Since 1997, Sal Marino, the professional chef and owner of Il Grano has brought contemporary, authentic Italian cuisine to West Los Angeles. His menu changes monthly to take advantage of organic, seasonal produce and available wild, line caught fish. A second-generation restaurateur, his family has owned and operated some of the best Italian restaurants in Los Angeles since the 1950s. We recently visited his home, complete with a beautiful Snaidero kitchen, to ask him a few questions about Italian cooking and how to design a functional home kitchen.
Your restaurant is very highly regarded in the Los Angeles area.
Sal Marino: We call Il Grano “contemporary, authentic Italian cuisine.” It’s definitely Italian-style but we like to serve our guests in the way that Italy eats in the 21st century. So many standard, red-sauce, Italian-American dishes are not Italian at all! The best thing about food is that it’s constantly evolving. People like comfort food but why would you eat as your grandmother did? You don’t dress like your grandmother does! It’s important to me for my food to evolve and try new things. To advance the conversation.
As a professional chef, what was the most important feature to you for your home kitchen? Why?
Sal Marino: Definitely the layout. At catering events, I often visit the homes of clients and more often than not, it seems that more attention has been paid to the giant window view or the open floor concept than the functionality of the space. The fridge is here, the stove there and the sink is way over there. Too many steps! You need to put a lot of thought into the location of your main work areas. For example:
- Less movement is better when you’re working with sharp knives and lots of ingredients;
- The oven should be near the main counter prep space, which should also be near the sink, which - in turn - should be near the fridge;
- The sink in the center island or in the middle of a gallery should be mandatory for me. It’s silly not to have a conveniently placed sink.
I’ve also seen a lot of people forgoing oven hoods recently for more aesthetic purposes and there is no reason for that. You need circulation when you’re cooking to keep odors and smoke from spreading through the rest of the home.
Why did you choose Snaidero?
Sal Marino: I loved the Italian design, first and foremost. Snaidero has always represented the best in European kitchen style and understated elegance. Back when we were designing the space, soft-close cabinets were a luxury we decided to invest in. Now, they are in every new kitchen and so great to have. The European kitchen manufacturers were absolutely at the forefront of that, along with so many other great kitchen technologies. This industry changes quickly: there is always a cool new tool or feature but timeless, modern style always works.
Why did you choose the finishes and model that you did?
Sal Marino: As an Italian myself, I connected very well to the sleek Made-in-Italy design [of Sistema Zeta, one of Snaidero’s most popular cabinetry lines]. It is simple, easy to clean and it just looks great. I loved the rich look of the wood, the ease and simple design of the handles. I wanted some contrast between the walls and the finish and this color went great with the rest of our home and furniture.
What’s the biggest difference between your work and home kitchens?
Sal Marino: Often times, restaurant kitchens can be clunky with a difficult or unappealing aesthetic. It’s all about efficiency on the line but it doesn’t always make for a “beautiful experience.” There are no large restaurant stoves at my home. I like the performance of my Gaggenau cooking units and the Snaidero super clean and sleek look. This kitchen allows me to enjoy the space completely.
Is there some element of your kitchen that has become your favorite after having worked with it?
Sal Marino: After 20 years of catering, not much fazes me anymore! (laughs) It’s been a few years since we had our Snaidero kitchen installed and I still absolutely love it—it still looks and functions like new. I do have a 90-second dishwasher that is pretty incredible, especially for dinner parties. I can use the same plates for the next courses and they are spotless and dry in under 2 minutes!
Do you have any “secrets” when designing your dream kitchen?
Sal Marino: Yes! How about three?
- Buy the biggest, single vessel sink you can afford. You want water close to your prep area and it’s so difficult to wash a sheet pan in those standard double sinks. I actually prefer having 2 separate sinks in a space: one for dishwashing and one for prep like washing vegetables, and when you’re done prepping, you can always use one of the sinks filled with iceto chill your champagne!
- We also left upper cabinets out of our design for a few reasons. With our space, we had a decent amount of room to work with, without needing them for storage. But more importantly, as a professional chef, I take plating dishes very serious. With long counters, I have the ability to plate a meal for many people in a sort of assembly line, and the open space above allows me to see and reach everything as efficiently as possible.
- Finally, don’t forget outlets in your island for your kitchen tools!
What your favorite thing to cook at home? And at work?
Sal Marino: My specialty is seafood and vegetables, at home and at work. I like simple dishes with big flavor. It should come as no surprise if I confess that cooking pasta is also always a joy. It’s also really fun to use the deep fryer at home. Everyone loves crunchy hot fried food!
Thank you so much for all your insights and for allowing us into your beautiful home and kitchen!
Sal Marino: It was my pleasure!
Kitchen designer: Lois O'Malley, Snaidero USA Los Angeles (West Hollywood)
Photography credits: Claudio Santini