Cooked to Perfection
You’ve likely coveted Ali Cayne’s interiors, captured in photo shoots of her West Village town house and her cooking school, Haven’s Kitchen. But until now, unless you’ve stopped by the café at Haven’s Kitchen, housed in a charming Chelsea carriage house, or attended one of her cooking classes, you’ve been missing out on Cayne’s greatest asset: her insanely delicious food.
Lucky for us, Cayne’s latest project, released earlier this spring, is a cookbook that aims to demystify the cooking process and build a lifetime of confidence in the kitchen. Divided into nine chapters, each focusing on a singular lesson, The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School champions the importance of cooking for our well-being, our relationships, our society, and our planet. To celebrate the book’s launch, The Maryn hosted an evening of drinks and light bites at Haven’s Kitchen. We sat down with Cayne during the event to hear more about how she creates the right mood for a party, her suggestions for a no-fail dinner menu, and the importance of being a happy host.
Tell us a bit about what inspired you to write The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School. What do you hope readers will gain from it?
I started Haven’s Kitchen with the goal of teaching and encouraging people to cook because it is good for them, the planet, and the people who grow our food. Part of that means getting them inspired: people will cook more if they see it as a fun and creative endeavor. But it can’t be fun without confidence and a basic understanding of the fundamentals of cooking. The cookbook takes our teaching philosophy and gives it more reach than what we can do within the four walls of our carriage house. I wanted to offer a “how to cook” cookbook that didn’t dumb things down, while also inspiring and giving home cooks the creative freedom to make what they want to eat.
How do you go about creating the right mood for a dinner party or an event?
There are a few big-picture ideas I think about before I get down to brass tacks: Who’s coming? Do they know each other? What type of food or setting will help break the ice or nudge them to meet new people? Is there a new seasonal food at the market I’m excited about? Do the guests need a festive evening or something more comforting and bonding? To me, a “celebrate summer” type of party should imbue a little optimism, a peaceful color palette, and a lot of vibrant vegetables. Most of your guests have seen mason jars and herbs on the napkins; they’re not looking for gimmicky place settings. There’s nothing more beautiful during summer than a simple table with beautiful flowers and herbs (not blocking people’s views!) and some crisp linens. And I always say this, but it bears repeating: a happy host is the best mood setter. No matter how gorgeous your table or how delicious the menu, if the host is anxious and frazzled, the guests will inevitably be as well.
What are your suggestions for a no-fail dinner menu?
Every great cook, from Julia Child to Amanda Hesser, has extolled the virtues of a roast chicken [find Cayne’s recipe on p. 268 of her cookbook]. You really cannot go wrong, and once you get the hang of it, I promise, it’s much less daunting. Serve it with a few dipping sauces, such as salsa verde [p. 303] or herby tahini [p. 295], a nice loaf of bread, and a salad [chapter 6]. All the recipes in the book are meant to make your meals no-fail!
For someone just starting to stock a home kitchen—whether it’s in a first apartment or as part of a wedding registry—what advice would you offer for filling your shelves with tools you’ll actually use?
To start, a wooden spoon, a chef’s knife, a paring knife, a Dutch oven, and a cast iron pan. You can make everything with them. A Vitamix blender and a Cuisinart food processor—items you wouldn’t most likely buy for yourself—are also great registry gifts and last a lifetime.