THEY SAY THE KITCHEN IS THE HEART OF THE HOME. After all, it’s where family and friends always gather. Kitchens are also personal. They reflect our home life and heritage, our cooking style and aesthetic preference. Perhaps that’s why many of us never tire of looking at other people’s kitchens for design and lifestyle inspiration. In that spirit, here we’ve set our sights high and invited ourselves into the homes of three celebrated local chefs who rock — in their restaurants, their business ventures, and, yes, onstage — to see what makes them tick in their kitchens. We admired their cabinetry, marveled over appliances and even got to play with fire. And we left with our curiosity, and our appetites, very satisfied.
SAMMY HAGAR RAISES the bar when it comes to multitasking. The Mill Valley rocker, restaurateur, cookbook author, and spirits merchandiser is a successful businessman in a number of coveted métiers. So when it comes to cooking at home, Hagar likes to keep things low-key and simple. Entertaining? You bet, but as Hagar essentially entertains for a living and owns a number of restaurants that can easily host a party (such as the cozy-elegant El Paseo in Mill Valley), who needs to party big in one’s downtime? When he is home, it’s all about making food for his family and a few friends in his open kitchen with panoramic views of mountainous bliss. We navigated a vertiginous canyon road to visit Hagar and his wife, Kari, in their midcentury-modern home perched in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais, and we concluded that his cookbook pretty much sums up their lifestyle with its title Are We Having Any Fun Yet? Yes, they are.
You divide your time between Mill Valley, Cabo and Maui. What distinguishes the Mill Valley kitchen from the others? For our Mill Valley kitchen we went all out when we remodeled it, because it’s our main residence. That said, we made sure Cabo and Maui both have very nice kitchens too.
What changes did you make or challenges did you face when when you renovated the kitchen? Our house is solid steel-reinforced concrete, so installing the plumbing for a second sink in the center island was challenging but worth the mess and the jackhammering. A center island and work space with an extra sink is a must in my kitchens.
Are there any specific design tweaks that are unique to you? I like to have both electric and gas burners. Electric is more consistent for low simmering. I use them both when cooking.
What is your favorite aspect of your kitchen? It’s all laid out right there. Everything is in reaching distance — refrigerator, stove and oven, with lots of counter and chopping space. Great prep areas are essential.
If you could add or change one thing in your kitchen, what would it be? I would spread my stove burners farther apart. As they are now, it’s very difficult to use more than two large pans at the same time.
What role does the kitchen play in the context of your home life? Food prep, and it is the heart of the family.
How many cooks in the kitchen? Who does the most cooking? I like no more than two people in the kitchen at once, and I am definitely one of them. I do most of the cooking. My wife, Kari, is the salad queen.
Favorite utensil or special appliance you can’t live without? A good cutting board, a good sharp knife, a nice pair of tongs, a good sautéing pan and spatula, and I’m there.
Your favorite way to host a dinner party/entertain guests? Put out some nibbles like cured meats, bread, cheese and champagne or a nice chilled white wine and leave the guests to help themselves outside of the kitchen while I prepare the main course. I try to do all the prep work first and do the actual cooking while the guests are there. Our kitchen is set up so you can watch without getting in the way.
Whom would you like to have as a dinner guest or cook with? I’ve cooked for some of the great chefs: Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Julian Serrano, Roger Verge, Peter Merriman and many more. Jose Andres is a friend, but I have yet to cook for him, so he is on the bucket list.
Favorite meals to prepare at home? Any pasta dish, roast chicken, tacos of any kind and paella.
What is your favorite way to cook with rum? I love cooking with rum these days. It has a sweetness that works well with spicy food, and it makes a wonderful concentrated reduced citrus sauce. I use my own rum, of course, and prefer white un-aged for cooking.
What three ingredients can be found in your Mill Valley refrigerator at all times? Eggs, good fresh tortillas and salsa.
A SELF-PROCLAIMED KITCHEN GYPSY (also the title of her newest cookbook), Joanne Weir has traveled and eaten around the world but resides in the Bay Area, where she shares her culinary notes in her cooking classes, award-winning cookbooks and television shows. And just in case that doesn’t keep her busy enough, Weir also owns the award-winning Mexican restaurant Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito with partner Larry Mindel. We caught up with Weir at home in Pacific Heights between travels (she was packing for Marrakech the last time we checked), where she was, well, cooking, of course.
Who designed your kitchen? I designed it with the help of an architect friend, Chuck Thompson.
What changes did you make or challenges did you face when when you designed/renovated your kitchen? The house was built in 1890 and originally [the space included] three rooms, a kitchen, dining room and bedroom. We removed walls and made three rooms into one big open plan kitchen, living and dining room. I also had a fireplace and wanted to make it viable for cooking and spit-roasting. I brought in a Greek journeyman who specialized in fireplaces and he worked with me to make a functioning fireplace suitable for cooking. Jefferson Mack was brought in to design the ironwork.
