From Sullivan’s Steakhouse and the Princess Resort, to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and currently overseeing more than 60 locations as corporate executive chef of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine, Russell Skall is no stranger to the kitchen.
Adept at creating and maintaining efficient kitchen workspaces across the nation, this executive chef is no different in the kitchen that matters most — the one within his Scottsdale home of 12 years.
A gut reaction
When Skall moved back to Arizona with his family in 2000, it was the kitchen space in his home that needed an essential remodel. After three months of renovations, the kitchen — which Skall designed himself — was complete, notably with an island and a pull-out cutting board and preparation table.
With a kitchen island, “everything is within reach,” Skall says. “It makes it nice and easy.”
For instance, the trash can is kept tucked away inside the island, out of sight. And all of the utensils are stored in the island’s drawers. Plus, the island helps promote efficiency, Skall says, making it easier to move around the kitchen.
But it isn’t just about efficiency for Skall. The kitchen’s island is a great way to socialize with your guests. And for Skall, who hosts gatherings all the time, including his daughter’s wedding (held in their backyard), this is important.
“People want to be in the kitchen,” he says. It’s a community area where everyone gathers around the island and mingles, he adds. In fact, every Christmas, Skall and his neighbors have a Christmas block party — and of course he’s the cook for it all.
Down to Earth
But the fact that Skall knows his way around his home kitchen isn’t surprising. What is surprising, however, is how familiar and comfortable the kitchen looks and feels. A plethora of cooking books line the walls; photos of his kids drown his refrigerator doors; and the size of the kitchen is just big enough — not pompously large, but sized just right. And brand names? Skall is more concerned about the quality of the food, not the name engraved on the utensils, cookware and dishware used in the meal-making process.
To ensure his dishes for the family are created with the freshest ingredients (even those he wouldn’t find at the stores he frequents, including Whole Foods, Sprouts and Safeway), Skall not only shops for organic foods, but he also cultivates his own herbs.
“I grow whatever I can’t find at the store that season,” he says. Currently, his garden consists of dill, mint, thyme, parsley, oregano and rosemary.
Skall even composts his food in his own backyard.
“Composting is great for the home,” he says. “You can compost anything organic. If it doesn’t break down, you can’t compost it.” It’s a way of thinking green, he adds.
Skall seemingly has two rules in the kitchen: One, have fun while you’re cooking because “that’s the way cooking should be.” And, two, the way to go about that is to, “Open up your cupboards, and go through your fridge; mix and cook with what you already have,” he says.
For instance, for Skall’s Red Rice & Farro Salad (a salad he whips up during visit), he doesn’t follow the recipe verbatim. Instead, he adds chicken and creates a marinade with what he has laying around, which includes olive oil, curry, thyme, salt and pepper.
Although Skall designed the kitchen, he says there is just one small change he would make — replace the electric stove with a gas stove or an induction heat stove.
“Gas is such a better way of cooking,” he says. “You can control the heat (with gas) versus the electric (stove).”
With an induction heat stove, you can adjust the cooking heat instantly and with great precision; plus, it leaves the kitchen and the stovetop much cooler. Plus, “It’s really safe for the kids,” Skall says.
Red Rice & Farro Salad
2 oz. Calamata olives, rough chopped
6 tbsp. arugula, rough chopped
6 oz. farro
3 tsp. kosher salt
3 ½ oz. red pepper, ¼’’ dice
3 ½ oz. celery, ¼’’ dice
3 ½ oz. carrots, ¼’’ dice
1 ½ tsp. minced garlic
6 cups water
2 oz. Sundried tomatoes, rough chopped
3 oz. Marinated artichokes, rough chopped
1 cup red rice
¾ cup olive oil
4 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Black pepper, café grind
3 oz. Goat cheese, crumbles
3 oz. Cranberries, dried
1. Wash red rice and drain, place into a sauce pot with 4 cups water and 1 tsp. salt, bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30-35 minutes and tender. Drain and cool down under cold water.
2. Place farro, 2 cups water and 1 tsp. in a sauce pot and bring to a low boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 18-20 minutes until the farro is cooked. Drain and cool under cold water. Place both grains in a medium mixing bowl.
3. Cut the onion, red pepper, celery and carrot into a 1/4” dice, then add to the mixing bowl with the minced garlic.
4. Rough chop arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and olives, then add to the mixing bowl. Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, remaining 1 tsp. Kosher salt and goat cheese crumbles. Toss all ingredients well, then place into a container.
Note: Salad is best if made the day before. Eat within four days.
For more information about Russell Skall or Fleming’s, visit flemingssteakhouse.com.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine
6333 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale