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PETER BUCHANAN-SMITH in a rarefied world, making elegant lookbooks for Isaac Mizrahi and pared-down packaging for Philip Glass. But his preferred cooking method is very down-to-earth: “The preparation itself is what I love most: selecting wood, chopping wood, making a blazing fire, poking the fire, blowing on the fire, adjusting vents, sipping a single malt, looking at a bird in the tree above, staring into the embers, waiting for the heat to get so hot it can melt glass, then throwing meat on it.”
Where did you buy your ingredients for this dish? I bought the meat at Lobel’s on the Upper East Side. Lobel’s is one of the last great independent butchers in the area. But I love Lobel’s not because they are part of a dying breed, but because they do meat better than Whole Foods could ever dream.
Is this a dish you often make? If so, why?
Ihave made this dish a lot. I love it because it’s an event in and of itself: 90 percent of the work is spent in the preparation and nine percent cooking and one percent eating. Once you take the meat off the grill, the fun is over and it becomes this very brutal, primal process of devouring that depresses me. In that sense, I totally understand why most chefs design kitchens that are separate from where the eating takes place.
Did you have any mishaps while making this dish, or did it go smoothly?
It went very smoothly. It was raining pretty hard, which meant that it was difficult to get the desired heat (1000 degrees).
Do you cook often? Do you enjoy preparing meals? Is there someone you cook for, beside yourself?
I love to cook most of all for my wife, and then guests. It used to be nerve-racking cooking for guests when we lived in a tiny East Village apartment. Since then we moved to New Jersey and have ample room—and don’t let anyone fool you, that makes all the difference. You need space to play, and you need to be inspired by that space. I have a nice garden that I can grill in. Before, it was on a sticky tar roof, against co-op rules!
Do you draw any connection between the food you like to make and the kind of design you do? Is your approach to one similar at all to your approach to the other?
In cooking you know pretty quick if something is good or bad. With design, who knows (who cares!).
How important is presentation to you?
Presentation during the process of making food is way more important than how it’s eventually presented. I grill on a $99 BBQ that I bought at home depot. It’s an updated version of the one my father cooked on since I was 10 years old—that to me is as exquisite a look you can get.
When and how did you first learn to cook? Who taught you?
My mother taught me to cook. I came from a farm and spent more time in the kitchen than I did in the barn.
Do you think your relationship with food has changed much over the years?
The kitchen is home—one of the few spots I know I can go to and get grounded. Often I’ll just lie down on the bare floor of our kitchen for 10- or 20 minutes—literally getting grounded.
Is there a new way that you’ve noticed design and food connecting? How is design shaping our collective relationship with food, in your opinion? More and more I think people are realizing that they actually have a choice in all matters (big and small) that pertain to their lives: where they travel, what they drink, what they eat, what they watch, what they read, what they cook, etc. As they become more aware of this, they start to make more decisions based on what they want: they edit, they curate, they research, they shape, they form, they have to think creatively, before you know it they are designing the way they live! Cooking is then part of the design process. Do you listen to music while you cook? If so, what’s your preferred cooking soundtrack?
I listen to the birds chirping and the fat sizzling.
Grilled Steak Recipe
“I have made this dish a lot. I love it because it’s an event in and of itself: Ninety percent of the work is spent in the preparation, 9 percent cooking, and one percent eating. A couple years ago a friend taught me this method, but in actual fact I had been doing it this way since I was a Boy Scout.”
2 prime rib steaks at least 11/2 inch thick (often called a “cowboy cut”). The bone-in rib steak often contains a bit of gristle but is full of flavor and will get you some nice flames on the grill.
2 bunches of green onions
Assorted vegetables (eggplant, peppers, etc.) marinated in a liberal dose of olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice, pepper, and a pinch of salt
Wood (only use hardwoods: maple, hickory, mesquite are great)
Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
Marinate vegetables and bring steak to room temperature. Start fire with charcoal briquettes (preferably natural ones). These will act as your base.
Once the fire is red hot, pour into grill and load on wood (preferably your cheapest first
After at least one hour (depending on weather conditions) or when your fire is so hot it hurts to get within 3 feet, you’re ready to administer the steaks. Be sure that there are as few flames as possible—only coals. The fat from the steaks will get you the flames you need (char-broiled). Salt and pepper steaks, place on grill. There is no rule for the amount of time a steak needs to be on a grill. For medium-rare, my rule is 4 and 1/2 minutes per side for an average steak. Thicker steaks may take longer.
Once the meat is good and charred on both sides, poke with finger: If it feels loose and mushy, then move to the side of the grill and cook indirectly (lid closed, vents open) until done. Do not cut the meat with a knife to see if it’s done! That’s so cheating, it’s not funny.
Important: Once steak is removed from grill you must let it sit for at least 10 minutes, so it won’t be chewy. The steak will also keep cooking even though it’s been removed from the heat, so always err on side of undercooked when removing from grill.