at the beginning of the year, the first night we were there we got into town late, and my mom popped some soup out of her freezer for dinner. I told my mom, “This is my favorite thing. It reminds me of childhood.”

Are those homemade dumplings in your freezer?

No, no. They’re from my favorite dumpling house in Chinatown, Prosperity Dumpling. I can steam them for about four minutes and have dinner. I’m really intrigued by food that doesn’t remind me of work.

Bryce Shuman
Chef, Betony

07

How was it having someone take photos of your refrigerator?

It was a little voyeuristic. I felt like I was on a porno shoot. It was all: ‘‘Move this. Now show me that.’’ I was pretty uncomfortable.

I noticed some blue tape on the fridge door.

That’s because I have a cat named Bud. There’s roast beef in the fridge, so I have to tape the door shut. We went out of town once, and I was dry-aging a duck in there. When we came back, the place was permeated with the smell of death. The fridge is open, the duck is on the ground, half ripped apart, and the cat is looking really nonchalant. ‘‘What? I got the duck, so what?’’

What’s the oldest thing in your fridge?

I have a bottle of Brooklyn Chocolate Stout that was from 2003. This was a limited edition, and it might be the only bottle of this stuff left in existence. I have a bottle of hot sauce that my wife gave to me when we first met. She went to Key West for her spring break in college, and she came back and brought me this bottle of hot sauce. I do not lie, it’s called Holy Shit. The label is long gone.

How has it lasted so long?

It’s just too hot. You take a toothpick and dip it in there and stir it in your giant pot of chili, and your chili is on fire. I remember working at Postrio around 2003, and I brought in this hot sauce, and this badass Latino food runner named Raoul put it all over his roasted chicken. I was like, “Raoul, this is really hot. I’m telling you.” But he didn’t care. This guy was from the Yucatán or something. They smoke habaneros and rub it on their eyeballs. He ate like a teaspoon of it, and all of a sudden he starts sweating uncontrollably. He sweats through his uniform. His face turned purple, and he had to go home. So yeah, it’s still in my fridge. [Laughs.] Long after the world ends, there’ll be cockroaches sharing that hot sauce.

Are there certain foods in your refrigerator that remind you of specific people?

Oh yeah. When I was a sous at Eleven Madison Park, one of our externs, her name was Yoon, before she left she wanted to thank me, and she gave me two things that I still have, both of them from her mother in Korea. Her mom had a Yuzu tree in their yard, and she made some Yuzu marmalade. She also made her own homemade fermented fish sauce, and I have a jar of that as well. I also have some jam from my mom. She picks her own fruit, makes jam preserves and sends them to me. She made them for my wedding, a jar for every guest. She spent a year just taking different fruits and making preserves and canning throughout the year. For the wedding, there was like 250 jars of jam, of all different flavors, from strawberry to ginger pear to marmalades to blueberries to preserved whole cherries. Lots of good stuff.

Is your home fridge as organized as your restaurant fridge, or is it more chaotic?

I wouldn’t say it’s chaos. There’s an order to it, but obviously nothing like the restaurant. In the walk-in at Betony, everything has the date, the name, initials of who put it in there. It’s almost militaristic. But then you get to my home fridge and it’s like, “Yeah, I’ve got some beer from 2003.” It’s a little more anything-goes.

Is there any food or ingredient that wouldn’t be allowed in your fridge?

You know those pre-diced onions that you find sometimes in grocery stores? That always weirds me out. Who the hell doesn’t have time to dice an onion? Are you serious? And how old is that onion? It’s so gross.

Are you ready for a food emergency? If twenty people showed up tonight, could you feed them?

I’d cut up a pile of habaneros and make them eat it, and they’d all leave immediately. Problem solved. No, I’m kidding. I can definitely make a great pot. I’ve got rice, I’ve got ingredients to make soup, I’ve got tortillas, I’ve got avocados. I could definitely make a tortilla soup, vegetarian with swiss chard. I could make a Caesar dressing with hard-boiled eggs and kale, it’d be amazing.

