The Five-Star Kitchen

The Five-Star Kitchen

 

An acclaimed chef’s kitchen combines professional quality with homey details.

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Story by Elena Rover

Photographs by Philip Jensen-Carter

 

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   (Left) Two stools provide a place for guests to watch their chefs prepare dishes.
   
(Right) Chef Jim Botsacos, Jr., his daugher, Sofia, and Jim Botsacos Sr. gather nearly every weekend to cook family meals.  
   

 

You can’t have too many cooks in James Botsacos’s kitchen—or too many guests. For the Botsacos family, the more the merrier. The two-story addition James Botsacos, Sr. crafted onto his waterfront Mamaroneck home in 2004 gives the family a spacious 1,000-square-foot kitchen with work areas to accommodate several chefs. And, more often than not, at least a dozen salivating spectators.

 The expanded space was nothing short of an imperative. Botsacos, owner of a Toyota dealership in Flemington, New Jersey, and his mother, Gloria, still a fixture in the kitchen at age 85, passed along their talent in the culinary arts to Jim’s son, Jim Jr., today the renowned chef partner at Molyvos, the award-winning Greek restaurant in midtown Manhattan, and Abboccato, an Italian restaurant that had New York Magazine raving about the chef’s “competence and ambition.”

Competence and ambition are a family tradition. A typical Sunday will find Gloria in the baking corner working on her spinach pie, Jim Sr. making pizza with his six-year-old granddaughter, Sofia, and Jim Jr. putting together the antipasto—olives, cheeses, salamis, roasted peppers, and meze—while the chef’s wife, Maria, helps with prep work and getting food on the table for the kids. And although he’s not quite two, James III (aka Dimitri) is getting introduced to the culinary arts by his dad. A favorite task: cracking eggs while counting them. “He has to learn a little about patience,” says Jim Jr., author of The New Greek Cuisine (Broadway Books). “He wants to grab the next one and put his hands in.”

 

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Having moved to Mamaroneck when Jim Jr. was 10 years old, the family’s multi-generational cooks had bumped elbows over the four-burner stove in the family’s previous kitchen, which was located at the front of the house. So when it was time to upgrade, the Botsacos clan had some specific ideas.

 

 

 

 

(Above) With 10 knobs and double ovens, a 12-burner Jade professional range takes center stage in the Botsacos’s kitchen. Above the range are a large Captivaire exhaust hood and a Salamander broiler (a commercial appliance that browns cheese or finishes off main dishes).

 

“They knew just what they wanted,” says the kitchen’s designer, Rita Luisa Garces of Bilotta Kitchens in New York City. “There were challenges of scale, such as accommodating multiple cooks and numerous cooking areas. These are not home cooks, and there’s more than a slight difference—even when it comes to small things like the number of knives or spices to store.”

The No. 1 challenge: accommodating a 12-burner Jade professional range with a huge Captivaire exhaust hood and a Salamander broiler (a restaurant-kitchen staple that browns cheese or finishes off dishes such as fish, chicken, or steak in a way standard ovens can’t). The range’s eight central burners have a contiguous grate so pans can slide in any direction. At the right end, a pair of burners is covered with a hotplate/griddle, and on the other end, two burners are adapted as a char-broiler grill, with results similar to any outdoor counterpart. Is it any wonder the grand range was given a place of prominence? “When we host big dinner parties, we put the hotplate on low and use it to hold the sauces at the proper temperature,” Jim Jr. says.

 

A counter-height island, with a white-marble top, blocks the work-a-day view of the stove’s 10 knobs, two dials, and double ovens, with four pairs of long stainless-steel tongs hanging from the oven doors. And the island’s additional workspace is often required. “On the holidays, my cousins usually help in the kitchen,” Jim Jr. explains. Two stools provide perches for guests, sitting ready to lend a hand (or, better yet, to taste). A few steps away is a second island, this one two-tiered to serve and seat dining visitors. The stainless-steel, counter-height tier is perfect for buffet dishes, while the table-height, cherry-stained wood surface has four mustard-colored retro chairs for sitting back to enjoy the show and, later, to savor the end product.

 

 

 

(Left) The Botsacos clan—Dimitri, Jim Jr., Jim Sr., and Sofia—stop to sample the fruits of their labor. A soft green built-in-breakfront offers a spot to store glasses and, beside it, stand a 36-inch GE Monogram refrigerator and Sub-Zero wine cooler that can hold up to 175 bottles.

   
(Right) Gloria Botsacos has claimed the baking area, with its white Carrera marble counter set low at 30 inches to ease the task of kneading dough. The wall over the counter was removed to take advantage of water views. A GE Profile stainless-steel microwave and a double Miele oven stand on the adjacent wall.  
   

