How a chef cooks gourmet meals on a hot plate in his 100-square-foot apartment

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Chef Grayson Altenberg sitting on his air mattress.
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Sarah Jacobs

You might be under the impression that you live in a small space.

This may be the case, but I can guarantee that it is not as tiny as professional chef Grayson Altenberg’s new apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

A recent New York transplant from the Midwest, the 22-year-old moved into a 100-square-foot studio this summer and hasn’t regretted his decision.

Yet.

The media – The Village Voice, the New York Post, and the “Today” show, for example – has gawked at his extremely compact lifestyle, but Altenberg says he’s happy to occupy his 100-square-foot space.

A line cook at Lincoln Ristorante, we were intrigued that a restaurant professional could stand to live in a space that has no counter tops for slicing, dicing, and chopping – not to mention a stove.

Turns out, he’s perfectly capable of making a delicious dish with just a hot plate, mini fridge, and portable tray. Take a look at his process, and a – very quick – tour of his place.


This shows most of Altenberg’s apartment — behind me, there’s a closet-sized toilet “room,” and to the left is a shower. And yes, that is a cast-iron skillet hanging right above his pillows. He sleeps on an air mattress.

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Sarah Jacobs

Altenberg has to be smart about organizing his belongings. He’s got these nifty shelves for his dry food and a shoe rack just to the left.

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Sarah Jacobs

He also keeps some cookbooks around — inspiration for an aspiring chef.

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Sarah Jacobs

Inside his mini fridge is a single egg, half a stick of butter, and barbecue sauce. Altenberg mentioned that one of his dreams is to some day open his own barbecue restaurant.

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Sarah Jacobs

His mini fridge serves as essential counter space for his hot plate and food-prep area. Above the hot plate, he keeps the up-to-date Lincoln Ristorante menu. This pretty much concludes our tour of Altenberg’s apartment.

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Sarah Jacobs

Before cooking could begin, we made a quick trip to the corner bodega to pick up anchovies, basil, and a pearl onion to make Altenberg’s dish of the day: pan con tomate y anchoas — which is essentially bread with tomatoes, onion, and anchovies on top.

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Sarah Jacobs

He stressed that we should purchase the “smoked” anchovies — an important flavor difference for his recipe.

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Sarah Jacobs

After climbing the four flights back up to his apartment, he turned on his standing air-conditioning unit and began his food prep.

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Sarah Jacobs

Altenberg uses generous amounts of olive oil, salt, and pepper to add maximum flavor.

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Sarah Jacobs

He also takes serious care of his knives, spending up to one hour a day sharpening them with a premium sharpening stone. He claims you can turn any old drug-store-purchased knife into a gourmet slicer with the right sharpening technique.

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Sarah Jacobs

It’s actually impressive how little of a mess he makes while prepping the dish, even as tomatoes are flying through the air to properly mix the flavors.

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Sarah Jacobs

Next, the hot plate comes into play. Without an oven or a toaster, it’s the only way to warm up the bread.

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Sarah Jacobs

Basil leaves are clipped to garnish the dish.

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Sarah Jacobs

He keeps his clock set on “restaurant time,” which is 10 minutes ahead. “In the restaurant business, if you’re 10 minutes ahead, you’re on time,” he told me.

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Sarah Jacobs

Altenberg is a fan of antique silverware. Here, he shows me his prized spoons. He’s also a proponent of chopsticks because of how easy they are to store.

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Sarah Jacobs

Time to eat! He grabs one of his two plates …

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Sarah Jacobs

… and plates the food.

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Sarah Jacobs

Altenberg insisted I didn’t use my camera flash on his beautifully plated dish — the apartment’s lone window, a small skylight, lit our subject.

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Sarah Jacobs

The tray also works as a lap table. He gave me a bite, too — it was simple but delicious.

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Sarah Jacobs

Cleanup time! He rinses his bread tray in the tiny sink outside the toilet closet.

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Sarah Jacobs

Given what Altenberg can make in a cramped, 100-square-foot apartment, we can only imagine what his cuisine might be like in a full kitchen. Here’s hoping that his barbecue restaurant dreams come true.

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Sarah Jacobs