Einat Admony
Chef, Balaboosta

11

Your fridge is well stocked with vegetables. Do your kids need convincing?

My kids are actually very serious meat eaters. They love steaks and chicken and fish. But we’re starting to get them more interested in vegetables. You just have to be creative about it. Last week, my husband and I made kale pesto. We used two bunches of kale, and pine nuts and walnuts and some olive oil. We mixed it with pesto and they loved it. I always try to have as many vegetables as possible. I make them tahini sauce before dinner as a snack. They’ll dip mini carrots in tahini. They love broccoli. They love greens. They love asparagus. Things that kids usually don’t eat much, they really like. I’m very fortunate.

It doesn’t seem as if you have many leftovers in your fridge. Is this unusual?

We barely ever have leftovers because we usually never eat them. And definitely no take-out boxes because we cook a lot at home. We don’t want anything in there getting moldy and forgotten. My husband comes from a French family, but they also lived in Africa for seven years, so he’s very aware of waste. And I grew up with an Iranian mom in Israel who wouldn’t throw anything in the garbage — anything. When she would break an egg, she used to take her thumb and scrape out all of the egg white. I remember when I came to New York and I started to do that at a restaurant, the chef looked at me like, Wow, that’s interesting.

You’ve also got what looks like an entire case of Go Go Squeez packets. Is that just for convenience, when you’re too busy to cook for them?

My daughter goes crazy for them. It really pisses me off. If I’m not looking, she will grab like four a day. I think they’re good—they’re another source of fruit when you don’t have time to make them smoothies and things like that—but they’ve still got sugar, so I try to reduce it to just one a day. It’s become for her the sweet snack, which is amazing for me. It could be so much worse, but it’s still weird. I didn’t grow up on applesauce in Israel, so it’s not something I’m very familiar with. But if that’s what they like, then okay. We try, we try very hard to have better habits with food.

Are there any comfort foods in your fridge?

I like artichoke, I have to say. This is a comfort food for me. I know for many people, artichoke is not that. But it is something I always have at home. It reminds me of my mum, and my childhood. It’s one of my favorite things. The whole artichoke, just the artichoke in salt water, that’s it. I love it. Also, this isn’t a comfort food, but I need to have lemon grass. I always have it in my freezer, because it’s hard to get fresh.

Are you surprised by anything in your fridge?

I’m not sure where the Tostitos salsa came from. What is it? It says…. Simply Natural Pineapple Peach Salsa? I definitely did not buy that. It’s probably something I got at one of my events, like in a gift bag or something. It’s been here for a few months, and it will stay here for another few months, and then it’s going in the garbage. Also, there’s tabasco. I don’t know what that’s doing here. We have five different mustards. Ordinary mustard, Dijon, this is crazy. What is that? Something in French I don’t understand. There’s a lot of yogurt in the house. The kids love it, but I don’t touch it. It’s really weird for me to have breakfast yogurt. I need carbs. I need a carb in the morning. I use a lot of yogurt in my cooking, but barely ever as a sweet.

Could you prepare an impromptu meal for twenty guests using just what’s in your fridge?

Always. Always. Always. Seriously, always. I’ve been cooking for friends all my life. My mum could host anybody. Fifteen people could walk in and there is enough food for everybody. I have an aunt in Israel, she has a big picture on my wall in Balaboosta. You would go to her house, the door is always open, and you will go to her stove and there is between three to ten pots with different foods, every day. When I visit, people I don’t know just walk into the kitchen and start eating. She’s the cook of the neighborhood.

And you have enough in your fridge to do that?

Absolutely. I usually start with a menu of two dishes and end up with fifteen, because there is too many things in the fridge that I want to use. I’ll be like, “But I have two bottles of fennel. I should make some interesting salad with this! I cannot leave this cauliflower right there, I have to make something out of it.” It’s always like that and I end up with some crazy meal.

