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Small Kitchen, No Probelem

There is a common trope in NYC that people never cook. I remember my first visit to my current apartment, and it was clear that not much more than a cup of coffee was ever made in the galley kitchen.

I moved into my current home straight from the NYU dorms, and found it comical that my student living quarters had a larger and more complete oven than the apartment I now chose to call home. The prospect of cooking anything more complex than pasta in this cozy kitchenette seemed like an insurmountable challenge (leaving me to sympathize with the previous tenants) , and hence I worried I would turn into yet another cliche New Yorker who never cooked.

However, once I started familiarizing myself with my tiny kitchen, I began to fall in love with the paradoxical charm and challenge of cooking in a small space. It forced me to become resourceful, inventive, and efficient in my cooking endeavors. Every dish I made had to be mapped out, and I was constantly playing around with the layout of my counter as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. But in the challenge, I found thrill and excitement. To more quickly master the technique of cooking in a tiny kitchen, I embarked on my first blogging adventure, in which I ambitiously attempted to cook one dish representative of every country in the world, in alphabetical order. While ultimately I gave up on the blog somewhere in the middle of the “C” countries, experimenting with new dishes and cooking techniques taught me how to better utilize and manipulate my small space, as well as gave me more confidence as a cook.

To operate in a tiny kitchen, you must be able to embrace some sort of minimalism. You learn how to cook “the old fashioned way”, chopping instead of using a food processor, and mashing instead of blending, and tirelessly whipping batter by hand instead of using a mixer (though I did cave and get a small hand mixer so that I could make meringue). I also became a master of improvisation, using every nook and cranny to store spices, condiments, and cooking utensils, and using cutting boards to turn drawers into countertops.

Here are some of my main takeaways from working with a tiny kitchen:

  • Get to know your space- Familiarize yourself with every shelf, every drawer, space above, behind, and next to the fridge, and so on. The better you know your space, the better you will know how to maximize your storage, and arrange items in the most practical way. For instance, it took me 11 years to realize that not only could my swiffer fit in the super narrow space between the fridge and the wall, but some slim magnetic shelves (which attached to the fridge) which perfectly fit miscellaneous tools that previously were inconveniently stored in the back of a drawer.

  • Do a regular audit of your space - Unnecessary clutter is your worst enemy in a small space. If you have items that you haven’t used in a few months, really think hard about if they’re worth keeping.

  • Keep your fridge clean - When prepping for/ hosting a dinner party, you will need every available inch of your fridge (and possibly freezer) to be ready to store ingredients and dishes for the big event. As the fridge often becomes a graveyard for expired goods hiding in the depths of the shelves and crisper drawers, do a regular sweep of your fridge space to dispose of expired or spoiled items and take stock of items you haven't touched in recent memory.

  • Use a smaller trash can- In a small apartment there is no room for a large trash can, and a trash can that you can’t tuck underneath your sink is most likely taking up valuable space, and inconvenient.

  • Don’t be afraid to meal prep outside of the kitchen - When I’m working on plates that require lots of chopping or prep steps (and especially when baking), don’t be shy to set up a prep station outside of the kitchen, either on your dining table or a folding table set up in the living room.

  • Plan out menus in advance - If prepping for a dinner party, plan out each item you plan to cook, and consider each type of appliance/ utensils you will need so that you can come up with the best order to cook everything in.

  • Clean as you cook - Small kitchens often lack dishwashers. The more dishes you have stacked in the sink, the harder it will be to tackle the clean up. Also, as a small kitchen may mean you only have a few cooking utensils, you will want to clean everything as soon as you’re done using it to be prepared for your next cooking task.

Over time, I came to appreciate the character and charm of my tiny New York City apartment kitchen. It may not have been spacious, but it had taught me invaluable lessons about creativity, adaptability, and the joy of making the most of what you have. In a city where cooking is often dismissed as an impractical pursuit, I proudly wore my tiny kitchen badge as a symbol of my determination to defy stereotypes and savor the delights of homemade cuisine, no matter the size of the kitchen.

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