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Inside Top Chef Alum Sam Talbot's Cozy Compact Brooklyn Kitchen

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Top Chef‘s Sam Talbot isn’t exactly a homebody: His comfort-food hotspot Pretty Southern opened in Brooklyn in January, so he’s not spending a ton of time at his apartment, just a mile from the restaurant.

“I’m basically in the kitchen from 8:30 a.m. til at least midnight every night,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. But he still cares about making the cozy one-bedroom feel like home.

“The vibe and the brightness in the apartment, it comes from my upbringing,” says Talbot, who decked out the space with “calming” succulents and lush plants. “My mom always had giant cacti, they were like 6-ft. tall. I feel like they create a certain vibe that can’t be fabricated.”

Since the chef and cookbook author (his next book, 100% Real, is out in April) only really eats breakfast there, his “railroad-style” kitchen is minimalist. “It’s tiny, compact, so it has everything you need in an arm’s length away… Most of the stuff I’m doing here is quick,” he says of whipping up eggs or avocado toast before he leaves for the restaurant in the morning. “My refrigerator which has two things: baking soda and orange juice.”

Christopher Testani

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Talbot designed the kitchen at Pretty Southern from scratch, with a lot of his cooking essentials actually coming from his own kitchen.

“I’ve taken all my tools— my zesters, everything—because when you’re opening a business, every penny counts. I’m like, ‘Wait, I have all of this stuff, I’m not buying it for the restaurant!'” he says. “I keep one cast iron pan at home, I have one Dutch oven, a sheet pan. I have 16 cast iron pans over at the restaurant, you know? This is for the bare essentials.”

For more on Talbot, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Decorated with vintage estate sale pieces and Craig’s List finds, Talbot’s living room is his favorite place to hang. “This apartment is very calm, it’s my sanctuary, it’s where I come to turn off after long days at the restaurant,” he says. “I put on a little jazz music, some incense, maybe some Jay-Z depending on the mood I’m in. It’s all good.”