Gourmet Design

When cooking up plans for a designer kitchen, it's all about big kitchens with supersized islands and lots of high-powered, commercial style, stainless steel appliances, right?

Not necessarily. In fact, kitchens designed for cooking rarely follow any one formula, since these, more than any other spaces, must be designed incredibly specifically to follow the way the homeowner cooks. Because the serious chef also tends to entertain frequently, these spaces often must be designed not only to facilitate entertaining in the space, but to provide something of a "stage," since the cooking may be a big part of the entertainment.

Even aside from the design requirements, gourmet kitchens can present challenges in that these, more than any other spaces, tend to involve enormous involvement by the client. You can expect homeowners who take cooking seriously to know exactly what they want in the kitchen'from spice storage and food prep areas to appliances.


Jim Bilotta, president of Bilotta Kitchens, knows something about designing for people who really cook. The Mamaroneck, NY-based designer's credentials include the recent completion of a 3,000 sq.-ft. kitchen for world-renowned chef Emeril'and it might come as some surprise that Emeril wanted no stainless steel at all. "He wanted more residential finishes. He is more contemporary and his wife is more traditional, so we kind of mixed the two. For instance, we combined a contemporary door style with a traditional paint and glaze finish, so you get two different feelings in the kitchen," he says.

Of course, considering who the owner was, there was no question that the kitchen would be the centerpiece of the home. As Bilotta relates, "The kitchen is truly the center of the house. Literally'you walk in the front door and go from an open family room right into the kitchen, so he can entertain 30-40 people right there coming in the front door."

When it came to Emeril's kitchen priorities, Bilotta notes, "He wanted a big island to work on, all Viking equipment, access to his herb garden outside and banquet seating. So we designed comfortable seating within five feet of [where he cooks] so he could have 8-10 people sit right there as he is cooking and serving it to them."

For larger parties, "we did a big dining room table on the other side of the island where you can have 20 people sit, so he can have 30 people sitting down for dinner [in the kitchen]."

Like many serious chefs, Emeril wanted to be at the center of the action. Bilotta relates, "It was very much like his TV set'it all revolved there and he was in the middle of everything. This is true of a lot of these commercial-style kitchens, the chefs are in the middle of everything and the kitchens are a working part of the house."

Not surprisingly, "Emeril was into every detail'we customized different things for him, such as spices, etc." He also wanted an unusual feature'a wood-burning stove. Bilotta notes, "We've actually done four or five of those stoves over the past few years, and we've had spec builders put them in, too. These things take four or five hours to heat up before you can use them, but once it's going, you can have all your guests make their own pizza or bake in them."

While Emeril had a big hand in the design of his kitchen, Bilotta believes designers working with any client who is serious about cooking must carefully examine how the client works. "We need to know how the serious cook moves from one zone to the next, and if they work left to right, where their utensils are placed. It's like precision surgery, working logically from one step to the next."


If like attracts like, perhaps it's no surprise that people who love to cook often befriend or marry other people who are equally passionate about cooking. Thus, the demand for gourmet kitchens that can function for multiple chefs.

According to Shain Hamilton, owner of the Kitchen Design Group, Inc., in Silverdale, WA, "A big trend I'm seeing with clients are the cooking parties where different people come in as a team and these teams cook up different portions of the meal."

He continues, "We have clients that organize cooking parties where there may be in excess of eight people working in the space. This brings a butler's pantry into a lot of new homes, either connecting the kitchen to the dining room, or becoming almost a room unto itself that serves as a buffet, wet bar or auxiliary dish cleanup and kitchen space."

He adds, "Work flow is key. The appliances are generally bigger in a gourmet kitchen, which causes challenges, since it creates smaller pieces of a very large pie that needs to work together."

To make such spaces work, it helps to have dual sinks and dishwashers, as well as an island to create separate areas. He notes, "If your kitchen is big enough, the island can become a bridge between these two kitchens you are [effectively] designing, so you have a separate prep, cook and storage area." Flexible dish drawer refrigeration is also a good way to make a kitchen work for multiple chefs, he points out.

As for the nitty gritty of the design, Hamilton explains that "We manage our customers right down to finding out whether they are right handed or left handed, and what they most like to cook. It's really the minute details that help meet their dreams."

