Summer vacation looks a little different this year. If you’re lucky enough to escape town (and it’s safe to do so where you are), you’ll probably be road-tripping to a nearby state, and you may even turn what would normally be a weekend away into an extended stay, due to current work-from-home conditions. Pockets of the country are slowly opening back up, but going to restaurants remains iffy — so while you might be taking a vacation, you can’t really take a vacation from cooking. With that in mind, we reached out to three chefs, all of whom have decamped for the Catskills region of upstate New York after working in New York City, and asked for their recommendations on what to bring for a well-stocked short-term kitchen. Here’s what chefs Elise Kornack and Anna Hieronimus, who formerly ran Michelin-starred restaurant Take Root, and Danny Newberg, founder of traveling food project Joint Venture, have to say.
Knives you find in a rental house are usually dull or not up to snuff if you plan on doing some serious cooking. So bring your own chef’s knife (and maybe invest in a knife roll to prevent it from slipping out and accidentally cutting someone). “One of our favorite knife brands is Shun, but pretty much any sharp knife will do for a monthlong stint,” Kornack and Hieronimus say. “This size of chef’s knife is very versatile, and can come in handy for anything from chopping fresh herbs to breaking down a chicken. Plus, a good chef’s knife is a great investment.”
A rental may very well have a cutting board, but it’s hard to be sure how much a cutting board has been used or how well it’s been cleaned. So bring your own. “It’s important that you have a fresh and clean surface to prep meals,” Kornack says. “Personally, we like wood because it’s less slippery.”
Instead of bringing a carful of paper towels to your rental, consider the humble, eminently reusable bar towel, a staple of any restaurant or bar. “These towels are zero waste and are super inexpensive for a dozen,” Kornack and Hieronimus say. “They can be reused and washed over and over.”
Let’s be honest: Another family or group of people was probably in your rental before you were and they might have used the cutlery. For peace of mind, consider bringing a cutlery set to your rental. “During a pandemic, it’s important to make sure your cutlery is clean, and depending on how many people you are sharing a space with, it’s essential to make sure everyone has their own set with fork, knife, and spoon,” Kornack and Hieronimus say.
Of all the kitchen tools that may be missing at your rental, a good can opener is one of the most likely objects you won’t be able to find. So bring one with you if you’re going to be opening a lot of cans. Plus, as Hieronimus and Kornack point out, “they can also double as a bottle opener.”
Sheet pans are the kitchen workhorse you’ll want around at your rental. They’re ideal for big meals, like roasted vegetables, late-night chocolate chip cookies, or whole roasted chicken. “We use our sheet pan almost every day,” Kornack says. “It makes roasting vegetables and other foods super easy. We love cooking outside and grill year-round. The sheet pan is also a great vehicle for bringing food, both cooked and raw, and other supplies from inside the kitchen out to the grill.”
If you’re starting to worry about how you’re going to fit all this stuff into the trunk of your rental, don’t. Last winter, Hieronimus’s mom gifted her this multi-tool, which features a cheese grater, zester, garlic crusher, channel knife, small paring knife, serrated knife, peeler, fork, spoon, bottle opener, corkscrew, and can opener. “We take it everywhere we go,” says Hieronimus. “It has everything you need to prep an entire meal, whether you’re in a rental or by the campfire.” Plus, it’s stainless steel, so it won’t rust.
The more remote your rental is, the less likely it is that there will be a third-wave coffee shop or Starbucks anywhere nearby, so you’re going to want your own coffee-maker. Kornack and Hieronimus, who say “morning coffee is a ritual we swear by,” prefer a French press for at-home coffee-making and for travel. “A coffee press produces no waste, compared to a coffee machine that uses coffee pods or a filter,” they point out. “The leftover coffee grounds are also a great addition to any compost or garden. This year we poured our excess grounds around our strawberry plants and they are producing more berries than last season.”
Finally, if you plan on making day trips to nearby towns or parks, make sure you have a cooler and ice packs so you can bring food and drinks along. “Ice packs are reusable, and unlike bags of ice, you won’t end up with a cooler filled with water,” Kornack and Hieronimus say. “If you don’t already have a cooler, it’s something that will come in handy again and again. We prefer a soft cooler because it can fit more than a hard one, and this one is expandable and easy to carry!”
Rather than fill a box with all the contents of your spice rack, Kornack and Hieronimus recommend bringing along a few key spices and leaving the rest at home. Right now, they say they’re obsessed with this trio of single-origin spices that includes pragati turmeric, guntur sannam chilli, and aranya peppercorns and was produced by indigenous farmers in India. “Diaspora Co. is creating a new and equitable version of the spice trade,” they say. “Though a rental property may come stocked with a few spices, we doubt they will be as intentionally produced and distributed. We particularly love the turmeric, which we regularly use to season rice before cooking.”
Kornack is the kind of person who puts hot sauce on just about anything, but not just any old bottle of Cholula will do. The pair likes to stock up on hot sauces from Basbaas, Somali-American chef Hawa Hassan’s company. “These two sauces are versatile,” Kornack says. “The Coconut Cilantro Chutney is tangy and spicy, while the Tamarind Date sauce is sweet, smoky, and a bit more mild. Both are vegan and gluten-free and delicious.”
Anyone looking to truly connect with their inner homesteader may want to bring along a sourdough starter and what Newberg calls “all the important flours,” including bread flour, all-purpose flour, and whole-wheat flour, so you can make your own bread while you’re away.
All three chefs recommend bringing a good olive oil with you. “I use it for just about everything I cook,” says Newberg. The world of mass-produced olive oil is known to be a bit murky, but that’s not a problem with this oil, which is sourced from Calabria, Italy, by an American couple. “They’re producing olive oil with their interest and knowledge in nutrition, wine-making, and design,” Kornack and Hieronimus say. If you can’t wait a few days for a bottle, there are plenty of other fantastic options you can find at your local grocer.