Design for the Emerging Chef

Over the last 10 years, our typical clients have been Baby Boomers (age 48 – 66). In addition to loving their homes, most are skilled and enthusiastic chefs. They learned how to cook from their mothers and/or grandmothers.

Recently, however, kitchen specialists are telling me they are designing rooms for younger consumers who might be better categorized as “emerging cooks.”

These young consumers are as interested as our older clients in gathering together around a kitchen or dining room table. Yet, many don’t know how to cook! They didn’t learn to cook “from scratch” – because they grew up in a home with a busy working mother. However, they appreciate the value of home cooked food. They want to learn how to provide healthy meals based on fresh foods and simple cooking techniques.

As they embark on their culinary skills training, they search for appliances that will make cooking success more predictable. They are also avid fans of cooking shows on television: These new cooks want to watch and learn from the masters.

This new consumer requires a fresh approach to appliance and sink/faucet specifications – which might require a bit of new learning for even the seasoned design professional.

QUESTIONS FOR CLIENTS

Because of the wide variety of kitchen equipment, there’s no easy answer to what is the best equipment to specify for an “emerging cook.” Here are a few questions that need to be answered before the professional can begin the selection process.

1. How willing are prospective clients to change the way they cook, store items in their refrigerator or use their kitchen sink? There are many innovations in equipment that require the cook (and his/her helpers) to learn a new way of cooking, a new way of using the refrigerator shelves or a new way of loading the dishwasher. Therefore, the designer needs to determine if the client is simply looking for an improved way of doing what they’ve always done – or if they’re interested in innovative equipment that may require a change in the way they do things. For example, a client may have grown up with a gas range top; yet, based on their lifestyle, an electric induction cooktop might be a far better choice for their new kitchen. This new appliance is only a consideration for a client ready to learn to cook differently. Therefore, deciding between a better-designed same-type cooktop or a different cooking surface fuel source is a good place to start the planning process.

2. Find out just what type of cook the client is. Is the prospective client a skilled, experienced gourmet home chef or an emerging chef? (To complicate this information gathering process – the prospective client might be a little bit of both: skilled in a few cooking specialties but nothing more.) This information is valuable because sophisticated oven programming is now available that will guide the emerging cook in determining cooking times, converting convection settings, providing a meat probe thermometer and the like.

3. Is the client a family of one, four – or six? Do they buy in bulk and store, or purchase fresh items as needed on almost a daily basis? Do they plan a summer vegetable garden, which will increase refrigeration and food prep space requirements? The family size and volume of food prepared by the client is important information to have when specifying the capacity of the refrigerator, the number of temperature-controlled drawers within the refrigerator, as well as the racking system in the dishwasher or even the recommendation for two dishwashers.

THE COOKING CENTER

How a prospective client cooks is as important as the quantity of foods they typically prepare. Some cooks operate much like a professional chef does: using quick, high-temperature preparation for large-scale groups. The ability to shift sauce pans or sauté pans around on a gas cooktop while boiling liquids on another burner is important for this type of cook. For other families focused on a healthy life, sautéing or frying may not be a technique they use in their kitchen.

New considerations in the cooking center are:

1. The Great Gas vs. Electric Debate: When it comes to surface cooking, there’s an emerging spirited debate about the pros and cons of gas vs. induction. While a gas flame has long been considered a far superior heat source to traditional electric coils, the speed, control and efficiency of induction heat transference offers a new fuel option.

Induction is not new – it’s been available for nearly 30 years. However, houseware manufacturers now offer a wide range of well-priced cookware that is induction-ready. Coupling cookware choices with improved engineering of induction cooking surfaces has made it a viable alternative for the gourmet chef.

I recommend designers meet with their appliance experts to be fully versed in induction cooking. Below are some key concerns for designers when specifying this product.

  • Electrical Amperage Requirements: Induction cooktops require a 220 (US) volt 40 amp (30"-wide surface) or 50 amp (36"-wide surface) electrical line. A typical electric element cooktop requires only a 220 (US) volt 30 amp electrical line. Therefore, an induction cooktop will often require the supply of a higher amperage line than typically planned for a cooktop. Such extra electric power may not be available in the current service box.
  • Air Circulation/Venting Requirements: Induction cooktops may requireair circulation clearance below the cookingsurface. Models and manufacturers differ, so check the online specs before locating an oven below the induction top or finalizing the cabinet interior storage system.
  • Ventilation Requirements: Induction cooktops do not require a commercial style canopy hood, or ventilation systems with high CFM ratings. While all cooking products need to be properly ventilated, induction cooking products require far less ventilation than gas cooktops because they are 90+% efficient compared to the gas burner’s 40-50% efficiency.

