More effort went in to planning and executing our kitchen than any other element of our house. We enjoy cooking, baking and entertaining and wanted a space that worked well for these and as a central social space without the two conflicting too much.
This is the fourth kitchen we’ve designed and built for ourselves with each making functional improvements on the previous. We’d take notes over time about what does and doesn’t work for us and apply them to the next version. We felt we’d largely got it right with the kitchen in our prior house (v3) that we had redone in 2004 so this v4 kitchen is only slightly modified from that one.
Food Workshop – Function over Form.
I view a kitchen primarily as a workshop for producing food. While a well designed workshop is a pleasure to work in, a poorly designed shop is frustrating and dismal no matter how nice it looks. I also believe that functional looks more appealing than something built for show. I’ve seen a number of ‘gorgeous’ kitchens but none are as aesthetically appealing to me as those that are functional, well used and well loved.
And, I find matchey matchey appliances/packages visually boring and blah.
I think the only form over function decision that we made is that everywhere in our new kitchen that is soapstone would have been stainless but I’m happy with the soapstone.
Form is still important though. Being able to enjoy how our kitchen looks does make it more enjoyable. It won’t overcome poor function but will add to good function. I think my wife, our designers and architects, builder, cabinet maker and others did a great job making our functional kitchen look great. There was a bit of frustration on the part of our designers over some unchangeable functional requirements that we had but in the end it all worked.
Big Tools (Appliances)
Our new kitchen (Jun 2020) is a slight modification of our previous kitchen that had worked very well for us for 15 years and that we’d built to be a very functional working kitchen. We replaced our 36” Wolf with a 48” Bluestar and went w/ a 24” griddle instead of 12” (thus the 36” to 48”). We added a CSO. We did much better ventilation.
Our new kitchen includes a 48” Bluestar RNB Range w/ 4 burners and a 24” griddle/flat-top, Miele XL CSO (combi-steam), Miele H6780 electric wall oven w/ moisture plus, GE Advantium Speed Bake / Microwave (240v), 2 Miele warming drawers, countertop induction hobs.
Sub-Zero Combi (Frig over 2 freezer drawers), Perlick under-counter beverage frig (Scullery), Scotsman under counter ice maker (Scullery), 2 Frigidaire Flexi-Freezers (Garage – each can be either all frig or all freezer). 2 Miele DW’s (one Kitchen, one Scullery).
The choice of a Bluestar RNB rather than a Wolf came down mostly to the burners. For burners you want as even of heat as possible across the bottom of the pan, slightly more heat towards the middle and slightly less towards the edges, and as much of the heat as possible applied to the pan.
The burners that Wolf now uses are not really that good for cooking. They throw heat towards the outside edges of pans rather than spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan. This results in less even heat across the bottom of the pan and more heat (and byproducts of combustion) in to the cooks face. The sides of pans get hotter, which is the opposite of what you want. And it wastes btus.
The star burners on the Bluestar are simply much better for cooking. They produce more even heat across the bottom of pans with slightly more towards the center and slightly less towards the side and throw less heat in to the cooks face. More btu’s are applied to cooking so the difference in btu’s is actually much greater than the simple numbers imply. After 18 months in our new kitchen (after cooking on Wolf’s for a couple of decades) we’re comfortable that we made the right choice.
The availability of good countertop induction hobs/burners allows us to have the best of both worlds – gas and induction. We’re not limited to one or the other. We have good gas burners for most stuff (some of which cannot be done on electric or induction) and we also have countertop induction hobs when we need them. Another advantage to this approach is that many of the countertop induction hobs such as the Control Freak or Avantco are much better and more accurate than any consumer induction range or rangetop currently available.
The RNB also has a thermostatic griddle which is much better than any type of burner top and provides considerable versatility. More on Why Good Griddles Are Important.
Top oven priority was a good gas oven. Gas ovens provide a moist environment which is better for most food, particularly meats and breads. Electric ovens provide a dry environment which is better for cakes. Some electric ovens such as our Miele have a moisture system that injects steam in to the oven to try to mimic the cooking environment of a gas oven. Commercial systems like this work fairly well, we’re still getting use to the moisture control on the Miele and so far it’s not quite the same as a gas oven.
We also have a Memphis pellet grill on our porch that gets used throughout the year – even during Minnesnowta winter. One night every week is pizza night and these are baked on a stone or steel in the grill. Besides the typical meats pellet grills also work well for veggies. FWIW, I’d recommend staying far far away from Memphis Grills. Their quality has taken a nose dive over the past 18 months. We along with many others have had considerable reliability problems that often make it unusable. When it works we love it and so we hope that these problems can be fixed rather than have to replace it with something else (more on the Memphis Grills problems: The Minnesota Problem). Note: Memphis are introducing a version 3 of their controller in summer of 2021 that may fix most or all of the problems people have experienced with v2. Stay tuned.
