amy azzaritoInteriorssneak peeks

sneak peek: allen hemberger

by Amy Azzarito

Just nine months ago, photographer Allen Hemberger and his girlfriend, Sarah Wilson, moved from New Zealand to the Bay Area with only one week to find a place to live. And even though the space isn’t their dream house, they’ve managed to turn it into a home. Just last week, Grace loaned me a copy of A Life on the Line, and I found the story of Alinea chef Grant Achatz totally inspiring. Allen’s latest project is to re-create dishes from the Alinea cookbook — he’s been cooking his way through it since 2008. Just last weekend, he made a recipe that involved spray-painting frozen chocolate-milk cubes with liquid chocolate loaded into a paint sprayer. He built a spray hood for himself in order to photograph the process. How awesome is that? Thanks, Allen & Sarah! — Amy A.

Image above: For about two years, I’ve been working my way through cooking every dish in the Alinea cookbook; the eponymous restaurant in Chicago uses unusual cooking techniques and equipment for each dish in their 25+ course meal. I’ve been collecting some of the service pieces they use to present food at the restaurant; most of it is made by the incredibly talented Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail.

Image above: Sarah loves arranging/sorting things by color; our bookshelves tend to stay hue-sorted, as do the t-shirts in our closet. She’s also subscribed to Felissimo’s 500 Pencils project; we’ve been thinking off and on about a way to mount/present the pencils in an interesting way, which will assuredly be color-sorted, as well. Our books largely reflect our hobbies; most are cookbooks or art books.

CLICK HERE for more of Allen’s Bay Area home!

Image above: When Sarah and I first started dating, I was living in New Zealand and she in New York City. One of our first dates when I came to visit her in New York was teaching ourselves to skateboard, and Sarah had bought us both skate decks. When I got back to New Zealand, I printed my favorite photos from our time together and laminated them to the bottom of my deck with epoxy resin; Sarah did the same with hers. We only skated on them once after that before realizing the flex in the board would cause the resin to crack, so we decided to just hang them on our wall instead. We also collect business cards for restaurants we discover and really love. When Sarah moved to New Zealand to be with me, we did a lot of traveling together around the country and kept cards from our favorite places. We didn’t know to what end we were doing this; we just found the idea of some sort of archive/collection compelling. Eventually, we had this idea of making small plates of Plexiglass that we’d sandwich the cards between, and we used office binding rings to stitch together this “curtain” of all the cards, arranged roughly geographically. Our New Zealand section is massive; our US section is growing steadily since we’ve moved back to the US.

Image above: Sarah wanted to learn to play the ukulele while we were living in New Zealand, so she bought this one at a small shop on Cuba Street in Wellington. She’s pretty good with it. Around the same time, one of my best friends got on a jag to teach himself to play the banjo; rather than going out to buy a cheap used one, he decided the best way was to just try building one of his own. He made several out of things like cookie tins and cigar boxes; when we left New Zealand, his going-away gift to me was this guitar, which was one of the first he’d built and has a spring inside to add some reverb (so it sounds slightly electric when I play it).

Image above: While visiting family in Kentucky last year, we came across a pretty neat furniture store that had this funky factory furniture cart they had refurbished into a coffee table. We both totally loved the massive cast-iron detailing, but the cost of it plus what it would take to ship it to California was way too expensive for us. Plus, we’re stubborn and often see things we like and think, “Huh. I bet we could do that.” So we started shopping around for original antique factory furniture carts. We found a woodworker a few hours from our house who had two of them, so we bought them both and dug into refinishing them. In the midwest, furniture factories would paint the factory name onto the cart to keep track of them; we liked that idea, so we adapted it by putting our own names on this one.

Image above: Our apartment layout is a bit weird; this room with the fireplace was used by the homeowner as a living room, but we liked the idea of using it as a dining room because we both love cooking and having friends over for dinner. We found this high table at a discount furniture warehouse in south Oakland and loved the idea of it, but didn’t realize that finding chairs to fit it would be a bit of a pain, not to mention expensive. We’ve cobbled together a mishmash of chairs mostly from Target, and ultimately hope to try building our own at some point.

Image above: Sarah found these at Paddington Market in Sydney, Australia, during a holiday trip we took there while living in New Zealand. We thought they were adorable, so we snagged them and have used them on the bathroom doors of each apartment we’ve lived in since.

Image above: We both dislike the itchy feeling we get when our spice cabinet gets all congested and disorganized; the bottles invariably never match and its not long before its hard to find anything. When we lived in New Zealand, we tried this odd idea of using salt shakers like you’d find in a diner to hold all our spices, and we glued magnets to the bottoms so we could stick them to the hood hanging over our stovetop; this turned out to be a terrible idea because they kept sliding off and got super-greasy over time. We found these small spice jars at a Crate and Barrel outlet near our apartment for something like $15 for a 12-pack; we liked the idea of hanging the spices on a wall so we could easily and quickly see how much of everything we had. We also wanted to train ourselves to be able to identify spices by sight/smell/taste rather than cluttering up the otherwise very pretty array with labels, which we’ve gotten pretty good at. Our rule is: if we can’t tell what it is, it’s old and needs to be replaced.

