Dream kitchens? Oh, I do dream of kitchens, of designing mine without any concern for budget.
I may not be a great chef (not yet, anyway), but I still yearn for a big, perfectly equipped, gourmet kitchen—a harmonious marriage of function and style. Picturing a room that is clean yet inviting, with warm, buttery lights and the irresistible scent of fresh garlic, I see myself sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio and gossiping with friends while preparing the perfect risotto. I imagine having enough space and all the right tools to create epicurean masterpieces that would make master chef Nobu let out a gratified sigh.
But, enough about me. Let’s just say that it’s your dream kitchen we’re talking about, and money is no object. How would you design the layout? What equipment would you include?
We quizzed the real experts—six top local chefs—to find out how they would go about it. Here’s what they said.
Mike Diem, owner and head chef of East Avenue Bistro in Ketchum, has this advice: Start from the ground up. “I would want a tile floor with a drain in the center of the kitchen,” he says. “That way, I could hose everything down.” This type of floor, Diem explains, makes it easier to clean up spills and prevents any dirt from accumulating under commercial stoves and ranges that sit up off the ground. Those areas tend to get dirty very quickly, and are much easier to access with the help of some hose power. Even without the drain, a tile floor is easily cleaned with a good mop.
Earnest Ouellett, executive chef at Zou 75, also favors tile or concrete floors, because they are easy to clean, withstand spills, and repel stains. Pigmented and lightly textured concrete floors offer design options and easy maintenance.
Another option, and a favorite of a few other Wood River Valley chefs, are hardwood floors. They are easy to clean but tend to be a little more giving underfoot, and break the fall of dishware far better than tile or concrete.
New laminate technology now offers softer flooring with possibilities for colorful patterns. Linoleum-type surfaces have been developed using recycled materials and few, if any, toxic substances. These laminates, such as Marmoleum, can be cut and installed in patterns much like parquet flooring, or laid out in artful forms resembling rugs to define spaces.
The chefs’ votes are unanimous: The kitchen should be an open room with ample amounts of counter space.
“There should be enough counter space for your tools and plenty of space to cook, while keeping the kitchen a social room,” Ketchum Grill owner, Scott Mason, suggests. Vintage’s Jeff Keys says, “Space is more important than equipment.”
For many cooks, space requirements include an island or counter bar area where people can mingle and help prepare the meal or, at least, socialize with the chef while he or she works. The island, or community counter space, should serve as both the work center for much of the food preparation and a comfortable place for family or guests to congregate.
A number of utility and storage ideas can be included in the design of an island: an additional sink, wine storage, refrigerators, storage for pots and pans. Butcher-block countertops are wonderful for prep work (chopping and the like), but stone such as granite and marble is also beautiful and can take the heat of a hot pan from the stove—or provide technical support in that most gourmet of activities: making chocolates.
“The best way to temper chocolate is on a marble counter,” Ouellett explains. Why would you want to be able to temper chocolate? To make truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries, of course.
Jennifer Schwartz, co-owner and head chef of daVinci’s restaurants in Hailey and Eagle, says that she would add a baking counter (lower in height than a standard counter) specifically for rolling and kneading dough. “A lower stone counter makes dough work so much easier. I would definitely include that in a kitchen designed for baking.” Jennifer appreciates the ease with which dough can be worked without sticking on the cooler surface of stone counters, and prefers soapstone for its less shiny, softer look. >>>
“You need enough room for all your stuff,” Keys point out. He prefers open cupboards without doors. “That way, you can see and reach everything without having to search.”
Commercial kitchens are perfect resources for finding storage ideas, and many chefs bring the same systems into their home kitchens. Magnetic knife holders can protect the keen edge of a well-honed blade and clear out a drawer needed for storing other items. Pullout shelves and drawer or cabinet dividers keep cookware handy and accessible. Rod and hook systems offer a flexible solution for using wall space, with components ranging from simple hooks for hanging potholders and ladles to metal mesh baskets for holding favorite cooking oils or small utensils.
Tools & Cookware
Esta Hornstein of Esta Restaurant loves to invite friends over for brunch, and includes everything from fresh pastries and breads to smoked salmon and eggs in her spreads. Having a kitchen stocked with good serving utensils and dishes is critical for hosting these larger events.
What about cookware? Many of the chefs recommend copper pots and pans. Copper conducts heat quickly and evenly and is, in many culinary giants’ eyes, the very best for cooking. But, says Keys, “A good kitchen doesn’t necessarily need a lot of fancy tools. A good chef’s knife and a boning knife are essential, and maybe a Chinese cleaver.”
Hornstein recommends having at least one commercial-size oven to accommodate larger, hotel-size baking sheets for pastries, and adds that it is nice to have two wall-mounted ovens located elsewhere for smaller baking tasks. She recommends a Wolf range-and-oven combination to fill the need for a high-performance range and commercial-size oven.
Keys emphasizes the importance of using a commercial gas range: “The commercial ranges put out more heat, or BTUs”—for consistent heat and better cooking.
Another essential appliance mentioned by most chefs is the KitchenAid stand mixer. Since he enjoys making ravioli and other types of pastas, the grinder and pasta attachments are well used in Ouellett’s kitchen.
For cleanup, Mason strongly urges people designing new kitchens to consider installing two high-quality dishwashers or one commercial dishwasher (most commercial dishwashers clean and sterilize dishes in less than ten minutes). Having high-quality cleaning support keeps the chef from being unsociably distracted by mounting dishes in the sink.
Almost as important to Keys as ample counter space is a larger than standard kitchen sink. Other chefs agree: the standard kitchen sink is simply too small to clean larger pieces of cookware conveniently. Ouellett even wants a full dishwashing station, with the “three sisters” sink (a series of three tubs to scrub, rinse, and sanitize) and an overhead sprayer.
An ample amount of refrigeration space is another design demand of fine chefs. Diem would prefer a walk-in refrigerator. Mason suggests including refrigerated wine storage in the pantry. What constitutes “enough”? For many chefs, that would be a minimum of two refrigerators. Sub-Zero now designs refrigeration systems in a variety of shapes and sizes to blend with cabinetry, fitting under counters and functioning professionally without appearing commercial.
When it comes down to the basics, the overriding preference in everyone’s dream kitchen is abundant and comfortable open space. Cooking and dining are social activities. And, just like the rest of us, top chefs want space to share the process of creating gourmet meals with their loved ones.
Eleanor Jewett lives in Hailey with her husband, Eric Rogers. She hopes to improve her cooking abilities someday and to build her own dream kitchen. In the meantime, she relies on the Oz-like guidance and culinary generosity of the pros.