Inside the fridges of 11 top New York chefs

Sara Kramer
Former chef, Glasserie

02

You live with your boyfriend. How do you divvy up the fridge?

It has to be well curated because it’s so small. Between the two of us, it can get pretty full. Usually when I’m working, it’s his domain. He likes a lot of Japanese ingredients. He comes from a food-oriented household; his mother is a chef, too.

What’s your policy on leftovers? Are they allowed?

My boyfriend’s a student, so he’s pretty poor. We’ll take all the leftovers we can get. We’re not people for wasting, so we’ll generally keep them, unless it seems like neither of us are going to eat them. There have definitely been times when there’s something we didn’t like very much but we’ve kept it for the sake of keeping it and we don’t realize until much later than neither one of us is going to touch it.

Were you surprised by anything in your fridge?

I don’t think so. I mean, it’s so small that it’s really hard to lose track of what’s in there. I guess I’m still confused about why we have a bottle of sesame-flavored dressing, which has been in there for a long time and it seems like neither of us ever use it. I don’t know why we would have it. I’m pretty sure that he bought it, and I just don’t know why. That’s a little bit of a mystery.

What’s that strange-looking piece of meat?

That’s Sobrassada sausage. It’s a Spanish spreadable cured pork sausage that’s really, really fatty and flavored with pimentón and garlic. It’s probably about 50 percent fat, which is absurd. You warm it up slightly, and you spread it on bread. I worked at this restaurant in Spain that a friend of mine just visited and she brought back a piece of it for me. My friend brought back a piece of it from Spain. You can’t get it here, they can’t ship it.

As a chef, do you ever grapple with the question “Do I make it from scratch, or buy it at the store?”

I’ll gladly buy a store-bought loaf of bread to save myself the many hours of making it from scratch. Would I really rather be making fresh lovely juices at home than buying store-bought juice? Absolutely. This kale’s fate was as juice, with some cucumber, apple and ginger. Though I make kale any number of ways at home, I shy away from it a bit in restaurant settings lately. There are plenty of other greens to showcase that are less trendy.

Is your fridge emergency-ready? Could you make a meal from what’s in your fridge for 10 surprise guests?

Oh, definitely not. No.

How about one person?

Yeah, I could probably cook a dinner for my boyfriend, me and one other person based on the contents of my fridge. Something respectable. Probably vegetarian. If it was just me, I would toast some bread, warm up that Sobrassada sausage and eat it with sliced salted cucumber. But if there were three of us, I’d probably make something with eggs. We have some chickens in our backyard, so we always have fresh eggs.

You have chickens? How many?

Four. It’s pretty crazy.

Is it difficult to have chickens in the city?

It was difficult when we had a lot of snow. We had to dig their poop out a bit. But they’ve been fine. They survived okay. Going back there in the two feet of snow with the shovel, trying not to slip on the ice, that was a little challenging. And we don’t have a particularly high-tech setup. It’s all manual. But it’s not that hard at all. I have luckily a pretty big yard so we can give them free reign.

How many eggs do four chickens typically produce?

It really depends. We were getting anywhere from an egg to two eggs a day from each of them, which is crazy. I’d say that it’s more like two eggs every four days. It’s a lot for two people.

Does it save you money?

Not at all. We definitely spend more money keeping chickens then we do not buying eggs.  It’s just kind of a fun experiment more than anything. I’d also love to raise rabbits for food. They’re pretty easy. Maybe some other birds, like squab or guinea hens. But guinea hens are really loud usually. Rabbits are pretty feasible actually. And they’re so expensive to buy in a butcher shop. They actually make a lot of sense.

Amanda Cohen
Chef, Dirtcandy

05

What portion of the contents of your fridge are things you eat every day, and what portion are random things you have no intention of touching?

I would say maybe 30 percent of it is day-to-day stuff. But there’s a lot that’s been gifted to us. We get a lot of freebies. You do the charity events, and you always get a really nice bag filled with stuff. The Four Loko was a gift from four years ago that I’m saving just in case I have a really bad day. It’s one of the originals that was banned. I think it’s a testament to how much I truly enjoy my job that there’s never been a day so bad that I needed to use it.

You also have Champagne, which appears to be bedazzled.

