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. As part of a three-part series, in this round, we peek into the culinary caverns of the kitchen of Michael Mina.
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 wood-fire 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 to 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?
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.