Inside TV chef Clodagh McKenna’s new compact kitchen: why big isn’t always better (2024)

Ever wondered what the home kitchen of a professional chef looks like? A large and lavish space with an island that stretches as far as the eye can see? No thanks, says Clodagh McKenna. The chef and television presenter says large kitchens are hard work, and she should know, after spending years catering events in some of the most beautiful kitchens. “You are in these massive kitchens and you’re going from one side of the kitchen to the other all night long, and you’re exhausted by the end of the night,” she says.

The Cork-born chef has spent months renovating her new London home and, unsurprisingly, her favourite part was planning the compact kitchen. It will be the hardest-working room in the house, as she films recipes there and also tests recipes for her appearances on ITV’s This Morning show, her Sunday Times column and her cookbooks. “And the other part, which is equally important, is that it’s our home and I cook every night,” she says.

The original kitchen was small and dark with no windows “so we gutted out the whole kitchen, and then I told the builders I needed a week to think”. She made an island with a pile of boxes and stood in that space every day for a week as she designed the kitchen around her.

The diningroom is separate, and she wanted to ensure that she wouldn’t be slaving over a hot stove while everyone was having fun elsewhere, so an island with seating was her first priority.


“I want my husband [Harry Herbert] when he’s home from work to be able to sit comfortably so we can chat and have a glass of wine while I’m cooking.” He is 6ft 6 and often struggles for leg room at a kitchen island, so she designed the island to accommodate his height.

Inside TV chef Clodagh McKenna’s new compact kitchen: why big isn’t always better (4)

Because the kitchen is small, she did not want to lose valuable storage space with a radiator, so she attached it to the island and covered it with rattan. She removed the kitchen door and created an archway to make the space feel bigger, and installed large skylights which will open wide in the summer to cope with London’s sticky heat.

The kitchen is all about convenience. She placed the three bins in pull-out drawers underneath her chopping board on the island. Her American-style fridge is on one side of her, the sinks are behind her, and she can see what’s happening at the cooker while prepping food.

“Probably the biggest question I’ve been asked is about the cooker. It took me ages to find it, but then I fell in love with this one and it did every single thing I needed,” she says. The cooker that won her heart is a Smeg Portofino*, which has a teppanyaki plate for searing meat and fish, an induction hob, gas burners and two ovens, one of which is a steam oven. It also comes with a rotisserie function.

[ Clodagh McKenna on her Downton Abbey boyfriend: ‘One of the last real gentlemen’]

Possibly her favourite feature is its self-cleaning switch. “You don’t have to put in any chemicals or cleaning product which is really important for me. You just put the water into the bottom and turn it on.”

She was so excited to begin using her new cooker that the painters were still working around her when she began cooking in it. “I couldn’t wait. It was amazing steaming a plum pudding at Christmas time. Everything works so brilliantly.”

Like many chefs, she opted for Italian marble on the island and countertops “because it’s fantastic to work on with pastries and doughs, and it brings a fresh look”.

Open shelving displays the accessories she buys on holidays, and the vegetables she pickles at Broadspear, their farm at Highclere Castle in Hampshire. The castle, which is her husband’s ancestral home, doubles as Downton Abbey in the television series. They will still return to Broadspear at the weekends but her early morning starts for the This Morning show, coupled with other London-based work demands, encouraged them to buy the town house.

Inside TV chef Clodagh McKenna’s new compact kitchen: why big isn’t always better (5)
Inside TV chef Clodagh McKenna’s new compact kitchen: why big isn’t always better (6)

Having spent some time in Italy, she wanted to recreate the feeling of a Tuscan farmhouse kitchen. Her wall tiling “look like caramel bars, they’re so edible”. And when it came to choosing the paint, she got advice from a Farrow and Ball colour specialist. “Anybody can book in with a colour specialist, which I never knew. She gave me an amazing tip about painting in small spaces. Whatever paint you are using on the wall, paint the ceiling and the skirting boards and window frames the same colour because it plays tricks with the eyes and you don’t see where the wall finishes and the ceiling begins.”

Cherry wood was her first choice for the kitchen cupboards, until she discovered the price, “so we used a cheaper wood and used a cherry wood varnish finish, which really worked”. A brass rail underneath her shelving holds utensils and bunches of drying herbs. “If anyone wants a really quick makeover in their kitchen, those brass rails make a space look so beautiful,” she says. “And the utensils are right there in front of you, so you don’t have to think about what drawer the zester is in.”

[Clodagh McKenna: ‘Me and Harry have a drink every day. I don’t care. It’s lockdown’]

She’s particularly pleased with the wine shelf, “which anyone can do. It’s a shelf but tilted upwards for the wine bottles. I put strip lighting in and it’s become such a beautiful feature.” And while space is at a premium in the kitchen, she still found room for a surprise for Harry – a wine cooler, which stores more than 200 bottles of wine.

So, after all the planning, is it a professional chef’s dream kitchen? “I didn’t think I would ever be saying this, but I wouldn’t do anything differently,” she says. “I’m really, really happy with it.”

A TV chef’s must-haves

Clodagh McKenna does not have to think twice when asked which kitchen utensils or appliances she couldn’t live without. Top of her list is her Bosch CreationLine stand mixer. “It’s beautiful to use. The whisk gets right to the bottom of the bowl, and when you are kneading dough, the kneader has a silicone spatula on it. Brilliantly designed.”

She bought her KitchenAid cordless hand mixer in Arnotts in Dublin more than 10 years ago, and it’s working as well as ever. “I haven’t charged it in a month and it’s still going.”

The chef swears by her three Microplane zesters and graters, which she uses for lemon, parmesan and other cheeses. “I take them everywhere with me.”

Inside TV chef Clodagh McKenna’s new compact kitchen: why big isn’t always better (7)

She bought a Victorinox knife on the advice of Darina Allen when she trained at Ballymaloe House. “I have used it ever since so thank you, Darina. It’s stainless steel, really light, with a really thin and bendable blade, and they are fantastic knives. People often buy a big box of knives and pay loads of money for them but my big suggestion would be to buy one Victorinox knife and keep sharpening it.”

Inside TV chef Clodagh McKenna’s new compact kitchen: why big isn’t always better (8)

She also loves her culinary knives made by Fingal Ferguson in west Cork, and keeps them at Broadspear for special occasions.

*The Smeg oven was supplied to Clodagh McKenna as part of a collaboration

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Inside TV chef Clodagh McKenna’s new compact kitchen: why big isn’t always better (2024)
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