The Small Kitchen Magician

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wcPersonalityWineTrain.jpgby Kira Devitt, Napa Valley Wine Train Marketing
If you were to meet Chef Kelly Macdonald on the street, with his charming smile and fiery personality, you'd immediately notice that he is not your average celebrity chef.  As Executive Chef on the Wine Train, Macdonald has one of the most unique jobs in the Napa Valley.  Not only does he create delectable gourmet meals, but he does it all in a vintage railcar traveling to and from St. Helena and Napa.  Some might think that this job, in a small and moving kitchen, may be less than ideal for a chef exploring his talent. But Kelly Macdonald sees it as something completely different. Instead, he sees it as a challenge to make him a better chef. 
It can't be easy making a fresh, five course gourmet meal  in a space barely wide enough for two people to squeeze through. But it is possible. According to Chef Macdonald, there are two necessary "ingredients" involved in making a small kitchen masterpiece.
The first ingredient lies in the preparation. Begin by stepping back and planning how to "build your kitchen" for that particular meal. What are the different constraints of your kitchen and work around them.  For example, if you only have two burners on your stove,  take that into consideration when planning your meal and use the oven or even a grill for part.  Or if you don't have enough counter, try putting your cutting board over the sink for extra space. Once you have designed your meal, constraints in mind, then set up a game plan. This should include everything from when you should be chopping, to when you should be stirring and when you should be cleaning. Chef Macdonald calls it the synergy in the kitchen.  Everything working together in the right place at the right time.
The second ingredient is you and your personality.  You have to persevere and only settle for the best.  Chef Macdonald claims that his success as the Wine Train's chef arose from his stubborn side.  He has never believed that the Wine Train and its unique kitchen could hold any of his menus back, with every new item becoming a new exercise to help improve his skills.  If something didn't turn out right, he would try again by making a small adjustment or by using a different technique altogether.  He doesn't see his mobile kitchen as limiting, he sees it as a ladder helping him become better at what he does.  
In fact, in all of his 17 years working in the Wine Train's kitchen, he has only ever had difficulty with one dish, a soufflé.  "You can't make a good soufflé in a moving kitchen,"  it just won't set right.  But Chef wholeheartedly believes (and we agree with him) that the soufflé is the only thing the Wine Train can't make. From the vanilla crème brulee, to the signature beef tenderloin; from the grilled salmon with mango salsa, to the BBQ pork ribs; it can all be made fresh on board the Wine Train.
So, no more complaining about the size of your kitchen. Enjoy what you have and make the best of it.  The truth is, anyone can cook, but only those with the energy, excitement, and willingness to put serious effort in their food will turn out a truly amazing meal .  Happy Cooking!
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Is there ANY chance of asking Chef MacDonald for the wonderful chicken chowder recipe? Had it on the wine train for lunch a couple weeks ago and it was a-mazing! Please help : )

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