If you were going to renovate or design your own kitchen, talking to a chef about their kitchen – a “chef’s kitchen” … should be a good place to start. I am in the process of renovating my kitchen, and by “process”, I mean I have been thinking about it for about 2 years. That’s a long time to spend thinking about something that is programmatically very simple. Hot and cold, clean and dirty, wet and dry. They are the working bones for any decent kitchen. Looking at the plan below, my existing kitchen has most of these things already in place and organized in a manner that almost makes complete sense.
But I want to take things a bit further.
I don’t expect my future new kitchen to win any beauty contest because that’s not all that important to me – I want it to function like a proper working kitchen. Even though I have done plenty of kitchens in my time, I haven’t ever done a kitchen for an actual chef before and I thought it would be interesting to talk to a chef and find out what they thought made a kitchen successful.
Say hello to Chef Richard Chamberlain. Considered one of America’s leading chefs, Richard is the owner of Chamberlain’s Steak and Chophouse in Dallas – named one of Bon Appetit’s top new restaurants shortly after opening in 1993. Since then, both he and the restaurant have garnered stellar reviews and accolades from premier publications such as Gourmet and Zagat Guide. Richard followed this success by opening the award-winning Fish Market Grill in Dallas and Tarragon at Elk Mountain, an ultra-luxury resort in Colorado. In 2005, The Renaissance Las Vegas and Chef Richard Chamberlain partnered for the opening of ENVY The Steakhouse– one of most exclusive new restaurants in Las Vegas, Nevada. Consistently recognized by the world’s top restaurant and dining publications, Chef Chamberlain’s awards include:
- “One of America’s Top Tables,” from Gourmet
- “One of America’s Top Restaurants,” from Zagat Guide
- “Award of Excellence,” from Wine Spectator
Obviously this guy knows how to cook and assuredly knows a few things about well-functioning kitchens. Since Chef Chamberlain is here in my home city of Dallas, I reached out to him and he graciously agreed to host me in his house while I peppered him with questions about a chef’s kitchen. I will admit that I came into this conversation with some preconceptions about what his home kitchen would look like – not necessarily in its aesthetic, but in the layout. I assumed it would be fairly large and be full of cutting edge gear. I was wrong on both accounts.
Chef Chamberlain’s house was very comfortable so I shouldn’t have been all that surprised to hear him say that the most important consideration in laying out a kitchen is the entertaining flow. We all know that the kitchen is the most social room in the house, but this is especially true for Chef Chamberlain. He told me that he and his wife Lisa host dinner parties 4 to 5 times a month in their home and these can range from 5-8 people to over 150. Just think about that for a minute. You are a world-class chef and you are cooking for 16 people (or 100) and everybody wants to see what you are doing and watch the magic in the kitchen. Flow is obviously an extremely important consideration for the chef but this is still a valid concern for the person who happens to be an architect but is still cooking up masterpieces in their own home.
Chef Chamberlain’s kitchen was not originally designed by him but it was remodeled – move a wall here, cut an opening there – certain moves that allowed the space to be more visually open and would allow more people to connect to the activities going on within the kitchen proper, but would allow the chef to have the space he needs to work without interference.
Efficiency of Movement
The kitchen wasn’t small by 20-something college kid New York City apartment standards, but considering the rest of the home, it was still relatively compact. Chef Chamberlain mentioned that as a professional, you work with what you have – he could make anything work – but the thing that allows this kitchen to suit his needs is that it allows him to work efficiently. “What chefs are looking to do is to take the least amount of steps possible.” This simply means that when they are cooking they want the distance from the refrigerator to the cooking surface to be minimal. Does that mean that the fridge is the most important thing in the kitchen?
According to Chef Chamberlain, ground zero (in terms of working) tends to be the center island and then everything else flows around that because everything tends to come off the cutting board. “The cutting board is the center of my world” says Chamberlain and then the flow is from the fridge to the cutting board, to the range, and then over to the sink. As a result, Chef Chamberlain’s walking area is quite small – something that aids in his efficiency and allows the balance of the space to be taken up by spectators and dinner guests.
