Peter Som is rummaging through the freezer in his Chelsea apartment, looking for a container of his homemade chicken stock. It’s buried underneath a pile of other leftovers and ingredients that are each neatly labeled and dated. “This is kale pesto, here’s some carrot buttermilk sauce, strawberry compote, chocolate sauce, shallot oil...”
What’s shallot oil? “I was making shallot confit, and the oil is leftover,” he answers. “Oh, here’s some orange pulp, for when I make orange cake.”
These are clearly not the contents of an average person’s refrigerator, much less that of an award-winning fashion designer. (He has won acclaim for his own eponymous label as well as for his work for Bill Blass, Tommy Hilfiger, and Anthropologie.) Yet he insists, “I’m not a chef,” while offering a taste of candied orange peel that he recently whipped up for a dessert.
I would probably disagree. Since it isn’t unusual to get a text message from him that might read “Sous vide machine just came!!! Dinner tomorrow?” or “Just made a Clafoutis—come over,” accompanied by an enticing photo of his version of the French custard.
The images of dishes he’s prepared were among the most popular on his Instagram feed, so he started a separate feed (@TheExtraTaste) devoted exclusively to his culinary creations. No one would blame you for thinking the beautiful photographs were the work of a food magazine test kitchen.
While the San Francisco native has always been into cooking (“it’s like therapy for me”), things ramped up after he renovated his apartment, combining it with the one next door, and creating a much larger kitchen in the process, with marble counters, cérused oak cabinetry, and tons of built-in storage. “I wanted it open, but I didn’t want it to be super open, because I don’t want everyone to see my mess when I’m entertaining,” he says.
These days, he cooks a couple times a week and always on the weekends. “Now that it’s getting cooler, I no longer have my mother’s voice in my head saying ‘go outside, it’s beautiful.’ So I can stay home and cook.”
On a recent chilly Tuesday, Som was freestyling a minestrone soup (flavoring it with cheese rinds, but not using a recipe) while strategizing his dishes for Thanksgiving. “I’m making pumpkin cheesecake tart, a meringue, and I’ll probably do a poached pear frangipani kind of thing. I already did a dry run of both of them, because I was afraid I’d get there and the crust wouldn’t turn out. It’s always a crust thing, especially when I’m in a different kitchen.”
Som says he came to baking after a break-up, and that his biggest culinary successes and disasters fall in that category. “With cooking, you can adjust along the way,” he explains. “But with baking, sometimes you don’t know until the very end. I tried to make doughnuts and they fell apart in the oil, I made tarts where the crust literally fell apart.”
He’s quickly made up for lost time. His biggest success? “My first yeasted boule of bread, because it looked like it could be in a bakery, it was really cool,” he said, somewhat wistfully. “And then I ate the whole thing, with Lescure butter and a little Maldon sea salt—it was perfection.”