Stanhope's advice for home chefs

Looking to set up your own kitchen? FIG Executive Chef Jason Stanhope shares his advice for the home chef:

Don't get hung up on pretty cookware. A lot of good cookware isn't beautiful. Like copper is beautiful but it's hard to take care of.

Put pots in reach on racks. If you haven't used it in eight months because it's in the back of a cabinet, you're not going to.

Don't buy everything at once. Start with the basics. Once you figure out how to use a cast-iron skillet, then get the Dutch oven, then the Vitamix. Take your time, buy one piece at a time, figure out what you need. What you won't need is specialty equipment like a knife that is used for just one thing.

Get equipment that invites help. Everybody should have a pasta roller. It's interactive; you need people to help. And pasta is a good vessel for the seasons. Tomatoes in the summer, artichokes and morels in the fall, root vegetables in the winter.

Use furniture that does double duty. A moveable butcher block is great because you can chop on it, or you can move it to another room and have drinks on it.

Helen Mitternight

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories about how some of Charleston's best chefs equip their home kitchens.

By Helen Mitternight

Special to The Post and Courier

In a house near Memminger Auditorium, Jason Stanhope is showing off his surprisingly tiny kitchen. For the past eight months, the newly named executive chef of FIG has shared an apartment with Anna Kate Lister, owner of the Heirloom Bookshop, a vintage cookbook store tucked away in an alley off Broad Street.

Pride of place goes to an Elvis clock, his hips swinging off the minutes. The clock was a gift from chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris and Second Line in Memphis.

"It's the coolest thing ever, although he doesn't move quite as well as he used to," Stanhope says with a laugh as he sits at a small table next to the kitchen and answers a list of questions.

Did you design your own kitchen?

"Design?" Stanhope laughs and gestures to the half-oven with four electric burners. "Um, no. I told Anna Kate when I moved in, we have to make this kitchen work."

What kitchen equipment was non-negotiable?

"The John Boos butcher block. Everybody uses it. And I can make things on it while Anna Kate sits next to it and tastes. Also some kind of heavy cast-iron Dutch oven, like Le Creuset," Stanhope says.

"And the KitchenAid because nobody wants to do the work of the KitchenAid. It's a workhorse. And the Vitamix is sacred. When ours breaks at work, they want to borrow mine. I just tell them to treat their own Vitamix nicer. And I use a chinois to refine. At FIG, we puree everything and the Vitamix makes silky purees and then you pass them through the chinois to catch any stray chunks."

He swears by that combination for old-fashioned macaroni and cheese. It's a trick chef Mike Lata, founder and partner of FIG, taught him.

"If you're making mac and cheese, you make an old-school bechamal sauce, then you spin it in the Vitamix," Stanhope says. "It turns the sauce elegant and not as clumpy and frumpy."

What piece of kitchen equipment would you take to a desert island?

"I would take ingredients instead," Stanhope counters. "Celeste's (Albers) eggs would win hands down, but since she's not doing them anymore, I'd bring a stash of hot sauce. At FIG, the kitchen staff always puts hot sauce on whatever we eat; it's the great equalizer."

Stanhope says he prefers Woodberry Kitchen Snake Oil and Tabasco sauce.

"I'd also bring Pommery Meaux Mustard from Caviar & Bananas and Fage 2 percent Greek Yogurt, the healthier cousin of creme fraiche."

How often do you use your own kitchen?

"We entertain every couple of months," Stanhope says, adding that most recently the couple hosted a paella dinner, clearing a bookcase to create a food staging area and moving the butcher block as needed.

What's your at-home specialty?

"Anna Kate makes the best cookies ever," Stanhope says loyally. "We also do 'Super Frenchy' Sundays. We get oysters from the Ordinary, some kind of crusty bread from Brown's Court Bakery, mustard and wine from Caviar & Bananas. I put in chicken thighs, tarragon, mustard, white wine, and I braise the chicken. I like a perfectly roasted chicken too, but we set the smoke alarm off every time."

What would you add to your kitchen if money were no object?

"If I had enough money, I'd get a gas oven or maybe induction burners. A double-stacked oven with a planchette in the middle. And an open kitchen with all the rooms in the house coming off the kitchen," he says.

"Oh, and every cook wants a hood that works, a big overhead stainless steel hood."

Stanhope says that he regularly sets off the smoke alarms in his apartment because he doesn't have a hood. He recalls that he and Lata were cooking on Sullivan's Island during a Spoleto Auction dinner.

"It was a fancy house, and we were searing fish. And we set off all the smoke alarms. It was really embarrassing."