Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Kitchen Design and the Birth of R’evolution Red

Sneak preview of the R'evolution kitchen

Throughout my 30+ year career, I’ve worked and staged in dozens of kitchens. My own, those of my mentors and colleagues, kitchens in hotels, in homes, in culinary schools. l’ve been blessed – or spoiled, depending on how you look at it – with many beautiful kitchens. Even as a young chef coming up in the restaurant world, working at the Gotham and at restaurants in Europe, I had the privilege to work in kitchens that were spotless, well thought out and efficient.
I’ve also worked in a lot of crappy kitchens. Places where it’s clear the chefs aren’t treating the kitchen like the all-important nerve center that it is. Once you’ve seen both kinds, you appreciate the good ones even more.
My first kitchen was at Trio, in Evanston, Illinois. When Gale and I opened it, we had no money, so we bought all used equipment. But we treated it the way you treat your first apartment. We scrubbed everything until it shone, painted the kitchen and maintained it really well. We appreciated what we had.

The TRU kitchen. Credit:

Then we opened Brasserie T, and from that $50,000 kitchen at Trio, we leapt to a $250,000 kitchen, then on to a $1 million kitchen at TRU. Everything was custom, from the refrigerators and the drawers to Gale’s pastry kitchen. It was a lot of fun to really have a blank slate – no budgetary constraints – and be able to sit down with a pencil and trace paper and draw to our hearts’ delight, from scratch. We knew how lucky we were, and we savored the opportunity.
As many kitchens as I’ve been in, I can tell when the kitchen was designed by a kitchen designer who just didn’t “get it.” Beyond issues having to do with budget and not enough money, there are often lots of mistakes that would have cost nothing to fix, but have to do with thought. If a restaurant isn’t run by a chef, sometimes there are glitches that could have been easily corrected, had the chef been involved in the process. Traffic flow problems are just one example.
When I sit down to design a kitchen, I think through service again and again and again, as though I’m working each of the stations. How do I want the station to flow? Do I want that drawer to open on the left or the right? We have three chefs designing this operation – John, myself and Jody – and that’s exciting. We’re all seeing stuff that the others wouldn’t. Jody has worked in a lot of amazing kitchens himself – he’s worked with Wolfgang Puck and Dean Fearing – but he hasn’t’ worked in Europe. I’ve worked in European kitchens, but not many hotels. John brought that hotel experience. So we got a rounded perspective of all of these facets, and we each brought a different nuance to the project.
Chefs also tend to know what they like and don’t like in kitchen design. It’s kind of like fashion. Everyone knows what works for them, whether it’s islands or lines; Viking equipment or Jade, etc. So last year, as we were thinking ahead to the opening of Restaurant R’evolution, I walked the National Restaurant Association Show with Jody Denton, my sous chef for R’evolution. We went to the Montague and Jade booths, took tons of pictures and quizzed the reps on all the details. And then, as we were rushing out to make it to an afternoon appointment, we walked quickly past the Viking booth on our way off the show floor. I stopped in my tracks.

Viking island suite. Credit:

Viking has traditionally been much more known for its home ranges, but I had heard that they were going to be stepping it up, going against some of the big commercial guys. When I saw what they were showing at NRA, I couldn’t believe my eyes. They’ve done an amazing job improving the durability of their equipment. You can stand on their range doors. The burner grates are like tanks. Two hours later, I had cancelled my appointment. The Viking rep – who turned out to be a friend of John’s, answered about a million questions. We played with everything and told him all about the new project in New Orleans, and drew sketches of the early ideas we had in mind for the R’evolution kitchen. It was just organic.
I got John on the phone, and he knew the team at Viking because he had guest taught at their culinary school, so he suggested we fly down to their plant in Mississippi and check it out. So a few months later we went, and they took us through how everything is made. We sat with their kitchen designer and talked about our plans. The woodburning oven we wanted, the rotisserie. We brought in the team from the Royal Sonesta and they got excited. And the partnership was born. When Restaurant R’evolution opens later this year, we'll have all-Viking back-of-house and show kitchen suites in a custom color that was created just for us: “R’evolution Red" (you'll see that color carry through certain aspects of the front-of-house design too.) For a kitchen geek like me, this is the stuff dreams are made of.

R'evolution kitchen plans

We’ll have more fun details to share with you about the kitchen, as demolition and construction get going in the coming weeks. Glass-doored walk-ins that show off the freshness of our products, and Star Trek-like automatic glass doors between the kitchen and the dining room. But suffice to say, the kitchen at R’evolution is going to be just as beautiful as the dining room. I can't wait for you to see it.
- Rick


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