Amanda Freitag
Chef and owner, Empire Diner

03

What’s your policy regarding expiration dates?

Mistakes have been made. There are cheeses that have stayed too long. You probably don’t want to look in the crisper drawer. There’s a wasabi-flavored Kit Kat bar that somebody brought me from Japan, which I probably won’t eat. And there is some chocolate that probably needs to be thrown away. There’s a bottle of open red wine in there, but that’s because I can’t drink a whole bottle myself. And there’s a radish kimchi jar that’s been in there for awhile, and I’m actually afraid to open it. I’m going to admit that right here and now. It’s a jar inside of a ziplock bag. I put it inside a ziplock bag because it was fermenting out of the top. I may just have to wrap it up in another bag and take it away in a hazmat suit. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

What’s in the measuring cup?

It’s white rice. About ten days ago, I had the stomach bug that everybody else had. So I made myself some white rice and ate some of it. But I don’t have tupperware, like most normal people, so I put the rest of it in a measuring cup. Now I’ve got one cup of cooked rice ready to go. Just in case I need one exact cup.

You’re going to have to explain the Pillsbury products.

In the freezer? I know, I know. That is definitely not something I normally eat. But I did a job for Pillsbury, and I went home with several packages of crescent rolls, and I think a log or two of pre-made cookie dough. I don’t know what it’s still doing there. I might just use it. [Laughs.] It’s very possible. I might cut up the cookie dough and make cookies. It’s always nice to make the house smell like fresh-baked cookies. Just for the aroma therapy, not for the actual cookies.

You have a generous selection of hot sauces. Is that on purpose?

I love hot sauce. I love spicy, sweet, salty, whatever. I’m kind of a sucker for Frank’s RedHot. But I also like straight-up tabasco. Then there’s another crazy probiotic hot sauce that I found at a place called Provisions in Fort Greene. And then recently, after going to the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, I discovered a line of hot sauces called Sass, and they sent me about six bottles. So that’s been added to the collection. Since I mainly make eggs at home, it definitely gives it a little zing. What hot sauce am I going to put in my eggs today?

Do you mostly make breakfast at home?

I only make breakfast. That’s it. Space is one reason, and the restaurant I just opened is about two months old, so most of my eating goes on there. I’ve always been a breakfast and coffee person at home anyway, but now it’s relegated to that. I find ways to make breakfast interesting. There’s a white to-go box in the fridge that I brought home from the restaurant. I was experimenting with these Greek lemon potatoes, and I decided to see what would happen if they sat a few more days and marinated. I sautéed them a little and I put them with some eggs, and they were delicious, though they’re not exactly where I want them to be. There are these amazing Greek lemon potatoes at a restaurant in Queens called Bahari that I’m trying to recreate.

If your fridge is stocked mostly for breakfast, please explain the olives and the champagne.

The olives were left over from Oscar viewing snacks. [Laughs.] It was a “let’s get some easy-to-eat snacks” kinda thing. And the champagne, it’s funny, I was telling a friend that I used to live with that I was talking to you, and having my fridge photographed, and she just started laughing. She was like “You don’t have anything in your fridge except for champagne.” It seems to be a habit with me.

Any tips on how to best utilize space in a really tiny fridge?

It’s really about smart shopping. Don’t overpurchase. You can’t get sucked into those sales where you buy 10 of something. It’s also about prepping. It’s just like restaurant work. Prep it, and then hold it. I think the biggest mistake people make is they only use some of their vegetables and put the rest back raw. You might as well prep everything, and put it all away in containers.

Jody Williams
Chef, Buvette

09

You have a pretty wide variety of beers in your fridge. Is that for visitors?

Yeah, it’s like a min-bar in there. Actually, I drink pretty cheap beer. The 1664 beers are mine, and the exotic beers are from Rita, my girlfriend, who’s also a chef. She has a restaurant around the corner from mine, and we live together. She’s always buying beer and we end up with this hodgepodge. And sometimes I’ll bring something home that might be interesting for the restaurant. Most of the time, I’ll drink Budweiser or 1664 or Miller High Life. It’s a bit of nostalgia for me. It reminds me of doing something bad. [Laughs.] And it’s beer you can drink early in the morning too. It’s a nothing beer. It’s a harmless beer.