Image above: This is one of the dishes from my Alinea project. It’s a sphere of frozen Hibiscus tea, and is about the size of a cranberry.

Image above: This has been one of the most challenging dishes I’ve made from the cookbook; it’s called “Rhubarb, Seven Different Textures.” From left to right, we have a sphere of beet juice floating in rhubarb juice, a dried rhubarb “chip” seasoned with black pepper, gin-compressed rhubarb, a rhubarb sponge on a bay leaf garnished with grapefruit segments, rhubarb custard with lavender-poached rhubarb, oatmeal streusel topped with rhubarb sorbet and tarragon and rhubarb gelee with fennel candy and green-tea foam. All told, it took me about 40 hours of cooking to complete this, not counting planning or shopping time.

Image above: This one features white asparagus; five cylinders of white asparagus stalk are wrapped in various “wrappers” like black trumpet mushroom leather, chorizo, herb gel and orange gel. The green puree is dill custard, the yellow sphere in the center is a slowly poached quail egg yolk and the outer moat of the dish is garnished with herbs and dots of black-pepper vinegar pudding. The service piece here is actually a candle holder I found at Ikea; I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting forms on which I might plate food.

Image above: This one was awesome. I made a chocolate-milk mixture from chocolate, cream and honey; this mixture is liquid at room temperature. I froze the mixture in a sheet tray and cut it into “tiles.” Then I melted some chocolate and loaded it into a paint sprayer. Chocolate on its own is solid at room temperature. I sprayed the frozen milk tiles with the melted chocolate; when the hot atomized chocolate from the sprayer lands on the frozen milk, it solidifies instantly. Once the tiles are completely covered in chocolate spray, I let the whole thing come to room temperature; the inside milk mixture melts while the outside stays rigid. When a diner is presented with this, they “crack” it open with a spoon, sort of like a creme brulee, and the inner chocolate-milk mixture runs out onto the plate.

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  • Love this sneak peek! Great to look into the private world of two really creative & interesting people. Thanks for sharing!

  • I agree with Jess; these two seem interesting and creative – people i’d like to know! Thanks so much for sharing your stunning home with us.

  • my boyfriend and I play ukulele! I’ve always wanted to play guitar but never was patient enough.
    I love the coffee table!

  • What a groovy place! Will be keeping up with the Alinea Project for sure.

    I love the Curtain of Restaurants. Do you have the NZ recommendations listed on a blog or similar? Will be spending 6 weeks there for RWC… Cheers.

  • The glass footed jar on the mantle. where did that come from? It is perfect for a project I am working on!

  • Ohhhh, made me so homesick for Wellington (and the Bay Area which I would move to if i could…) Go Marenui Cafe (noticed the card in the ‘curtain’…

  • What a creative home and couple! I first heard of Allen and Sarah when their “Anatomy of a Cupcake” poster was making its rounds in the blogosphere. I ordered one and ended up asking Sarah to design our wedding invitations!

  • Whoa, look at all these lovely comments! So rad! Thank you guys all so very much for the compliments and enthusiasm! This is too fun.

    Ginny: We found the spice jars at a Crate and Barrel Outlet, for something like $2 apiece. We bought a case of them.

    Kristin: We don’t have any sort of collated list of recommendations, but you’re welcome to email us and we can offer as much info/advice as you can possibly handle. Among our favorite restaurants were Matterhorn, Manon, Floriditas, Polo, The Larder, Scopa…dang, so many… If you only do one thing while you’re there, though, go to Queenstown for a week to visit the Fiordland, and have dinner at Saffron in Arrowtown. It stands equal to Alinea as one of our favorite meals ever.

    LD: The glass container is called an Egg Coddler. Specifically, this is a TrendGlas one: http://www.citychef.ca/xcart/customer/product.php?productid=18394&cat=&page=1

    Kali! Hi!!!! Fancy seeing you here! :)

  • thanks for sharing about your process, allen, very interesting! also, just found your blog and it’s so refreshing. because you, know, it’s still just your blog! which is rare and awesome.

  • Can you tell me about the soft box that you made for the frozen hibiscus tea photo? Love that image.

  • What a funky home. Love it! I am also from Kentucky so you can guess what my favorite piece of furniture is…

  • Linked to the Spices via the post from Care2 (Simple Solutions for Spice Storage, 5/19/12), which found the post from Remodelista (5 Quick Fixes: Spice Rack Solutions by Alexa, 5/11/12). My question – do the spice jars come with the wire hook built onto the lids? Or did you rig that up? If so, how? I love this look, it really adds to the notion of what kitchens are for!

  • Hi there! So in love with the business card curtain, and doing some preliminary searches for the right plexi glass slides with hole punches. Do you have a link or recommendation for this? My project would be with hotel keys and I have nearly 100 from our relationship. This is definitely the most attractive display I have pinned over the years!