One of the things I noticed instantly is that the counters were almost entirely free of clutter. Apparently chefs don’t like clutter and most feel that it makes the cooking process less efficient. While I didn’t think I would see piles of pots and pans laying about, I did expect to see a knife block or some bowls sitting out. Counter space is an extremely valuable commodity in the kitchen. I did ask the chef if he used his counter space for laying out and organizing his ingredients – which he said he did – but the most important part of the countertop for him was the ability to plate his meals at once. While this isn’t probably your average home chef’s concern, having the space to spread your work area out so that things are where they need to be is valuable. Chef Chamberlain told me that the original countertops were butcher block – which he does not like because of the maintenance required to preserve and maintain them. He had them removed and then turned into large cutting boards that he uses rather than working directly on his granite countertops.
“I don’t care for clutter and we only put out what is needed.”
Chef Richard Chamberlain
The Most Important Appliance
The range is the key item – and the most important decision Chef Chamberlain made was to go with a large heavy-duty range that could handle a lot of use AND abuse. Originally, Chef Chamberlain wanted to go with a French Range top – but his wife wanted a large griddle. Eventually, his wife conceded to the professional chef in the family and told her husband to go ahead and get the French top but in a twist, he thought he would surprise her by getting the range she wanted instead. After using this range for 8 years, Chef Chamberlain said that the griddle is the most used piece of equipment in the house while hosting his dinner parties. He is able to cook for his dinner parties and finish the food in a predictable and timely manner. After discussing all the ways that the chef uses his griddle, I left thinking that I might need to reconsider the range that I am planning on putting in my own kitchen
Chef Chamberlain told me that he has escaped most of the responsibility of cleaning up after he cooks but it was his wife who got him thinking about how many pots and pans he dirties while cooking.
Chef envisioned that the island sink would be used more for general prep, but if he had gone back and did it again he would leave the sink off the island. The countertop space in the island is the most important real estate there is and between his prep and plating, the sink just gets in the way. There is a double sink just off to the side of the range and now he thinks he would look at using a triple bay sink that utilizes two faucets. This would allow for someone to use two of the bays for cleanup and the third sink could be used for whatever needs the chef has at any given moment.
Sinks typically become congested areas and frequently, as he is cooking, his wife is cleaning and he needs access to the sink. In an effort to avoid using loads of pots and pans, Chef Chamberlain tends to reuse his pans throughout the cooking process – i.e., after he sears some meat, rather than get a new pan, he will simply rinse out the skillet and reuse it. [That’s a trick I need to start using, it looks like a food bomb went off in my kitchen after I’ve been cooking]
I would like to thank Chef Chamberlain for allowing me to come into his home and spend the better part of two hours as I dissected his kitchen. He was gracious and patient and answered far more “Why did you do that” type questions than someone should ever have to answer in their own home. This was a great experience for me; I learned more than I thought I would and I was surprised by the disparity between my expectations and reality. Whether you’re someone who simply likes to cook, there are definitely some insights worth noting here; and if you’re a skilled and seasoned kitchen designer, hopefully you picked up a few ideas. And for those of you who are design professionals, hopefully you’re also getting ready to submit your own chef-approved designs to the Sub-Zero and Wolf Kitchen Design Contest, entries are due by December 31st, 2014.
Today’s post was one in a series of kitchen conversations I am exploring on the evolving role that kitchens play in today’s modern houses. Ultimately this kitchen exploration journey will conclude with a look at the Sub-Zero and Wolf Kitchen Design Contest winners – a chance to see how all these conversations have manifested themselves into kitchens that are judged to be the best of the best. If you would like to learn more about the Kitchen Design Contest, I have included links here to everything you might like to know: more about the judges, the awards and prizes, or the rules of this event.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have partnered with Sub-Zero and Wolf to provide my professional opinion about kitchen design and document its Kitchen Design Contest. While I am being compensated, I only recommend products or services I may use or will use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”