This is Right at Home, a series in which Eater explores the home kitchens and cooking habits of fascinating food people. Here now, we go inside Annie Kamin’s San Francisco apartment.
Annie Kamin went on a bad date. No, “a really bad date.” So when it was over, she did what one does after a terrible first date: She went to the grocery store. Meandering through the aisles of Bi-Rite, a beloved San Francisco market near her Mission-neighborhood apartment, she picked up all the peak-of-season produce that caught her eye. “I was like, you know what, screw it, I’m going home and I’m going to cook a delicious steak,” the 2019 Eater Young Gun remembers, laughing. Once everything was ready, she ate the entire meal standing in her kitchen, loading dishes into the sink and wiping down the counter between bites.
This is how Kamin has cooked at home — sporadically, often not for weeks at a time — since she became the Chief of Staff at San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate almost two years ago, and was tasked with opening the company’s massive new factory and tasting room.
Even now that the factory is finally done, Kamin hasn’t exactly settled into a life of peaceful, drawn out dinners. “Maybe it’s just the way that my brain works,” she says. “I end up thinking about all the things that happen after the meal and all the things leading up to the meal, but when it actually comes time to eat, I eat it really quickly standing up.”
It would be easy enough to put cooking aside altogether, to sign up for a meal delivery service, or rely solely on takeout. But Kamin grew up around a different model for how to manage the pressures of a busy life. During Kamin’s childhood, it was her mother’s practice to come home after a stressful day of work and crank on the oven. Kamin stood at her hip, leveling off cups of flour, mixing dough, sneaking crisp corners of lacey cookies as her mother pulled them from the oven. “[My mom] was always trying out something new,” Kamin remembers. “Sunday night dinner was big in our family, she would try all the new recipes. And so I was always around that, helping her out where I could.”
Kamin might not have the bandwidth to cook every time she’s stressed, but on days when work is particularly exhausting, she’ll sometimes dream up a home-cooked feast during her commute home. “If I have a particularly hard day or if I need to just disconnect a little bit, I’ll cook an incredibly elaborate meal,” she says. “Sometimes for my roommates, sometimes for myself, sometimes for a few friends.”
With plans for more Dandelion expansions already on the horizon, Kamin is home less than ever. But it’s on her busiest days that she’ll sometimes steal away for an evening to wander the aisles of Bi-Rite, shopping for a dinner she’ll likely eat standing over her kitchen sink. On those nights, long after the sun has set, Kamin takes a leaf from her mother’s book, rolling out pasta in the soft light of the lamp on her counter, or waiting patiently as hominy tenderizes in a pot of simmering pozole. “I’m trying to actively make more time for myself to cook now,” she says. “These days I’m focused on making comfort food. If I’m going to cook, I want it to be something that takes a little bit of time.”
Nearly every piece of equipment in the Dandelion chocolate factory is custom-made to fit a specific need. But at home, Kamin relies on an old, creaky, extremely loud stand mixer she refuses to part with. “I won this ugly Viking mixer — sorry Viking, but it’s ugly — at a cake competition. It was my first year at culinary school,” she remembers. “My friend and I entered the competition and we had the worst cake. Somehow, someway we both won, and that year they were handing out these mixers to the winners. It’s got a special place in my heart and it’s made five wedding cakes. I just can’t get rid of it.”
Since Kamin is never sure when her next meal at home will be, she only buys what she’ll need to make one or two dishes at a time. “I just go to the market and get what I need for the meal I’m going to cook. I don’t have a lot of storage space, and so I have a semi-clever way of storing things,” she says. Lined neatly on her kitchen shelves, along with garlic and plenty of lemons, Kamin always has a stock of dried peppers, and hominy to make pozole.
Some nights Kamin goes all out, feeding a gaggle of hungry friends, or making the perfect steak just for herself. But more often than not, she comes home from work barely able to keep her eyes open, and on those days few dishes materialize more quickly or are more comforting than pasta and red sauce. “Take an onion, saute that, add a little bit of cream and sherry, pour the Rao’s vodka pasta sauce in there, and then boil some fresh pasta from one of the 18 farmer’s markets in the Bay Area,” Kamin suggests, based on plenty of firsthand experience. “And if you’re proud of yourself, top it off with some parm, and you’re good to go.”
When she invites over more than a few friends, Kamin’s kitchen starts to feel a little tight. But compared to most San Francisco apartments, it’s enormous. “I have a kitchen that is probably four times the size of most San Francisco kitchens, which isn’t really saying much,” she says, laughing. And while Kamin might not spend a ton of time in her kitchen these days, she’s made it feel like her own. “I put some artwork up on the wall, and I have a lamp to help with lighting, because I hate overhead lights. I hung up a pot rack, too, which I was really proud of — I did that by myself. It’s just little, tiny things that all kind of come together.”
“I have books everywhere in my apartment and they hold a really special place in my heart,” Kamin says, running her hand along the spine of The Food Lab, a dictionary-length food science cookbook she keeps next to her cutting board. “Honestly, I don’t reference them very often, but I just like having them around. Surrounding yourself with the knowledge of people far greater than you is pretty neat.”
Elazar Sontag is an Oakland-raised, Brooklyn-based cookbook author and food writer. Find him on Instagram, and read more about his work.
Adrian Octavius Walker is a Chicago-based photographer.