Brian Luscher, a neighborhood resident who is the chef and co-owner The Grape on Lower Greenville, figured there was nothing a chef couldn’t do. That included replacing the cook top in his kitchen at home. Everything was going smoothly, Luscher says, until he wired the cook top and went to turn the breaker back on.

“One of the knobs was in the ‘on’ position,” says Luscher, whose wife, Courtney, runs the front of The Grape while he cooks. “I burned the heck out of the counter top.”

In other words, professional chefs are just like the rest of us in the privacy of their own kitchens. This might seem hard to believe, given their skill and that it should be easier to cook at home than in a restaurant kitchen. After all, it’s quiet at home; there aren’t any customers pricking the meat to see if it’s rare enough; and a waiter isn’t pacing up and down waiting for the next order.

But many neighborhood chefs don’t like to cook at home. In fact, several big-name chefs said they wouldn’t be of much use for this story, since they stay as far away from their home kitchens as humanly possible.

Hans and Clare van Loenen, who own ST Bakery and Café, like to cook at home. But since they’re at the restaurant so often, they don’t get much of a chance — maybe three times a month. And when they do, Hans says, they stick to the basics: dinners such as roasts, stews, fried rice. “We like to keep it simple, but we still enjoy preparing the meal,” he says.

Still, the van Loenens and many of their peers persevere. They do the same things we do — throw back the apples with brown spots in the produce section, brave grocery store checkout lines at 5:30 in the afternoon, and leave pots and pans scattered all over the kitchen. And you know what else? Their home efforts aren’t always as successful as their professional ones. When Peter Harrison, the sous chef at Uptown’s Capital Grille, moved into his home off Northwest Highway, he made dinner — and set off the smoke alarms when his sautéing generated too much heat.

Their experiences offer hope for the rest of us. If a big-time chef can make amateur-like mistakes, then it’s a lot less embarrassing when we do — and it’s something we can learn from.

Feel guilty about all of the 49-cent packages of ramen noodles in the pantry? Don’t. Chefs use them, too. Embarrassed by the oddly shaped muffin or cookie tin that you received for Christmas? Don’t be. Chefs get them, too. Feel silly that you have an expensive piece of kitchen equipment that you had to have and never use? Don’t. Chefs do that, too.

“When you’re doing something like hosting a dinner party, don’t try something new for the first time,” says Luscher, who lives in Lake Ridge Estates. “Use your go-to recipe, or something that you’ve practiced a couple of times, something that you can do in your sleep. You will be confident, and you will be able to spend time with your guests.”

Just don’t try to rewire the cook top.

Hans and Clare van Loenen, ST Café and Bakery chefs/owners

What you like most about being a chef: Every day is different, every day is a challenge, and every day allows you to be creative.

What you like least about being a chef: Demanding schedules and long hours.

Where do you eat when you don’t eat at your restaurant: We enjoy many cuisines, but Thai, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian foods are our favorites. However, our limited free time doesn’t allow us to dine out much.

Best advice for the home cook: Be creative, but create what you feel comfortable with.

Most essential gadget or piece of equipment: A stem blender at the restaurant, and our slow cooker at home. We couldn’t do without them.

Most essential gadget or piece of equipment to splurge on: A good Cuisinart or mixer.

Silliest gadget or piece of equipment you’ve owned: A teddy bear timer.

Biggest home cooking disaster: Sorry, no funny stories here.

Most surprising thing in your pantry or refrigerator: You’d be surprised to find a near-empty refrigerator stocked mainly with drinks and snacks.

On wanting to be a chef: Hans: Since I was maybe 12 years old, I wanted to be in the restaurant business. However, my love to cook came when I entered culinary college.

Brian C. Luscher, The Grape chef/owner

Most interesting place you worked before this job: I worked for and apprenticed with Chef Harmut Handke, who is one of only 62 certified master chefs in the world. Since I had been in the business for quite some time prior, I thought I knew what I was doing before I went to work for him. But I soon realized that I didn’t really know much at all as far as fine dining was concerned. For the first three weeks, I was not allowed to do anything except chop parsley, slice chives, peel vegetables and wash dishes. When I completed my one-year commitment, I was in a completely different league.

What you like most about being a chef: As a chef and owner, I have more control over my own destiny.

What you like least about being a chef: Time away from my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Landry.

Where do you eat when you don’t eat at your restaurant: The one day a week that I go out to eat is with my wife and daughter. We look for somewhere somewhat casual so we can just relax. Most importantly, the food needs to be really good — not really fancy, just really good. I am in perpetual admiration of the entire experience at The Flying Fish in Preston Center, just plain impressed with the quality, consistency and the entire presentation. And I like Dixie House pot roast.

Guilty pleasure restaurant: An old-fashioned Double-Double, onion rings and vanilla shake from Burger House.

Most essential gadget or piece of equipment in your kitchen: Good quality sharp knives and a calibrated pocket dial thermometer.

Most essential gadget or piece of equipment to splurge on: Buy high quality pots and pans like All-Clad or a Kitchen Aid mixer.

Silliest gadget or piece of equipment you’ve owned: Japanese sesame seed grinder.

Most surprising thing in your pantry or refrigerator: Kipper snacks, Doritos Collisions Extreme Flavor Explosion (buffalo wing and blue cheese flavor), and an imported ramen-type noodle bowl whose name and contents I cannot completely discern.

On wanting to be a chef: My mom reminds me that when I was four years old, I had a restaurant set up in my bedroom. That Christmas, my aunt bought me a tea set, and I was “in business.”

On cooking at home: I always say that my favorite meal is one that someone else cooks for me. I don’t cook at home very often, not that I won’t. The cobbler’s kids don’t have any shoes, I guess. If I do, it’s as simple as steaks on the grill with baked potatoes and salad with a juicy red wine. My wife, Courtney, who is the general manager at The Grape, cooks for me. She’s got a nice little repertoire: salmon (perfectly cooked, by the way), Caesar salad, killer shrimp scampi pasta, and the “standard breakfast,” among others.



Peter Harrison, Capital Grille sous chef

Most interesting place you worked before this job: Circo in Las Vegas.

What you like most about being a chef: I love playing with food for a living, and organizing chaos.

Where you eat when you don’t eat at your restaurant: 2900 and . 2900’s rich, fatty, warm, tasty soul food brings back childhood memories. has the beat pho [rice noodle soup].

Best advice for the home cook: Don’t over-think it, and use plenty of seasoning.

Most essential gadget or piece of equipment: A Burr mixer, a commercial-grade hand mixer.

Silliest gadget or piece of equipment you’ve owned: A rolling pin — I don’t bake or do pastries.

Most surprising thing in your pantry or refrigerator: All kinds of crackers, and wild game.

On wanting to be a chef: I thought I wanted to be a policeman. I even went into the military and got K-9 certifications. One week before I was supposed to take the Rhode Island state police exam, I was skiing in Utah, and I hurt my knee so I couldn’t take the physical. I figured I would work at Wolfgang Puck’s until I could take the test a year later. After one week of cooking, I realized how much I loved the industry and decided to pursue a career as a chef.

On cooking at home: Twice a week. I like to keep it simple — grilled protein, some type of steamed rice or pasta, and always a field green salad.