An Alternative Kitchen


Alternative KitchenThis afternoon, Scott Murphy and I strolled through a lovely North County San Diego neighborhood inviting neighbors to an open house we have planned for this weekend. In addition to creating traffic for our client’s home, we enjoy meeting interesting people and occasionally meet unforgettable ones.

And that’s what happened today when we discovered an alternative kitchen.

We walked up to a neat and well-kept home on an elevated lot. A grey haired gentleman was watering the lawn and seemed to ignore us as we walked up the driveway. We were met by his kind and blue-eyed wife who graciously accepted our written invitation to the upcoming open house–and invited us into her home. The garage door was open and as we entered we couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be bread or dough rising on a clean table. A closer look revealed a regular kitchen sink, a full sized stove and a curtained cupboard. It appeared to be an alternative kitchen of some sort.

“My husband like to cook,” she said and invited us into her lovely home. Baskets and trays of tomatoes were everywhere and she explained how other vegetables in her husband’s extensive garden had not produced so well this year–and then led us to a window where we saw a half-acre of lush gardens and blooming roses. At the rear was a small and Tuscan-inspired building. That, she said, was her husband’s wine cellar. And yes, he made his own wine.

And we meet Vinnie….

As we re-entered the garage, her husband Vinnie walked in and introduced himself with a thick Italian dialect. We learned that he had emigrated from Italy at the age of 18, immediately bought a new pick and shovel–and started work as a day laborer. Five years later, he made it into the union and two years later became a foreman. It was a classic tale of immigrant success and grit that never depended on a handout.

But it was the garage kitchen that fascinated me. Vinnie explained that in the old country, a working kitchen was common so as to keep the formal kitchen clean. Now retired and coping with cancer, he loves cooking, winemaking (with recipe from his great grandfather) and sharing the fruits of his labor with friends and the Knights of Columbus.

I love the simplicity of the oil cloth-topped table with focaccia bread rising in pans (and waiting for olive oil and sliced tomatoes!), the gentle breeze coming through the open garage door and the care this brick mason took in lining the wall behind the stove with tiles that could be easily cleaned.

Cancer and age are taking their independent tolls on Vinnie, and both he and his wife spoke about the need to downsize and simplify life. We may end up representing them in their sale, but I would trade that opportunity for the chance to turn back time and learn from Vinnie how to cook in a garage kitchen, make focaccia and wine from scratch, and how to grow such a rich garden.  I could also listen to his Italian dialect for hours on end.

Far too soon, this garage kitchen will be gone because it is surely a city code violation–and who will be left to remember the rising focaccia and winemaking that occurred in this suburban home? And what about the working wine cellar–and gardens?

My single iPhone photo does no justice for Vinnie and his crafts,  or the soul of this home, which I will try to visit again on Sunday.