What inspired your kitchen design? My kitchen was inspired by my travels. I collect as I go. I’ve carried back fabric from Italy, lights from Morocco and plates from Spain, Provence, Italy, Greece and Portugal.
What is your favorite aspect of your kitchen? I love that it’s open, inviting and warm. My kitchen is where everyone gathers. There is a lot of work space, which is perfect for the weekend classes that I do. After we all cook together, then we gather around the big table and share a meal. I love that.
If you could add or change one thing in your kitchen, what would it be? I would love more storage space but that’s not going to happen. I have to be choosy as to what I bring into the kitchen. Every tool, every pan has a purpose.
What role does the kitchen play in the context of your home life? I love to entertain and my kitchen is perfect for that. It truly is a gathering place for friends and family. We always seem to gather around the larger island for a glass of wine or a bite to eat. I also use it for my weekend cooking classes. I have enough space for eight to 10 people to cook plus two ovens and six burners.
How many cooks in the kitchen? I do all of the cooking for my husband and myself. Joe says that when he met me, he stopped cooking. He’s a great dishwasher.
Is there a favorite utensil or special appliance you can’t live without? I love my Vitamix for smoothies, pureed soups and instant sorbet. It’s the best.
Gas or induction? Gas — for me there’s no other way. One of the most common questions I am asked in interviews is what is my favorite range. Wolf is my answer. It’s the best commercial/ residential range.
Your favorite way to host a dinner party/entertain guests? I love to have friends for a drink first around the island and then a sit-down dinner with at least three courses.
Whom would you like to have as a dinner guest or cook with? Yotam Ottolenghi (a British chef, cookbook writer and restaurateur).
Favorite meals to prepare at home? Either a seasonal soup or salad to start, a leg of lamb that I spit-roast in the fireplace, and oftentimes I make a fresh fruit sorbet for dessert.
You have traveled to almost every continent. Do you have a favorite country and cuisine? I rent villas and conduct week-long culinary excursions to France, Italy, Spain, Morocco and Greece. I gravitate to the Mediterranean and love anything that has to do with olive oil and wine. These countries feed my soul.
What three ingredients can be found in your refrigerator at all times? Wine, amontillado sherry and a good bottle of champagne. A girl has to be prepared.
LIKE THE FLAVORS of a good recipe, there must be a balance in life, and for chef Michael Mina, this is an important maxim. When he isn’t traveling the country, managing his restaurants, writing cookbooks and devising new culinary concepts, Mina finds his balance at home with his family, where they cook together and entertain close friends. The setting? An expansive open-air kitchen outfitted with a wood fire oven, Viking appliances, a Big Green Egg cooker and a seating area fit for a party with a built-in bar to boot. Partially covered, which encourages year-round use, the space is framed by a bountiful garden and views of the rolling hills of West Marin. Should that not be enough to bring on the calm, Mina’s wife, Diane, is known to mix a mean bloody mary with freshly plucked heirloom tomatoes, which they harvest from their garden.
Who designed your outdoor kitchen? Local landscape designer Denise Wahl.
What were the design challenges you faced? Of course there are always challenges in design and implementation, but nothing atypical for an outdoor space. We were lucky in that regard.
Are there any specific design details that are unique to you? I specifically wanted a woodfire grill, since a lot of the Middle Eastern food and cooking I grew up with tastes best when cooked over a wood fire.
If you could choose just one grill component for a small kitchen, what would it be? I would choose the wood-fire grill — as it turns out, I use that more than anything else. However, it may not be doable for someone with a small kitchen. For a small outdoor kitchen, a basic gas grill is the best thing that you can get. It’s the most versatile.
Is there anything you would add or change in your kitchen? In general, I’m pretty happy with my kitchen. Most of our outdoor kitchen is covered, and it’s partially enclosed. We love hosting big Thanksgiving dinners outside. However, in the past few years, we’ve discovered that it gets cold out here. We’re in the process of building some “walls” with fabric so that we have a little bit more protection from the wind during the colder days.
Gas, charcoal or wood? Definitely wood.
How many cooks in the kitchen? My whole family loves to jump in. We all help with meals, but my wife, Diane, is definitely the head chef in our home. She keeps us all organized and having fun.
Can you tell us a little about your garden and what you like to incorporate into your outdoor cooking and entertaining? The garden is really my wife Diane’s domain. She has planted a number of crops over the years, but at this time, she’s mostly focused on planting tomatoes and herbs for her bloody marys. I definitely incorporate a lot of the herbs from the garden into my cooking.
What is your favorite way to entertain and host a dinner party? I don’t believe that being the host means you have to serve everyone. In order to enjoy the company of your friends and family as much as possible, consider doing some self-serve options. I like to open up the wine, place it on a side table with glasses, and encourage guests to help themselves instead of waiting to be served.
What are some of your favorite meals to prepare for family and friends? The wood oven really lends well to making amazing lafas (Middle Eastern flatbreads). We grill vegetables and fish, select fresh items from the garden and layer them all on these amazing yogurt flatbreads. They’re the perfect outdoor meal.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Turn up the Heat.”