It is! That was a gift from friends of ours.

How often do you cook and eat at home?

I eat at home never. For breakfast I’ll just have a banana or two before I come to work. That’s the one main thing I do. For awhile, I was making smoothies, but then the blender at work broke, so we had to bring in our home blender. I’m fine just eating the bananas. I read all this research on how good potassium is for you. If you eat a lot of salt, the potassium balances the sodium. I figure at work I eat so much salt, that I can’t not eat the banana. If I skip it, I’ll be like “I might die!”

There are also mangos in there. Do you eat a lot of fruit at home?

I try to. I eat so many vegetables at work; it’s my job, it’s what I do all day. The idea of eating vegetables at home is really kind of unappealing. At work, I eat them in all forms. Raw, cooked, as part of a dish, however. We don’t have a lot of fruit at the restaurant, so I’m always kind of craving it.

Anything in your fridge that probably should be thrown away?

There’s some leftover fregula from a dinner, but it’s probably really old. It’s so pathetic. You wouldn’t think I worked in a restaurant at all. At the restaurant, we’re so on top of it. We know the date and everything’s labeled, and five days and it’s thrown out. Some of the stuff in my fridge is at least a month old. You see all of those little half-pint containers? That was stuff I took home about a month ago. Here’s what the problem is: If I want to throw something out, I have to wash the container. I don’t have a dish-washer person who I can just hand it to and say, “Can you wash this for me?” I have to be the one to scrape it out and wash it. So that’s how things stay in there for too long.

What’s that large piece of bread in a plastic bag?

Those are hot dog buns. You can’t see it, cause they’re not cut yet. We have two events coming up, one for 700 and another for 500 in the next month or so. Every day at the restaurant she’s baking more and more bread to get us caught up for it. I brought them home from the restaurant because our freezer at the restaurant is too small. Actually, if you go to all my employee’s fridges, you’ll see the same thing in their freezer. We are all stocked up with hot dog buns.

Was there anything in your fridge that surprised you? Something you didn’t expect to find?

I think our fridge is too small to have any big mysteries. But in the freezer, when I lifted up the bread, there was a frozen brownie in a tiny take-out container. Somebody had given it to us I don’t know how long ago. And you know what the really humiliating part was? When I saw it, I was sort of excited. I was like, “Oh, I forgot that was there!” I’m probably going to eat it later.

We noticed you have two sriracha bottles. That seems excessive.

I know. And pathetically, they’re both almost empty. They both have not even an inch of sriracha in them. The weird thing is, it’s one of my least favorite hot sauces. But you get home sometimes and you’re hungry and you need a fast meal. You don’t want to work that hard to make it delicious. So sriracha does hide a lot of faults. It’s like makeup for food. It covers the blandness. If I come home and I want to make a quick thing of noodles, but I don’t have it in me at midnight to do much to them, I’ll just add a little sriracha and they’re delicious. You can use it to turn any food into a beauty queen.

If unannounced guests showed up, could you make a meal with what’s in your fridge?

Oh, God, no. They’d have to leave. Or I’d have to secretly order something off Seamless. Or they’d have to really, really be into yogurt. I could probably break open the Four Loko, which would at least be a conversation. I couldn’t feed them, but I could get them drunk.

Ignacio Mattos
Chef, Estela

10

What was it like having the inside of your fridge photographed?

It was a little intimidating. It was almost like being naked in front of somebody that you don’t know. It’s an intimate thing. I’m glad there was nothing weird in it. At least I think there was nothing weird. Is there anything I should be concerned about, besides the crappy pickled ginger? There was some crappy pickled ginger that I only noticed after the photographer left. And there was some polenta in there I didn’t remember. What can I do? Nobody is perfect.

Is this a good representation of your refrigerator? Is this what it’s typically stocked with?

No. I had my kid visiting in town, so the refrigerator had a little more food than usual. It has vegetables and things like that, which I tend not to have when I’m by myself, because everything goes bad. But some of the stuff is always there, like butter, half-and-half, bread, cheese. There’s anchovies but I don’t know why I keep them in the refrigerator. I tend to have eggs all the time. You can pull out a meal out of a couple eggs. And I always have Parmesan.

Why Parmesan?