Three bottles of Champagne and three cartons of milk? Why so much?

Well, with the champagne, there’s something extravagant about it. After you fry yourself an egg at night, it’s nice to have a glass of champagne to go along with it. [Laughs.]  I like the highs and lows in the refrigerator — the cheap beer and the Dom Pérignon. And the milk, well, we don’t really cook in the kitchen, but we make a lot of tea and milk.

Anything been left in your fridge for too long?

Not really. If we bought something green or fresh, we’d probably eat it that day. I don’t want to hoard. But I’ve cut mold off cheese. I think, knowing and working with food, you become sort of fearless. We’ve also got more fresh veggies in there, like artichokes and avocados. I’m making a stab at being healthy. Avocados are high on the list. Artichokes are for a little frittata that we make, a little tortino.

So you are cooking at home?

Yeah, we’re trying. But we cook only things that won’t smell up the whole house. We have this thing, unless we’re celebrating or it’s a party or we’re having a big dinner or something, then forget it, open the windows. But generally, the house is a sanctuary from our restaurants. It’s about quiet and peacefulness and meditation and health. And also, to calm your nerves with all the alcohol. [Laughs.] That’s about it. It’s function is more a restorative thing.

With both of you being chefs, how do you split up the fridge?

We share it all. Nobody makes a mess in the fridge. Or if somebody does, it’s probably me. And certain things are only for one of us. Rita would never touch butter, and I love it. So I’ve got the dibs on the butter. Anything exotic like sriracha or wasabi paste, that’s all Rita. She does Italian food. Although she’s not interested in cilantro. She won’t touch it.

Is there any part of your fridge that surprised you?

Probably the freezer. I don’t even look in there. I mean, what’s going on exactly? What do I think I’m going to do with three frozen bananas? And those home-made cappelletti (in the white to-go box), they’re probably been there a year. We made them last Christmas. No, the Christmas before last Christmas. In 2012. But it’s a fond memory of cooking abroad. It’s also why we have the pain d’épices in the bottom crisper. It’s a gingerbread I bring back every time I’m in France. It shouldn’t still be there.

How about the popsicles?

The popsicles are mine. I love junk food. I love it. Like I said, the refrigerator and the home has become a sanctuary away from all the junk and all the gluttony. The popsicles is like the minimum amount of damage, because otherwise I’d probably have butter pecan ice cream in here. I can’t even tell you all the things I would love to have in my refrigerator. Popsicles reminds me of being a kid. That’s why the sparkling apple cider is there too. It’s why I never shop at grocery stores. I’d probably just get beer and potato chips. I never set foot in a grocery store unless I need Tide or Swiffers or something. Right now, I only need healthy food in my refrigerator. I mean okay, there’s the flavored yogurt drink, which is not really good for you. But it’s trying to be more aware. As you get older you have to pay attention to these things.

Is there a healthful food that you’re still learning to love?

I have grapefruit in there that I need to talk myself into.

Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff
Owners, Big Gay Ice Cream

09

What’s in the brown paper bag?

QUINT: That’s from the restaurant Hearth in the East Village. We’re pretty close with the chef, Marco Canora, Wednesday night I had to work a shift at our East Village store, and in the past, when I was working on the ice cream truck and I had to pull a late shift, the only option was generally a hot dog, cause even the halal carts were gone by then. But now, somehow, we’ve gotten to the point where I can send an email to one of the top chefs and say, “Can you get me a midnight snack?” Marco sent over some braised rabbit with polenta, and also a rigatoni dish. I ate a little bit of it when I got home. But then I had a donut and went to bed.

There’s also quite a bit of Champagne in there.

