The Ultimate Hobby Kitchen

Feeding his passion for serious cooking, a St. Louis doctor transforms an old garage into the ultimate chop shop.

By Gary Thompson, MidwestLiving

If you’re turning a garage into a second kitchen, why not go whole hog? St. Louis doctor (and Iron Chef-at-heart) George Ahlering did—literally.

“He wanted to be able to lay out a whole hog on the island and carve it,” designer Jenny Rausch says. The massive island anchors a space that gets a workout—George loves cooking large-scale meals and likes to spread out. So he wanted the kitchen to function like a commercial one, with plentiful prep space and easy-reach storage for all his equipment and ingredients.
A pendant provides stylish and targeted work-space lighting, while stainless-steel shelves make it easy to quickly spot and grab cookware.​

 “I call it the super pantry,” says George, who has loved cooking and baking since he was a kid. His mother didn’t like to cook, so George taught himself by watching Julia Child on TV instead of cartoons. “That was before cooking shows were common,” he says. “There were only two cooking shows at the time, and I watched every episode.” Though TV chefs abound today, they still inspire George. “I’m very suggestible,“ he says. “If I see some tuna carpaccio recipe on the Food Network, we’ll be having it that night for dinner.”

Dinner might be for two (George and his wife, Julie), a few couples they've invited over or a big gathering. Whatever the occasion, George cooks to show his love. He once drove a van full of food and gear to a surgery patient’s home and cooked a gourmet meal for the man’s family.

Julie cooks, too, but not as intensely or intuitively as George. “I’m more of a follow-a-recipe kind of girl,” Julie says. She marvels at George's passion for cooking: “There are 200 tomatoes on the counter right now!"

The empty nesters once talked about downsizing their farmhouse-style home, but they opted to stay and turn a junk-filled one-car garage (they have a separate modern garage) into a 300-square-foot space where George wrestles huge slabs of meat and makes giant pots of pasta, sauces and soups from scratch.

So while other guys escape to their garages to tinker with cars, tackle DIY projects or jam on guitars with friends, George retreats to his man(icotti) cave. “When you go in there,” Jenny says, “you just want to be a George Ahlering type of cook.”

Wide open spaces
One ingredient George never lacks is space. The island shelf is tall enough for large pots, and French-door wall ovens and a commercial-grade cooktop handle any dish he dreams up. An island with casters lets a cook roll prep space where it’s needed.

Natural connections
A side door leads to a garden area and George’s favorite appliance—his wood-burning pizza oven. Designer Jenny Rausch softened the kitchen’s commercial look with subway tile walls, marble-look quartzite counters, driftwood-finish cabinets and reclaimed pine flooring. A butcher-block top with a thick edge treatment warms the island. Floor-to-ceiling tile is an easy-to-clean option for busy kitchens.

Bistro feel

The couple turned the old garage’s driveway into an intimate patio area with bistro tables and potted trees arranged on a bed of low-maintenance crushed limestone. Some of the trees bear fruit that George harvests for cooking. The Provence blue tables match the color of the home’s shutters, while light strings hung between 12-foot-tall poles add to the bistro ambience.

Inside the superdome

George’s wood-burning pizza oven is, naturally, epic in scale. He uses it for baking bread and roasting turkey, too. But even smaller, portable versions are great for making pizzas in as little as two minutes.
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Lifestyle Magazine: The Ultimate Hobby Kitchen
The Ultimate Hobby Kitchen
Feeding his passion for serious cooking, a St. Louis doctor transforms an old garage into the ultimate chop shop.
Lifestyle Magazine
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