Merrill Stubbs and Amanda Hesser, co-founders of the foodie website Food52, know a thing or two about curating the perfect menu, not to mention kitchen. The duo founded Food52 out of their shared love of cooking and writing – and have serious design chops to boot, as their beautiful curation of their favorite Chairish finds proves.
Before starting their award-winning site, Amanda was the feature writer and food editor at The New York Times, and wrote several cookbooks and essay collections (one of which was a bestseller!). Merrill wrote for publications like T Magazine and Edible Brooklyn, studied at Le Cordon Bleu in London, and worked in the kitchen at Cook’s Illustrated, all the while running her own catering business.
We were thrilled to score Amanda and Merrill’s tips on setting the perfect table, get the goods on what’s sure to be hot in the food world this year, plus a recipe for the perfect cocktail to mix up at your next party!
What are some of your can’t-live-without kitchen tools or pieces these days?
MS: I’ve become a coffee semi-nerd in the past several months, since I got up the courage to ask some of the coffee experts in our office to show me the ropes. I already had a gooseneck kettle (mainly because I love the way it looks), and I’ve now added a Chemex, a coffee scale and a Hario Skerton coffee mill to my arsenal.
AH: I’m obsessed with our Rosti bowls with lids. They’re beautiful to look at and so well designed for mixing because you have a sturdy handle to hold onto, a rubber base to keep the bowls from sliding, and a handy pour spout. And the lids are fantastic for when you’re making a dressing or a batch of cookie dough that needs to sit in the fridge for a bit.
How would you describe your personal home decor and aesthetic? Has your aesthetic changed at all since starting Food52?
MS: I’m going to use the word eclectic here. I know what I want my style to be, but I’m still trying to get there. I grew up with a family that loved beautiful things but was philosophically opposed to minimalism, and I’ve inherited a lot of random pieces of china, silver, linen and art over the years. My ongoing challenge is paring back, with the ultimate goal of finding a balance between all the beautiful vintage heirlooms and the more modern design pieces I’m naturally drawn to. I don’t shy away from patterns but in contrast to the homes I grew up in, I prefer to use them judiciously to accent a more neutral base.
AH: The style you see in our photography originally came from our own homes. We both love old things that show their wear and character. I think either of our homes would have heirlooms and vintage finds at its heart. I like modern details and have a thing for Mid-Century dressers (we have 3 in our 1-floor apartment!). I’ve learned recently that I care a tremendous amount about lighting — what, you don’t obsess over how the light pools in a room? Or feel angry about bright overhead lights? Also, after years of trying out different color schemes, I’ve learned that I actually don’t like a lot of color at home; I much prefer softer tones and natural colors with the occasional dose of brightness. I want our home to be soothing.
What design or decor trends are you digging these days that you would like to see make their way to the kitchen?
AH: Because every publication on earth has been flooding us with talk of “hygge,” the Danish art of coziness, I started reading a book on it. There have definitely been flashes of hygge in recent design trends, particularly around lighting. And I’d love to see more hygge-like lighting in kitchens and get away from recessed ceiling and under-the-counter lights.
MS: We’re also seeing a lot of wallpaper. The patterns are bold but softer than what you saw in the last wallpaper wave. I’ve also noticed a lot of grasscloth papers, which we both really love.
What are some of the Chairish pieces that you’re currently coveting?
AH: I recently bought this dresser on Chairish for our kids room, and I love it! And I really liked these lamps but didn’t move quickly enough, I see!
Which ingredients are you hoping people use more of in 2017?
MS: Kale. Kidding! I love that spice blends from non-Western cuisines (za’atar, shichimi togarashi, ras el hanout) are slowly making their way onto mainstream supermarket shelves, and I hope that continues. Also, I hope people keep exploring different cuts and types of meat — like goat, which Americans haven’t traditionally embraced but is delicious when properly prepared.
AH: Oxtails. Super underrated and very inexpensive. Also fish sauce.
Do you have a food mantra?
MS: Everything in moderation.
Dream foodie destination in 2017?
MS: I’d like to get to Copenhagen before I’m too late to the party. And I’ve never had Nashville hot chicken or been to New Orleans, so those are on the list too.
AH: Ooh, wow. This question always stresses me out because there are so many foods, so little time! I’d like to spend more time in southern India.
What’s your favorite cocktail + glassware combination of the moment?
MS: I’m always charmed by a Champagne cocktail served in a traditional coupe.
AH: I love a negroni sbagliato (made with prosecco in place of the gin), served with a big ol’ ice cube in the middle. (See recipe below!)
What are your go-to ways (or pieces!) to bring the WOW factor to a tablescape?
AH & MS: We like using candlesticks of varying heights and finishes, sometimes with gray or navy candles instead of white. Similarly, we’ll put together clusters of irregularly-sized vases (nothing too high so that guests don’t have to crane their necks to talk with someone across the table). Blooms are wonderful and romantic, but we often prefer greenery for the table (rich and lush like boxwood, or wispy and ethereal like beach grass, depending on the mood). For place settings we’re into mixing and matching linens, dishes, glassware and flatware so nothing looks too perfect — and always with a nod to vintage!
Merrill and Amanda share a Negroni recipe that replaces the slightly bitter taste of gin with Prosecco for a bubblier and crisper sip. It’s an easy, spritzy drink for a dinner party at home!
Makes 1 cocktail
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce Prosecco, or more to taste
Pour the Campari and sweet vermouth into an ice-filled glass and stir. Top with Prosecco, garnish with orange peel, and serve.
Food52 office photos by Mark Weinberg, portrait of Amanda and Merrill by James Ransom, stone fruit cake photo by Bobbi Lin