For some random thoughts on small tools: Cookware.
Gas vs Induction – Preference vs Safety vs IAQ
Personally I prefer cooking over gas. Part of that is that it’s simply what I’m use to and part is that there are some cooking techniques that cannot be done on consumer level induction. On the other hand, our winter home has induction so I do get to use it for two or three months each year there and we also have countertop induction hobs that we use. Sadly, neither has made me a good cook. That said, we did run an 80a electric line to behind our range in case we or someone else wants something other than gas in the future.
Induction does have some advantages like being more energy efficient, not producing extra heat in the kitchen (very much appreciated in more tropical climates), and easier to clean up (if well made). LESS VENTILATION IS NOT A BENEFIT – despite what marketing people say, cooking over induction requires as good of ventilation as cooking over gas. Does it boil water faster? Than a lower power gas range (including Wolf), yes. Water boils as fast or faster on a Bluestar RNB (and would on similar gas ranges) as on any consumer induction.
Is Induction safer? WE DO NOT KNOW. From the research I’ve done there is no conclusive answer and likely will not be for 10 – 30 years. Twenty years from now we may be able to say that induction is very safe and everyone who chose induction in 2022 made a good safe choice. Or, we may be looking at epidemic levels of cancer and dementia in 40 and 50 year olds caused by induction. Again, WE DO NOT KNOW. We’ll very likely determine that some induction cooking is extremely dangerous and some not (thanks to better quality electronics, better shielding, etc.).
One issue that many medical and research types who have raised concerns about induction point out is that tests of induction have all been done at 30cm (about 1’) from the front of the range or cooktop. EMF, the primary health concern with induction, falls off very quickly. It is massively stronger at the front of the range than 1’ back. I don’t know about you but I rarely stand 1’ back from our range. More like maybe 3” and often leaning up against it. And what’s right there at induction EMF producing level is rather precious to me.
We know or think we know the risks and harms of gas and we know or think we know that good ventilation lessens or possibly eliminates that risk and harm. We do not know that about induction. Induction has the hallmarks of what we once thought about asbestos. For me I prefer the monster I know to the one I don’t.
FWIW, I’m a proponent of electric. I’ve driven battery electric cars for 10 years, yard tools (except our big snowblower) are electric, and doubt that we will ever buy another combustion engine of any sort (car, boat, mower, etc.). We have held off on getting a pontoon until we can buy one that’s electric powered. I still prefer my non-electric Workcycles Opafiets bicycle for transportation whenever possible though.
The Waste Of Ice Makers
Dedicated ice makers that make good clear ice, such as our Scotsman, are quite wonderful. They also waste a chunk of expensive energy and water. To do what they do they have some electronics, a motor to drive the ice out of the molds and a cooler to keep the ice… ice cold …so that it doesn’t melt. THEN, in order to insure that there’s always room in the top for fresh cold ice, they have a heating plate on the bottom that …melts the ice. And a pump to pump the resulting melted ice (water) up to a drain. This is all also not a quiet operation.
A good ice maker is well insulated and without the heater turned on the ice in it will last quite a long time, typically a couple of days. But we want fresh ice, not 2 day old stale ice. How fresh? In a diet coke it’s difficult/impossible to tell 1 minute old from 24 hr old. In a Negroni up to 12 hrs is unnoticeable and 24 hrs is only noticeable if directly comparing and 48 hrs is noticeable.
Most days we don’t use a lot of ice. About 5 – 10 glasses worth. We experimented with turning it off at some point during the day and then back on the next morning. What we found is that running it just 3 hrs each day provides more than enough fresh ice – about 3x as much as we typically need.
After a conversation with Scotsman to verify that it’s OK to switch power to the outlet on/off each day we now have the outlet controlled by our HA system. It turns on at 7a each morning and off at 10a. Less noise, less wasted energy and water, plenty of fresh ice. If we’re entertaining then a push of a button keeps it on until 10p that day. So our ice maker now wastes about 1/10 as much electricity and water as it did before.
Why Scotsman and others don’t put timers in these to set a daily on/off time (along w/ a ‘keep on for the day’ button) is beyond me. $20 coffee makers from Target have timers, certainly Scotsman can figure it out. A built-in timer would be best as then it can still run the drain pump even when the heater is off. If you’re buying one make sure to ask your sales person about a timer. Maybe if enough people ask they’ll get the message and put one in.
