After I finished dinner service the other night I opened an email from my kitchen designer, Mark Stech-Novak. It was my kitchen and bar design. It was really exciting and I couldn’t wait to talk with him in the morning and walk through it together. He’s in California – so I had a pretty long wait.
My initial reaction was that the kitchen plan was so cute! It has little chefs working the stations, bartenders behind the bar, servers carrying trays. It’s like a little 2-dimensional doll house. Tom, my manager, was very concerned that all the little people in the picture were bald. I emailed Mark to ask him about it and now I’m sure he thinks we’re all lunatics.
Actually, it’s a lot more than just cute. Mark Stech-Novak is incredibly thorough. Each little figure is in scale and shows exactly how the traffic patterns will work and how much working room we’ll have. It is very exciting!
Mark has created kitchens for Chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller, as well as Michael Mina’s SeaBlue at the Borgata in Atlantic City and David Kinch’s Manresa in California. But, what impresses me even more than that is that he really understands the chef’s point of view. He gets the operation of a restaurant. He is knowledgeable, thorough and pays incredible attention to detail. He knows how to design an efficient kitchen and that is key to making the restaurant run smoothly.
The kitchen alone is bigger than my whole Blue Bell restaurant. There is a prep area, a bakery and two lines. Having two lines gives us a lot of flexibility. We can use one for entrees and the other for appetizers. Or, if we have a private party, we can use one for the party and the other for a la carte. Anyone who has ever worked the back of the house can appreciate that.
When the sun finally rose in California and I could call Mark, we walked through the plan together. It is a great design and it has almost everything I want, except an open kitchen. I’ve almost always worked in an open kitchen, starting with the omelet station at the Commissary. It is not only what I’m used to but it also allows me to keep an eye on the front and the back of the house at the same time. I was disappointed but the physical constraints of the building (the width of the entrance, the placement of the hood) make it impossible. So the journey continues and I just have to stay flexible when there are curves in the road. I hire experts and I trust their knowledge and experience.
One change I’m going to make is to enlarge the bakery so that in addition to our in-house desserts, we can make homemade bread and ice cream. Of course, the expanded bakery pushes the kitchen toward the bar, which pushes the bar toward the dining room, which necessitates changing the bathroom entrance. But that opens up some interesting new space.
Next, I have to choose two things from my wish list. I will have room for two of these three: a tilting braiser (great for making osso buco), a kettle (for stocks and soups) or a tandoor oven (for breads and meats).
It’s been a week of choices and we’re very close to a final design. I’m excited about the way the kitchen space is working out. Next week, my 2-dimensional design will go 3-dimensional. Can’t wait!
This week, things have been moving really fast. We’ve already picked our china and flatware and we’re moving on to the name, logo, colors and ordering chairs. Meanwhile, it’s a really busy time at Alison at Blue Bell. Just finished writing another newsletter. Amelia is baking thousands of cookies and we’re putting them in pretty little packages for guests. I think I need a nap.