It’s great on anything; pasta, salad, you can use it to add flavor to a soup. When it gets really dry, I’ll put the rind in a soup. That is something that my grandmother would do always. It gives it a really gummy, cheesy texture that’s just delicious. I never let a parmesan rind go to waste. Maybe because there’s that memory, that memory of my mom, tied into it.

Is there anything that’s never allowed in your fridge?

As much as I love ketchup, I can’t have it in my refrigerator. Because I love it too much. You give me ketchup, and I would do really bad things with it. So I have to keep it away, to avoid embarrassment.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve put ketchup on that ketchup shouldn’t be on?

Oh no, we don’t want to go there. [Laughs.] You don’t need to know. Well, as a child, I would put it on white rice. It’s one of those things I’m kind of ashamed about. It’s terrible. Terrible, terrible. At the same time, what are you going to do? Your impulses are nothing you can control.

If guests showed up unexpectedly at your door, could you make them a meal using only the ingredients in your fridge?

I think so. I would make a soup with a cabbage, the Parmesan rind and some of the anchovies. I would serve it with wine, except for some reason there’s no wine in my refrigerator. Can I sneak out and get wine? Is that allowed?

Mark Rosati
Culinary director, Shake Shack

03

I noticed some brats and hot dogs and a big Stumptown beer. Are you planning a spring barbecue?

The sausages are samples from a couple of purveyors interested in working with us. There’ll be times I take those home and try them out, where I’m a little more free to play with it. I also have a couple of lamb bellies, which have been marinating in peppers and spices that I puréed. And yesterday, I put them in my oven and slow-cooked them. I’m hoping this week to invite some friends over and do some lamb belly tacos. I have a hibachi, which I put outside on my stoop. For serious cooking like steaks and stuff like, where I’m going to make a mess, I usually bring them outside so I don’t have to clean up my apartment, and it doesn’t smell like lamb belly fat for the next four days.

You’ve got a whole pork loin in your fridge. Do you have big plans?

I was originally going to do something with it in the late fall, when it was O.K. to be outside. It came from Niman Ranch — they make a custom-made bacon for us. Their stuff is so yummy, and I use a lot of it in the Shack. But I have so much of it, so I take it home, and then I try to find the right time, the right people, to throw a little shindig.

What surprised you the most about your fridge?

Probably the sparsity. I cook out a lot, I eat out a lot, I rarely cook at home, and when I do it’s more of a big project. I’ll actually go out and shop specifically for that one dinner party. And once it’s over, my fridge is empty again. I keep a lot of condiments in there, just in case. But I don’t really cook at home that much.

The most surprising ingredient in your fridge for me was the bitter greens. You don’t seem like a vegetable kind of guy.

The one meal I cook religiously is breakfast. I love eggs, I love to eat as healthy and tasty a breakfast as I can, because the rest of my day I’m surrounded by hamburgers and milkshakes and hotdogs. If I start my day out on a healthy note, then if something comes along that I wasn’t expecting, like an impromptu chocolate chip cookie tasting, I don’t feel so bad. So for breakfast, I like to do eggs or egg whites and then throw some veggies on top, maybe bitter greens with a little onion.

Has anything been left in your fridge for so long that it became a science experiment?

There is one now, and it’s an accidental experiment. I made a braised chicken dish. If I have a lot of time, I’ll make chicken stock or veal stock, just so when I want to do a bigger project I’ll have the building blocks. So I decided to braise chicken, and I threw a lot of vinegar in the sauce. It was all so delicious that I put the left-over sauce in a container and put it in the back of my fridge and completely forgot about it. That was back in late December, right before New Year’s Eve. I found it about a week ago. And the interesting thing is, it doesn’t smell bad. It’s not growing mold. I think the vinegar is preserving the chicken sauce. It’s not going bad, it’s completely dried out now, it almost looks like chicken fruit rollups. There’s no odor, nothing. I’m going to keep going with this. I’ll try to taste it and see what happens.

Is there anything in your fridge that makes you nostalgic?

Definitely the brownies. That’s something that my mom would always make for me. And as a kid, it was one of the first things that I actually started to learn how to make. These days, I find myself playing more with the savory than the sweet part of cuisine. But I have very fond memories of making brownies with my mom and my sister and my grandmother. It’s just such a comforting food. It’s one of my favorite things. There’s something so simple and satisfying about a warm brownie and a glass of milk.

