The Kitchen

 

——DRAFT —–

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 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 that we had redone in 2004 so this 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 well used and well loved. 

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 to the burners. The burners that Wolf now uses throw heat towards the outside edges of pans which has several negatives. First is that the sides of pans get hot which is a problem for most cooking. You want heat evenly across the bottom of pans and NOT towards the edges or up on the sides. It also throws more heat (and byproducts of gas combustion) to outside the pan and in to the cook’s face vs how much heat goes in to the food where it belongs. Overall the burners on the Bluestar are simply much better for cooking. After 10 months in our new kitchen 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. 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 are much better and more accurate than any induction range or rangetop that I’ve seen.

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.

 

Ventilation

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’ve long noticed that, unlike consumer hoods, those in restaurants are always giant boxes of empty space. I’ve 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. 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

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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.

 

Gathering

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.

 

Scullery

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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!