I grew up in the mountains of Caracas, Venezuela, and our kitchen was very big. I would spend a lot of time in that room with my mother, an amazing cook who loved to entertain guests there. I've never had a kitchen that lived up to my memories of the one from my childhood. So when, a few years ago, after decades of apartment living, I decided to have a house built in Miami Beach, I made the kitchen the centerpiece, with lots of room for guests. My architect asked how much space I needed for the kitchen, and I told him 1,000 square feet! Big, I know, but when I have visitors I cook a lot of food, and I wanted to be able to feed as many people as possible.
The kitchen at Lorena Garcia Cocina, the restaurant in Miami where I spend most of my time, is very industrial, so I wanted my home kitchen to be a more relaxed place to cook and write. I kept it light and clean: white countertops and cupboards, polished concrete floors. The Latin foods I make, like salsas and chiles and sofrito, are so colorful that the kitchen works sort of as a blank canvas that lets the vibrant dishes shine. Everything was designed for how I cook at home; the cabinets and counters were built according to my height, and there's a pizza oven, a flattop on the stove for toasting tortillas, an induction cooktop for long-simmered stews, and a huge island with a gas range built into it for preparing dishes that require quick, intense fire.
I travel so much these days that when I'm back in Miami, I almost always want to eat at home. Usually I invite my friends and family over. We gather around the huge kitchen island and make tacos, or I bake pizzas for everyone and do my take on bananas Foster, which I make with plantains instead of bananas.
When I'm cooking at home alone, I turn off most of the lights, except the one in the oven hood and a few of the track lights above, so they focus only on the parts of the kitchen where I'm cooking. I like to play music too, so there's a speaker system that I can plug my iPod into. I'll put on a little salsa, some merengue, even Jennifer Lopez—anything I can dance to while I cook.
In this kitchen:
- I wanted the kitchen to be as well lit as possible, so I installed track lighting, which lets me turn a spotlight on the part of the kitchen where I'm working.
- An induction cooktop keeps my kitchen cool—even when I'm making dishes that cook low and slow, like black bean guiso.
- My grandmother cooked with heavy cast-iron pots called calderos. I just developed a line of cookware based on them, though mine are nonstick and far lighter.
- People often associate me with the chopping I do on TV. Most of it's done with Japanese knives. I prefer them for their sturdiness and heft.
- I put in one wall of cement tiles painted ocean blue to remind me of what's right outside my door: Miami Beach.
- I grind herbs and spices for sauces and vinaigrettes using my mother's mortar and pestle, which helps retain the flavors better than a food processor can.
—Lorena Garcia, chef, cookbook author, and host of Sazon con Lorena and Lorena en Su Salsa