 

To bring a personal touch to the space, the father-son team and designer incorporated sculptures from the family art collection, small oil paintings, and hand-painted tiles depicting labels of favorite wines and oft-used vegetables. (Sonya Design, a once-local company that has since relocated to California, was contracted to create the custom tiles.) Arched windows flanking the stove, crown moldings, and white beadboarding provide the Old-World feel that Jim Sr. prefers. Custom cabinets in a pure white matte finish with stainless steel bin pulls and clear crystal knobs were designed by Garces and manufactured by a custom cabinet shop. Had the décor been his to choose, Jim Jr. would have opted for a more modern style (although his sensibilities are somewhat appeased by the stainless-steel fixtures).

 

The emphasis on practicality is apparent even in the toe-kicks, made of the same terracotta tile as the floor, found from Rye Ridge Tile in Port Chester. “In commercial kitchens, wood toe kicks would get beat up and dirty when they sweep through with the mop,” Garces notes. Tile, on the other hand, is easy to clean and maintain.

 

The Botsacos cooks work well together in the new space. Jim Jr. and his family come up from their Upper West Side co-op and Gloria from her apartment in Riverdale to turn out a succulent meal nearly every weekend. “We spend a few hours noshing on the antipasto and mezedes,” Jim Jr. says, “then we have pasta, just a quick marinara or something with greens like zucchini with cannellini beans and a touch of tomato.” A kitchen garden, just a few steps outside, provides fresh produce and herbs, with some hearty stalks, such as rosemary, staying strong all winter. “Then, there’s always meat—chicken, lamb, beef,” he says.

 

 

(Above) Hand-painted tiles depicting labels of favorite wines and frequently used vegetables help personalize the room.

 

The kitchen hums with activity, and the cooks each know their place: Gloria is often found in the baking alcove with its counter of white Carrera marble set low at 30 inches for kneading dough. A Cuisinart food processor and Tristar juicer stand sentry to the right, while a KitchenAid mixer and DeLonghi toaster occupy the left. The wall above the baking counter was removed to allow for water views and natural light. One side of the nook hosts a standard-height marble counter for prep work and a cookbook collection, a small undercounter freezer, upper cabinets, and, set into the wall, a GE Profile stainless-steel microwave plus a double Miele oven with a plate warmer underneath. Opposite is the pantry door, an ample closet lined with wood slotted shelves and stocked with staples.

 

Jim Sr., who is left-handed, sets up to the right of the stove while his right-handed son takes the left side. “Every cook has a preferred side, although many don’t realize it,” Garces says. Thankfully the two Jims don’t clash, which allows each to set up his mis en place, favored workspace arrangement with olive oil, salt, a chopping board, and other necessities always at hand. Sinks molded from the same piece of stainless steel as the countertop make for a seamless, easy-to-clean surface. Tucked into each corner of the counter, the stainless steel gives nod to the food-safety practices of the professionally trained, which exceed those of the typical gourmet home cook.

 

“One is much larger and reserved for washing meats and poultry, while the other is for rinsing vegetables, fruits, and other items,” Garces explains. “They never break this rule so as to avoid contamination, such as spreading salmonella.” The stainless-steel countertops flanking the stove are also a classic chef’s choice. “The anti-microbial and durable surface is commonly used in commercial kitchens,” she adds.

 

Another accommodation to professional sensibilities is the two dishwashers. The first, a Fisher/Taykel double-drawer version, is used for dishes and glasses, providing Jim Sr. with the option to use a single drawer when dining alone. The second is a staple in food-service establishments: the Hobart, which runs at 180 degrees (standard is 130 to 150 degrees) and finishes a cycle in three minutes for quick turnaround in a busy kitchen. Finishing off the steel appliances are a looming 36-inch GE Monogram refrigerator and adjacent Sub-Zero two-zone wine cooler that holds 175 bottles.

 

To make the transition from professional to personal, an earthy green built-in breakfront was installed, providing a splash of color and furniture styling. Just beyond lies the dining room, ready to seat 12 at the long table. A vaulted sloped ceiling and a bank of windows adds drama by capturing evening sunsets and glimpses of the garden and water below.

 

On the opposite end of the kitchen, a built-in mahogany sideboard with a beverage basin stands below glass display shelves stocked with crystal, just a few steps from the new family room that leads out to a much-used deck with prized views of the docks. Floor-to-ceiling windows, a grand fireplace, and a cozy seating ensemble of comfortable couches and leather wing chairs invite guests into the room. But, despite its elegance and panorama, the space never quite gets the same attention as the room beside it. “We’re always hanging out in the kitchen,” Jim Jr. says. “The kids are already learning that food is at the center.”

 

Elena Rover is a journalist based in Katonah. She has written for Marie Claire, Real Simple, Life, and many other publications.

 

 

 

 

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