QUINT: There’s two bottles of Dom Pérignon. We had a third bottle, but we drank it … was it during Katrina?

PETROFF: Irene?

QUINT: Everyone was running to the stores for all the food they could cram in their fridges and taping up their windows. We went to Popeye’s and got the biggest bucket of chicken we could buy, and then sat around and ate it with Dom Pérignon. It was actually pretty grand.

What about the tequila?

PETROFF: I guess it’s really a beverage compartment, not a food compartment. We don’t really keep food around. When we order dinner, we eat it and then toss it. But it really made me realize how different my fridge would be if I lived somewhere else. We live in Washington Heights. If we lived in the Lower East Side, we could walk to the Whole Foods on Houston. If we lived in Park Slope, we’ve have Union Market. When we do get inspired, we drive out to the Harlem Fairway or the Meat Hook in Williamsburg. But for the most part, it’s whatever the bodega has that we can throw in the fridge.

It looks as if you have two bags of doughnuts.

QUINT: It’s a bag and a half of Debbie Donuts. The sad thing is, if I come home from a particularly hard day —

PETROFF: You eat them like cereal.

QUINT: I’ll put them in a bowl and cover them with milk. I’m usually in my underwear when I do it. Bryan likes them too, but he eats them like they’re donuts, instead of like they’re Chex.

Is that Pepto behind the donuts?

QUINT: Yeah, it’s Pepto. It’s actually generic brand, Pink Bismuth. After all those donuts, come on. And we keep it in the fridge because it’s gaggy if you have to drink it at room temperature. It needs to be cold to get it down.

Where did the bacon-potato soup come from?

QUINT: It’s from the Meat Hook. That’s one of the few places we go food shopping.

PETROFF: We’re probably the only people at the Meat Hook who pay absolutely no attention to the cuts of meat. Their soups are really, really great. We also have their cookie dough in our fridge, which has rendered lard in it. It was too decadent to pass up. I don’t know why we haven’t just eaten the raw dough yet.

When you work so extensively in ice cream, don’t you want a vegetable when you come home?

QUINT: Part of the problem with working with ice cream all the time is you become a sugar addict. There’s a lot of popsicles in our fridge usually.

What’s the healthiest thing in your fridge?

PETROFF: The seltzer water.

QUINT: Seltzer and apples. And those are probably the only healthy things. There are some radishes. I like radishes a lot. In fact, I’ll have radishes for dinner. It leads to a lot of burping, but they’re a favorite.

You’ve got some Asian Kit Kats. What’s the story there?

QUINT: A friend of ours brought them back from Hong Kong. He likes to bring us vibrant stuff. He knows our taste. He brought us a full case.

PETROFF: I ate the rest.

QUINT: Yeah, Bryan really plowed through those. He got religion on those Kit Kats.

Do you know Amanda Frietag?

QUINT: Oh, yeah, she’s a friend.

She’s got some Asian Kit Kats too. But hers are wasabi-flavored.

QUINT: That’s hilarious. I’m going to give her shit about that.

Let’s say a group of friends show up unannounced, and they’re hungry. Could you make them a meal based on what’s in your fridge?

PETROFF: I would make bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches. We have eggs, we have bacon, we have English muffins. And we have a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, so that would be the cheese. We would probably serve radishes as a finger food, or do some sort of radish and apple salad, because we have the apples. And dessert would be mugs of Little Debbie donuts with the Ronnybrook milk.

QUINT: I would do mini-ice cream sandwiches with donuts as the bread.

PETROFF: We have tons of pasta. That whole bottom right drawer is nothing but pasta from Chelsea Market. That’s the other place I shop. The Italian market inside Chelsea Market. I don’t even know the name of it. But they have the best pasta. It’s in blue packaging.

Worse case, you have plenty of liquor.

PETROFF: Maybe that’s where we need to start, with the liquor. And then who cares about dinner, because we’ll never get to it.

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the March 30, 2014 issue of the New York Times Magazine.)