Picture this: your workplace is a laboratory, researching an area of intense scientific interest—the behavior of the endothelial cells in our blood vessels, and how they can cause havoc for the recipients of organ transplants. It’s all in a day’s cutting-edge work for Nancy Kirkiles-Smith. Once at home, though, she trades her lab coat for an apron. Thus, begins the remarkable story of Weekend Kitchen.
“It all started as a little kitchen shop in Kent, Connecticut that my brother and I opened in 2005,” she says. Kirkiles-Smith is standing in an enormous industrial-sized kitchen—almost an oxymoron in the antique house she lives in with her husband Dave and Coal the dog—but somehow, it’s right. The first-floor rooms complement one another, seamlessly moving from kitchen to mud room to a cozy parlor with a fireplace. The original house was built in 1775; an addition in 1824 nearly doubled its size. Then of course, came the kitchen in 2011.
Originally built to host cooking classes, the kitchen spilled over into the adjacent dining area and classes morphed into the “pop-up” dinners that have become so popular. “We learned that lots of the people who came for cooking classes really didn’t want to cook.” Nancy says. “They wanted to eat. So, we started to have these dinners.” She nods toward Chef Paul Baron who was removing two enormous legs of lamb from the oven. “It’s a night out for people, different from going to a restaurant. They get to have great conversations with new people; and it’s a way for chefs without restaurants to show off their skills.”
Having a research scientist spoon out your roasted potatoes is impressive enough, but having the conductor of the Essex steam train join you for dinner is cool, too. That personage would be Nancy’s husband Dave, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and a history buff at heart. His vintage uniform and snappy conductor’s hat is picture-perfect, seated at the head of the table.
“We have anywhere from two to five of these each month,” says Dave, gesturing at the twelve people who sat at table with him one night last month. Dinner guests are deep in a conversation about sailboats.
Dave’s duties as steam train conductor is one way of feeding his obsession with historical re-enactments which both he and his wife have done for years—but only on weekends.
“The kitchen shop in Kent turned out to be not the right thing for my brother and me,” Nancy explains. “We closed it, and he focused on his design work and sculptures. But I loved the store. I missed finding the merchandise and displaying it. I like seeing people fall in love with something, buy it, and take it home.”
That desire took her to a space in Essex where she opened “Weekend Kitchen”—an unusual kind of gift shop that began selling vintage housewares, and grew to offer anything from pots and pans to scarves, pottery, jewelry, cutting boards, candles, silver spoons, cheese knives, stationery, and art.
That’s where you can find Dave during the day.
Weekend Kitchen is an irresistible little storefront on Main Street. You may find that there is nothing you absolutely need, but there is definitely something you cannot live without. It never fails. A visit to the store will also introduce you to Dave, which leads to a train ride (fun), during which he’ll tell you about the pop-up dinners, and viola! The best meal experience you’ve had in years, yours for the asking.
16 Main Street
Essex CT 06426