Grayson Altenberg 6103

Sarah Jacobs

Chef Altenberg sitting on his air mattress.

You might be under the impression that you live in a small space.

This may be the case, however, I can guarantee that it is not as tiny as professional chef Grayson Altenberg’s new apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

A recent New York transplant from the Midwest, the 22-year-old moved into a 100-square-foot studio this summer and hasn’t regretted his decision. Yet. 

The media —  The Village Voice, New York Post, and the Today show, for example — has gawked at his extremely compact lifestyle, but Altenberg says he’s happy to occupy his 100-square-foot space.

A line cook at Lincoln Ristorante, we were intrigued that a restaurant professional could stand to live in a space that has no counter tops for slicing, dicing, and chopping — not to mention a stove.

Turns out, he’s perfectly capable of making a delicious dish with just a hot plate, mini fridge, and portable tray. Take a look at his process, and a (very quick) tour of his place. 

This shows most of Altenberg’s apartment — behind me, there’s a closet-size toilet “room,” and to the left is a shower. And yes, that is a cast iron skillet hanging right above his pillows. He sleeps on an air mattress.

Altenberg has to be smart about organizing his belongings. He’s got these nifty shelves for his dry food and a shoe rack just the left.

He also keeps some cookbooks around — inspiration for an aspiring chef.

Inside his mini fridge is a single egg, half a stick of butter, and barbecue sauce. Altenberg mentioned that one of his dreams is to someday open his own barbecue restaurant.

His mini-fridge serves as essential counter space for his hot plate and food-prep area. Above the hot plate, he keeps the up-to-date Lincoln Ristorante menu. This pretty much concludes our tour of chef Altenberg’s apartment.

Before cooking could begin, we made a quick trip to the corner bodega to pick up anchovies, basil, and a pearl onion to make Altenberg’s dish of the day: pan con tomate y anchoas — which is essentially bread with tomatoes, onion, and anchovies on top.

He stressed that we should purchase the “smoked” anchovies — an important flavor difference for his recipe.

After climbing the four flights back up to his apartment, he turned on his standing air conditioning unit and began his food prep.

Altenberg uses generous amounts of olive oil, salt, and pepper to add maximum flavor.

He also takes serious care of his knives, spending up to one hour a day sharpening them with a premium sharpening stone. He claims you can turn any old drug store-purchased knife into a gourmet slicer with the right sharpening technique.

It’s actually impressive how little of a mess he makes while prepping the dish, even as tomatoes are flying through the air to properly mix the flavors.

Next, the hot plate comes into play. Without an oven or a toaster, it’s the only way to warm up the bread.

Basil leaves are clipped to garnish the dish.

He keeps his clock set on “restaurant time,” which is 10 minutes ahead. “In the restaurant business, if you’re 10 minutes ahead, you’re on time,” he told me.

Altenberg is a big fan of antique silverware. Here, he shows me his prized spoons. He’s also a big proponent of chopsticks because of how easy they are to store.

Time to eat! He grabs one of his two plates…

And plates the food.

Altenberg insisted I didn’t use my camera flash on his beautifully plated dish — the apartment’s lone window, a small skylight, lit our subject.

The tray also works as a lap table. He gave me a bite, too — it was simple, but delicious.

Cleanup time! He rinses his bread tray in the tiny sink outside the toilet closet.

Given what Chef Altenberg can make in a cramped, 100-square-foot apartment, we can only imagine what his cuisine might be like in a full kitchen. Here’s hoping that his barbecue restaurant dreams do come true.

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