On kitchens

My kitchen is on the sea, sailing to me in boxes.

I have Japanese knives in my suitcase, in newspaper and masking tape. My cocktail shaker is in a wardrobe in Kuala Lumpur. I’ve lost track of the location of my only reliable potato peeler.

There is an Airbnb in a converted nurses’ residence with a bookshelf arranged by colour; charming ferns in the sunroom, but no hot water in the shower after I’ve washed my hair. The kitchen is small, my host wrote to me, but kitted out. Don’t worry, we’ve cooked so many meals in there.

There is a single hotplate for a kitchen with a single crepe pan. On a night of utter desperation, I use it to sear kangaroo.

There are weeks of misshapen couches and musty duvets, spare rooms with juicers in the cupboard and visiting cats. Weeks turn into months, as I sleep in other people’s linen, searching for a place of my own.

I cook in their kitchens: to say thank you, to feel a part of something. I cook for moments of tangible achievement, of identity; because what I make reminds me who I am.

There have always been far flung makeshift dinner parties: poached coconut Nile perch in Juba, miso clam chowder in Amsterdam. But now, even I’m sick of my easy-zucchini-basil-ricotta-warm-gratitude-salad. While toasting slivered almonds to top lamb, I set a tea towel on fire.

Kitchens are intensely personal places: where the teaspoons go in the dishwasher, use of the good olive oil.

Kitchens are telling of their chefs.

Chantal Dartnall’s at Mosaic is filled with hanging copper pots, edible flowers and earnest nods; Provencal grandmother meets Afrikaans charm. Luke Dale-Roberts’ many kitchens are wallless, lightly industrial-careless-hipster, muted pot banging and confident efficiency on show. Years ago, I spent an evening in the Roundhouse kitchen: crammed stainless steel, tightly-wound, infused with gossip about pastry chef love affairs and mild passive aggression.

For now, I have no kitchen. I am drifting, lost. I decide I need a cast-iron cookware anchor.

In Sydney, Le Creuset has an annual warehouse sale.

There are marshals in highlighter yellow, hazard tape barriers; a factory carpark under a low-cost airline flightpath filled with latest model BMWs.

Inside, there is a crazed Chinese consumerist frenzy: hundreds of hands reaching across hundreds of panicked bodies, leaping over crates, pawing through other people’s boxes of bounty.

No, but I’m collecting all the colours! a petite woman screams at her husband.

Don’t you be putting down that stainless steel kettle, luv - a marshal hisses at me - If you do, it’ll disappear like that. She clicks her fingers, presumably to convey the extreme speed of a platinum credit card swipe.

The queue takes 3 hours.

I consider leaving, but bit by bit, victory edges ever closer; painfully slowly enough to breed demoralisation, but close enough for me to almost touch.

I consider the decision-making that got me here, right here: the sacrifices, the blind determination. And for better or worse, decide to stay a little longer.


Single hotplate kitchens, airbnb.com
All of Luke’s kitchens at lukedaleroberts.com
Chantal’s copper pots at Mosaic, +27 12 371 2902, www.restaurantmosaic.com
Historical passive aggression at the Roundhouse, +27 21 438 4347, www.theroundhouserestaurant.com
Le Creuset cookware, www.lecreuset.com