If friends showed up at your house unannounced, would you be able to make them a meal using just the ingredients in your fridge?

Oh, yeah. I have a beautiful gift from our butcher, Pat LaFrieda. It’s a 60-day dry-aged bone-in rib-eye steak with a really long bone; a tomahawk cut. If I had to do something on the fly, I would probably pull the hibachi out, get that thing nicely crusted on the outside, and then I’d take the bitter greens and make a salad and toss it with a light vinaigrette, just enough to cut through the richness of the meat. For dessert, I’d probably pull out some brownies and serve them with some cold-brewed coffee. And my guests would leave doing back flips.

Can you give us a date when this is going to happen?

Probably this weekend. Just come out to Brooklyn and follow the smell.

Caroline Fidanza
Chef, Little Chef and Saltie

12

When you knew a photographer was coming over, did you prep your fridge or just leave it as is?

I was tempted to do a big overhaul, but in the end I left it alone. I’m still nervous about it, and I wonder how my fridge will compare to the others. It reminds me of a time years ago when I was being pursued by a guy I was very interested in, and as soon as we committed to going on a date, my immediate reaction was to clean my refrigerator. We could analyze this any number of ways, but even I was struck by the strangeness of my reaction as I cleaned and prepped my fridge for love. He ended up dumping me.

Is there anything in your fridge that makes you self-conscious?

I feel like everybody has sriracha sauce, to the point where I almost took it out. I was like, do I want to be that person? I was self-conscious about not having any booze. I don’t drink at home that much, which is probably a good thing.

What about food that’s been in there a little too long?

There’s a jar of taramasalata, which I bought in Astoria at some point years ago. It’s probably five years old by now and I’m pretty sure it’s moldy. It might even be turning blue. But I just don’t want to get rid of it. I don’t know why. I guess it reminds me of a specific time in my life. I love it, even though I don’t love it enough to eat it. I do have a lot of souvenirs in my refrigerator. A lot of things that people have given me that I am reluctant to throw away.

You keep them because of nostalgia?

There’s an emotional attachment. There are things that we carry with us in our refrigerator, as well as other parts of our life, that have these meanings that make them hard to throw away. There’s a brick of molé that somebody brought me from Mexico that’s in my refrigerator, which I had every intention of using at some point, although now who knows how old it is. I have a lot of salsas. Somebody made me a salsa as a Christmas gift, which I can’t throw away cause it was a gift, even though I’ve used one quarter inch out of the entire bottle. I also have some wild rice from Michigan that somebody gave me, and it was kind of fresh when they gave it to me, and now it’s like four years old. But again, not going in the garbage. I won’t get rid of any of it until I’m forced to move out of my apartment. I like that they’re in there and I kinda want them to stay there.

This is starting to feel like therapy.

It really is, isn’t it? Maybe I just don’t want my refrigerator to be totally empty. Because sometimes it is totally empty. And these things are sort of placeholders. They’re there when nobody else is. If they disappeared too, then I would have absolutely nothing. And that would probably be terribly depressing.

Is there any old food in your fridge that you could bring yourself to throw away?

There’s an embarrassing potato. It’s just a boiled potato that isn’t wrapped, and it has an ugly skin on it, which I’m going to peel before I eat it. I’m a little embarrassed to have anybody see it. It’s a very unattractive potato.

What’s in the red pot?

That’s Garbure, a classic French stew. I had never made it before, so I followed the Paula Wolfert recipe from ‘‘The Cooking of Southwest France’’ to the letter, and it was a stodgy, unappealing mush that I had about eight quarts of. No offense, Paula, I still love you.

How about that salad in the wooden bowl?

I made that with the escarole that you can see in the bag, a potato and some vinaigrette. I ate it with some sardines on top.

What do you think your refrigerator says about you and your personality?

It’s very much a healthy person’s refrigerator. I don’t really get takeout ever. It’s mostly whole, raw foods in there. The stuff that lingers are condiments. It’s not a family fridge or a mom fridge. It’s very obviously a single person’s fridge. It’s not very well stocked, and it’s very singular in its tastes.

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