For more in depth info: Range Exhaust Hood FAQ
Ventilation is important. We quite dislike the odors of meals past ourselves and we don’t want guests to be offended by them either. Perhaps more important is how much we’ve learned in recent years about the harmful effects on our health that comes with cooking. And this not just from the byproducts of gas combustion but Carcinogens, VOC’s and Particulate Matter produced by cooking itself. There was also the issue of how LOUD our Vent-A-Hood range hood was.
We wanted ventilation in our new kitchen that would be effective in removing not just the odors but also the Carcinogens, VOC’s and PM. We also wanted it to be as quiet as possible.
I’d long noticed that, unlike consumer hoods, those in restaurants are always giant boxes of empty space. I’d also noticed that these commercial hoods also seem much quieter. A bit of research and I found these two things are related. That big empty space is called Containment Area or Containment Volume. It contains the cooking effluent until it can be exhausted. One benefit of this is that commercial hoods can actually use fewer CFM’s (airflow) than residential hoods (who rely on big CFM numbers as part of their marketing campaigns).
We could not find a consumer/residential hood that had sufficient containment area and every one of them is louder than commercial hoods. SO, we installed a commercial hood. And it was one of the best decisions we made.
It works much better at removing effluent (you can’t smell my wok stir-fries from 10’ away, much less anywhere else in the house) and at the same time is much quieter. It’s so quiet that we actually adjusted the low setting that we use most often to a bit higher CFM’s so that we could hear it a little bit to know that it’s on. Prior to doing this you couldn’t even hear it on low.
The hood is 60” x 30” custom made by Accurex.
Besides doing a much better job getting rid of the effluent and with a lot less noise, there are other benefits. At 6’4” above the floor it is totally out of the way when cooking and so no head banging which I’ve really come to appreciate. The lights are up in the top and reflect off all of the hood interior surfaces so it provides much better, brighter and more even light with fewer shadows than consumer hoods.
We also installed a 400 CFM exhaust vent over the oven stack. In hindsight the vent itself should have been a bit larger and maybe a little further out from the stack but it still works fairly well.
Coffee & Tea
Perhaps the biggest conflict point in our prior kitchen was cooking and coffee. There was often contention for the sink, counter space and the aisle in between them. Our new kitchen includes a dedicated coffee & tea space with it’s own sink. Keeping this out of way of other kitchen activities has proven a really good move.
I had originally planned to get a Jr Casa from Chris Coffee but that plan got interrupted and I’m glad it did. Our son and daughter (in-law) were on Fogo Island when Covid hit and all of their friends told them to not come back to Brooklyn (New York) so… they came to stay with us instead. He’s had a Breville Oracle Touch for some time and found my Rancillio Silvia to be sub standard to that. With numerous reminders that it was fully returnable if I didn’t like it he convinced me to order one.
After a few days of using it I was surprised at how good and consistent of espresso it made as well as the quality of the steamed milk and froth for lattés and other drinks. Making americano’s each morning is a breeze and they turn out quite good. As good as I’d be able to do with the Jr Casa? That’s difficult to say. My guess is that sometimes I’d do better with the Jr Casa and sometimes worse so on average about the same. The Oracle Touch is likely more consistent than I’d be with the Jr Casa but where it really shines is convenience and ease-of-use. And the latter really pays off when we have guests who can all make drinks themselves whenever they want which would not always be the case with the Jr Casa.
It was a good investment.
No matter how much of a workshop the kitchen is it is also, as in many homes, the central social place in our home. And this is far more important to us than cooking functionality or aesthetics.
We tried to balance the work vs social aspects by including space for people to gather that is in the kitchen space but not in the work space. We also thought through traffic patterns and tried to keep traffic movement mostly out of the work space.
At the same time we do want people in the kitchen and in the work space so aisles are a bit wider to welcome people in to the space and still give room for all of us to move about with little conflict. I love it when I’m prepping something and my brother-in-law or niece come stand beside me to chat.
Across the Scullery Hall from the kitchen is… The Scullery. Similar to other elements this was born out of function – to have dirty dishes from cooking, serving and eating out of the main kitchen.
It does triple duty:
Scullery – It has a large sink for cleaning stuff, a dishwasher, and plenty of counter space for dirty or clean dishes.
Bar – It’s the bar for the main level and porch.
The window to the porch (to the left in the photo above) is counter level so when it’s open it can act as a bar for the porch.
Storage – Lots of storage. Thanks to the recommendations of some people on Houzz we did almost all drawers for the lowers in the kitchen and scullery – no doored cabinets except under sinks. This is advice that’s proved totally golden!
Resources – One book really stood out for us and that was ‘Kitchen Design With Cooking In Mind’ by Donald Silvers.