It’s kind of ironic that Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence bonded over a vegetable. A potato. Or, more accurately, curly fries.

It was their first date. She was 14, he was 15, and a teenage romance that eventually grew into marriage started with that first order of fries at Chili’s.

“From our first date, we were about food, cooking together,” says Justin.

Why the irony? Because Justin and Amy are the culinary geniuses behind The Chubby Vegetarian blog and the author of two cookbooks, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table, and the encore and soon-to-be-released The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table. From that first potato to hundreds of delicious veggie dishes later, this dynamic duo is “making vegetables fun,” as Justin puts it. “We take vegetables and treat them like a piece of meat. We dry rub them, we smoke them and roast them, we present them like the interesting, wonderful things they are.”

The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table is Justin and Amy's second release.

The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table is Justin and Amy’s second release.

When Justin offered StyleBlueprint the chance to tour his kitchen, we jumped at the opportunity. We expected high design and high-end everything, and honestly thought we’d be intimidated. We were so pleasantly surprised to arrive at the couple’s traditional East Memphis home to find a kitchen that was a perfect reflection of them — warm, inviting and completely focused on food. And that was exactly the idea behind the design of the kitchen/dining room, Justin says — to design a kitchen that fit their lifestyle.

Their kitchen is made for two things: Cooking and entertaining. A modest space with a modern ambiance, the latest version of their kitchen came about last year, when Amy stepped on a tile and water squished up from it, signaling water troubles below the floor. “The dishwasher leaked under layers of floor because this house was so old, and it just sort of spread like the Great Lakes under there,” says Justin. The bad news had a silver lining — the couple had a blank slate upon which to create their ultimate kitchen.

Justin and Amy worked with friends George and Walker Ulhorn of Ulhorn Bros. Construction to bring their design ideas to life. “The fun part was getting to start from zero,” says Justin. “It sort of goes with our ethos of instead of just ditch it and buy something new, to make your own whole world.”

Justin and Amy removed a wall to make room for the 6-foot island and combined the dining and living space, which also gave them more seating and storage space. "We used prefab cabinets and just installed them in a sort of a custom way," says Justin. Image|Justin Fox Burks

Justin and Amy removed a wall to make room for the 6-foot island and combined the dining and living space, which also gave them more seating and storage. “We used prefab cabinets and just installed them in a sort of custom way,” says Justin. Image: Justin Fox Burks

At a smaller second island, Justin is whipping up a treat for us! The counters on both islands are functional butcher block.

At a smaller second island, Justin whips up a treat for us! The counters on both islands are functional butcher block, and in constant use.

“I joked on Instagram the other day that our style is a mix of custom-made and Target and whatever’s really on sale at Williams-Sonoma,” Justin says, laughing.

The multi-functional center island that serves as works pace, dining space and storage.

The multi-functional center island that serves as workspace, dining space and storage

"We wanted plenty of storage with everything put away, and we wanted a deep sink," says Justin. Barn doors on the fireplace wall behind the island hide additional storage space. Image|

“We wanted plenty of storage with everything put away, and we wanted a deep sink,” says Justin. Barn doors on the fireplace wall behind the island hide additional storage space. Image: Justin Fox Burks

For Justin and Amy, the kitchen had to be a workhorse. They needed space for creating recipes, space for testing recipes out on friends, plenty of storage and most of all, function. The bonus was to make it all look good, says Justin. “In this modern age, people are in the kitchen, it’s not the scullery in the basement, where you hide the dirty dishes. It’s got to be functional and attractive,” he explains.

The reclaimed wood dining table can seat 18 guests. A non-working fireplace at one end of the dining area is artfully stacked with birch logs. Image | Justin Fox Burks

The reclaimed wood dining table can seat 18 guests. A non-working fireplace at one end of the dining area is artfully stacked with birch logs. Image: Justin Fox Burks

The wood floor's chevron pattern adds another dash of interest to the kitchen and dining area.

The wood floor’s chevron pattern adds another dash of interest to the kitchen and dining area.

The opposite end of the dining room features a built-in bar area with clever open storage for liquor bottles and glassware.

The opposite end of the dining room features a built-in bar area with clever open storage for liquor bottles and glassware. The ceiling of the dining room isn’t tin; rather, it is patterned wallpaper.

Very inch of space is utilized for storage and function, including the counters on either side of the refrigerator, which feature kitchen essentials. Image| Justin Fox Burks

Every inch of space is utilized for storage and function, including the counters on either side of the refrigerator, which feature kitchen essentials. Image: Justin Fox Burks

Draws in the smaller island are full of prep and cooking tools.

Drawers in the smaller island are full of prep and cooking tools.

"I love the story that the butcher block tells," Justin says of his counter tops. "I love the imperfections, and the way you can see the work that's gone into the block. You can see every cut mark when you start making them and then you start to see them less and less because it becomes more of a patina."

“I love the story that the butcher block tells,” Justin says of his counter tops. “I love the imperfections and the way you can see the work that’s gone into the block. You can see every cut mark when you start making them, and then you start to see them less and less because it becomes more of a patina.”

Justin made us smoked carrots with capers and onions - his take on smoked salmon. Delish!

Justin made us smoked carrots with capers and onions — his take on smoked salmon. It was delish!

For those contemplating a kitchen redesign, Justin says make it work for you. “Don’t subscribe to some idea or some Pinterest picture that doesn’t work for your life,” he advises. “Think about how you cook, how you live — and then design around that.

“Our good friend and my god-daughter’s mother, Renee, walked in and after seeing the kitchen she said ‘Well, you know exactly where you are,’ and I loved that,” says Justin, “because it’s what we love, because we love to share our food with people.”

Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence will be at The Booksellers at Laurelwood October 27, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. with treats from their kitchen and signing their new book, The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table.

Our thanks to Justin for the tour and for sharing some of his kitchen photos, and to Micki Martin for her photos of Justin and his kitchen!

**********

Find even more inspiration for your own kitchen design in our Home & Decor section. Click here to get started!