Sandra Luttchens, CKD, director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry, concurs: "You have to explore what processes they go through when preparing food, [down to] what types of utensils, bowls, etc. are used."

Even in a large kitchen, she recommends a compact work triangle that will keep the traffic pattern outside. This allows the chef to do his or her thing without interfering with guests socializing in the space.


When Bruce Colucci designs a gourmet kitchen, he begins by zoning the space. The designer, a CKD at the Anaheim, CA-based Le Gourmet Kitchen Ltd., believes that the flow to the kitchen is much like a restaurant. He explains, "When I zone, I create a specific area for food prep, clean up, etc., grouping things together where they make the most sense."

He sees countertops as an important ingredient in the gourmet kitchen, since different materials can answer many different functional needs. "For instance, I love to do islands with sinks under Spekva wood countertops," he says, but adds, "there really is no one perfect countertop'there are right countertops for specific functions, and you place these where they make the most sense."

He notes, "countertop placement is crucial, since you want one cook to be able to use the space without crowding another."

The ideal situation, he believes, "is a space large enough to be flexible, and small enough to have access to. That's what islands allow you to do, because you don't have the space between the two working counters and it lets you maneuver around and pull things closer."

He points out that cooking can be messy work, so a cooking-focused kitchen might be better off "without a lot of detail that's going to take three hours to clean up." He recommends dual dishwashers as a must-have for the serious chef who likes to entertain. But unlike many designers, who put one in the prep area and one in the cleanup area, he suggests side-by-side placement near the cleanup sink, since this is where all the dirty dishes end up.


Of course, while layout and zoning are important, for many people, it's still all about the cooking appliances. "A lot of people love the commercial-style look, they will look at their range and feel like a great chef [for having it]. But real gourmet chefs are looking for extreme efficiency in their cooking products," states Joni Zimmerman Manto, CKD, CBD, of Design Solutions, Inc., in Annapolis, MD.

She believes that for serious cooks, appliance selection is not about prestige, it's about function. "There isn't one brand they're looking for," she maintains. "Rather, they will go and test a particular product."

She notes that commercial ranges are a perennial favorite among the gourmet set, however, "more products are coming from Europe that show more options, and some are changing away from commercial ranges because they are harder to clean, and cause a tremendous amount of heat and flame [which can pose hazards]."

Jim Krengel, CMKBD, of the St. Paul, MN-based Krengel Presentations, agrees that "The key to gourmet kitchens is the professional series range. The BTUs go up higher than a conventional range, so they have the extra heat to sear something immediately, yet go down super low to do sauces without scorching them. And real cooks also want the extra burners. "Professionals aren't concerned with self-cleaning because it's more about the food than the bells and whistles."

Krengel also notes that big mantel hoods are a big trend right now in kitchen design. Yet he warns, "Those are being designed so close to the range that there's no place to work around it."


Susan Palmquist, CKD, of the Minneapolis, MN-based Sawhill Custom Kitchens and Design, Inc., believes that ultimately, creating a gourmet kitchen is about having a complete package.

"People who are gourmet cooks need an engineered kitchen, not just a pretty one. Of course it includes high-end products in it. But it goes even beyond the commercial appliances and professional series ranges. It's about creating a room that celebrates cooking."

She notes that, "In some of our kitchens, we've been putting in pedal valves where they have the foot valve for a water source because cooks are always washing their hands. The pedal valve is underneath the sink so they can use their feet to turn the water on and off. Cooks like that it's sanitary and hands-free."

She also sees many gourmet kitchens including specialty appliances such as pizza ovens, bread makers, etc. "There is also a desire for high-temperature cooking with ovens, and for refrigeration that can be broken down so it's not all in one place."

Storage, too, is key, most designers agree. Yet this can be a particular challenge for the gourmet kitchen, since extra-large appliances take up a lot of room. Many designers recommends walk-in pantries as a good solution to these storage concerns.

As Palmquist says, "The people who cook get into what's going where, so the details really matter."

Designers agree that it really comes down to creating a kitchen that's customized to meet all the user's needs' even the fantasy wish list items. As Krengel concludes, "Faith Popcorn talks a lot about the 'fantasy adventure,' and for a lot of people, having the professional range, the pot filler and all the other options'well, that's all part of the fantasy adventure."