It was 1978, and a man was tacking up a For Sale By Owner sign in the front lawn of his circa-1900, 1,600 square-foot East Bay cottage when George Germon and Johanne Killeen happened by. The Al Forno owners knew instantly that they had to have the house. No matter that it had no heating system. Or indoor plumbing (it actually boasted the last functioning outhouse in the area). Or that there were only two electrical outlets in the whole place. “We were very enchanted with the town,” remembers Johanne — so smitten, in fact, that the enormity of the project they were about to undertake wasn’t a deterrent.
It took five years to convert the tired summer cottage into its present iteration: a weekend retreat with plenty of European country appeal. “George [an architect by trade] rebuilt it, literally rebuilt it,” says Johanne. The roof came off. The house was stripped down to its studs, the layout reconfigured to suit their needs. The first priority for the two chefs/restaurateurs? A functional, and attractive, kitchen. The original galley kitchen went the way of the Dumpster, and they transformed the master bedroom — a large room on the first floor with great natural light — into their ideal culinary workshop. With a clean slate they created a room equally practical and pretty, a space conducive to both working and entertaining. In short: they designed their favorite — and most frequented — room in the house.
Personal touches abound in George and Johanne’s kitchen, and the pair draws on a rustic design aesthetic at home that mirrors their restaurant. Note Al Forno signatures such as the striped ceiling and the use of multiple hard surfaces: brick, bluestone, granite, wood, marble. Found, made, even discarded objects lend utilitarian charm. “We pick things up in our travels from all over,” says Johanne. Most of the copper pots are from E. Dehillerin in Paris (when the couple kept an apartment there, they’d buy one at a time and have them shipped over), but a few date back to the Revere factory in New Bedford. The baskets were a gift from renowned California pastry chef and bread baker Nancy Silverton. The pottery is Portuguese, bought mostly in Providence, except the blue colander that George made himself. The chandelier — which despite heroic efforts still hangs crooked — was shipped from Venice. “I opened the crate, unpacked it and accidentally threw away all the parts,” George remembers with a laugh. (Before he could mount it to the ceiling, he had to have replacements specially made.)
“The most important item of any home George would ever live in is a fireplace,” says Johanne. Though aesthetically pleasing, the draw here is also functionality. The couple often uses it to cook — they roast meat (pork loin is pictured) on the spit, which runs on an electric motor, or set up a grill for steak, fish, burgers and, of course, pizza. They stumbled upon the decorative tiles in Paris and the refurbished mantle in Rhode Island — in a historic building on South Main Street set to be razed. The bluestone, indigenous to New England, borders the fireplace and is also used as a design component throughout the restaurant. One of George’s favorite materials, bluestone is not slippery when wet.
“It was abused,” says Johanne, of the table that sits in the center of the kitchen. George discovered the battered, nicked castaway next to a Dumpster over by RISD. Once he stripped the paint, he realized the top was a solid piece of wood (a sign, given its width, that it’s quite old). They picked up the maple chairs — the original seats in Al Forno’s Steeple Street location — for $5 each some thirty years ago. The marble tabletop near the entryway is cut from the same marble used on the downstairs bar at the restaurant. Note the matching chair rail fabricated from chips of marble, a savvy alternative to the easily bruised wooden version.
The all-stainless steel wet area was custom-fabricated to George’s specs. Sinks are extra-deep and extra-large to fit roasting pans and stock pots, and storage is all under-the-counter for an unobstructed line of sight. The backsplash is twelve inches tall (as opposed to the standard four) to prevent water damage and make cleaning a cinch. The dishwasher is restaurant-quality: an old-fashioned Hobart that turns out sparkling plates and stemware in two minutes flat.
George happened upon the cast-iron door to the cold smoker twenty years before refurbishing the old cottage and had been waiting — patiently — to find a use for it. As its name implies, the smoker never gets much above 60° to 80° F. To achieve a very mild smoked flavor, meats such as lamb and roast beef are started in the smoker — a process that takes a couple of hours — and finished in the oven or on the grill (a required step because cold smoking does not cook).
The pantry was designed to hold — and to hide. Four deep closets with decorative French doors and bronze fixtures run the length of the kitchen and store dry goods, plates/glassware, a commercial fridge (notice the vents) and coats. (“I don’t like looking at fridges in kitchens,” says Johanne.) The shelves are slatted — a detail they borrowed from boats — so things can breathe, a clever tactic given the mold potential in a coastal area. The decorative copper fish are hand-made by an artisan in Burano.
“On holidays, like Thanksgiving, this is the big work horse,” says Johanne. Dinner parties aren’t a problem with a professional, antique Garland four-burner gas range, two ovens, two broilers (one above the range and one below), a griddle and a flattop. The range (left side) — a wedding present — dates back some 100 years, and the couple later bought the right section to match. The commercial hood was a tight fit; George had to shave the surrounding brick to make it work.
George and Johanne are partial to granite because of its hard, vitreous surface, which, unlike marble, doesn’t stain. Countertops are kept clutter-free (no small appliances except the Nespresso machine) to maximize workspace. The cabinets were commissioned a couple of inches taller than standard size to suit Johanne’s height; they’re painted “Shark’s Tooth,” a charcoal-gray color custom-blended by George. Interiors are lined with tile, a surface that’s both durable and easy to scrub. The brass pulls, which lie flush with the cabinets, are from a boat supply outfit in New Bedford.
Pork Roast Spit-Roasted Over a Wood Fire
3 to 4-pound boneless, rolled and tied pork loin
6-8 sprigs (each about 6 inches long) fresh rosemary
6-8 sprigs (each about 4 inches long) fresh thyme
Allow the pork roast to come to room temperature.
Build a hot fire with aromatic woods. Set up the rotisserie in front of the fire with a drip pan underneath.
Completely dry the pork with paper towels; moisture will inhibit its ability to brown properly. The roast should be securely trussed or tied with string at 1 K-inch intervals. Lace the sprigs of rosemary and thyme under the string and sprinkle with sea salt. The herbs may singe and smoke a bit as the roast turns before the fire imparting their heady fragrance to the meat.
Spit the roast through the center of the meat so it will be properly balanced as it turns. If the spit does not turn smoothly, excess strain will be put on the rotisserie and the meat may cook unevenly. The distance between the fire and the rotisserie will determine the intensity of heat. Try keeping the spit about 6 inches in front of the fire.
After about 20 minutes the fat on the outside of the roast should melt and begin to self-baste the meat. If this hasn’t happened after 30 minutes, move the spit closer to the fire. However, if the roast begins to brown too quickly, move it further from the heat source. Although you are cooking with live fire, the heat should not be extreme. It is the residual heat, not the flame, that will slow-roast the pork. It should take about the same amount of time as conventional oven-roasting. Maintain the heat of the fire by adding logs as necessary. Cook the roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 150° (pork is safe to eat at 140°). This should take 1 to 1 K hours. Remove the spit and place the roast on a cooling rack over a pan to catch the juices. Loosely tent a piece of foil over it and let the meat rest about 20 minutes in a warm place. Serve with juices that have accumulated under the rack.
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: Be sure your spit is either chrome plated or made of stainless steel. Other metals could taint the flavor of the meat.