2. The Ventilation Equipment: Regardless of the fuel source, if little frying or sautéing is done, the ventilation requirements can be modified. The holding canopy area of the hood becomes less important because airborne grease/oil particles are not an issue.

There are new alternative ventilation systems being introduced that are ideal for such a healthier cooking style. For example, a new ceiling mounted fan by Best, called “The Cirrus” (www.bestrangehoods.com), a pre-engineered gas downdraft cooktop by Jenn-Air that can be ducted to the exterior or installed duct free (www.jennair.com), or Zephry’s dramatic new designs in hood shapes and configurations (www.zephyr.com) are worth the designer’s review and consideration.

With these new styles, smart designers might make the hood the focal point by learning more about the artistically shaped and well-engineered models available today. Alternatively, in some instances, completely eliminating the overhead ventilation system and returning to an integrated downdraft system or a separate telescoping appliance installed behind a range or cooking surface might be the solution for a consumer interested in an unobstructed view into living spaces near the kitchen.

3. Oven Cooking: There are myriad new special purpose oven configurations available today. Kitchen experts should meet with their appliance specialists to learn about new products. From a designer’s standpoint, my concern is not which appliance you select, but where you locate it in the floor plan.

  • Control Panels: New, well-engineered ovens have replaced turn/twist/lock knobs with electric touch control panels. Therefore, designers must carefully locate the oven so the principle user can easily see and interface with the control panel. Designers should avoid installing a built-in oven below a cooking surface because it will be difficult for a user to see and use the control panel.
  • A good alternative to a traditional oven stack is to place separate single appliances next to one another. Evaluate the additional costs of two single ovens and two electrical feeds when considering this option.
  • In addition to rethinking where ovens are installed, avoid placing warming drawers below a built-in oven. This raises the oven to an uncomfortable height for many petite cooks. It also limits accessibility to the warming drawer. Warming drawers today are slow cookers, as well as beautifully engineered moist/dry food holding systems. They are better placed under the countertop, rather than under the oven.
  • Many designers struggle to incorporate a double oven and a well-placed microwave oven (one that is not an over-the-range combination hood/microwave). Today, microwave ovens are available that combine convection cooking as well as a browning element so this combination appliance can function as the second oven. Organizing a cooking demonstration of such an oven is a good way to introduce the client to this space-saving option. Partner with appliance dealers/distributors that have live displays.
  • Manufacturers such as Wolf (www.subzero-wolf.com) are offering beautifully integrated appliances that literally “flush-out” with the cabinetry. Yet, I am told that the cabinet specifications sometimes are not “in sync” with this appliance design feature. When considering a new appliance, thoroughly read the installation instructions before ordering the cabinets.

REFRIGERATION

Today’s consumers are impressed with design professionals who are mindful of their budget, so offer them options around the refrigerator specification. Kitchen specialists are well aware of the differences between integrated, built-in, counter-depth and freestanding refrigeration sizing. If you’re including the refrigerator in your project estimate, carefully evaluate the costs associated with integrated refrigeration systems featuring matched cabinet panels vs. an integrated refrigerator with a metal/glass front, or a counter-depth appliance.

New refrigerators have new interior configurations; it’s important that you explain and/or demonstrate them to the consumer. For example:

1. Make sure the client knows the “real” freezer space available. How much interior space does the water/ice door dispenser or internal dispenser take up? This added feature may limit available freezer capacity in smaller appliances.

2. Explain the new shelf designs. One of the most useful innovations in refrigerator design is the reorientation of storage centers: deep shelves on the door and split, adjustable shelving inside the refrigerator. However, some consumers will – out of habit – return to placing their small condiments in their new refrigerator’s deeper door-mounted shelves. Help them to be more creative in where they store things in the refrigerator.

3. Compare storage capacities and shelf accessibility. Although purchasing statistics reveal that the French door three-drawer (or even four-drawer for models that include a central pull-out drawer) have taken the lead in sales, talk with your customer about how they store frozen and fresh food in their existing refrigerator so you can guide them to the best model for their lifestyle. A consumer accustomed to a side-by-side unit might prefer how the tall vertical freezer storage makes everything visible and accessible.

There’s also a lot of talk about controlling the emission or transfer of ethylene gas within some refrigerator systems. Ethylene gas is emitted from enzymes inside certain fruits and vegetables as they ripen. It can cause other specific fruits and vegetables to deteriorate more quickly; therefore, food preservation is enhanced if you store these two groups apart from one another. Here is a helpful list of produce found in each category.

  • Fruits and vegetables emitting ethylene gas include: apples, apricots, avocados, ripening bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, citrus fruit (not grapefruit), cranberries, figs, guavas, grapes, green onions, honeydew, mangoes, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, papayas, passion fruit, peaches, pears, peppers, persimmons, pineapple, plantains, plums, prunes, quinces, tomatoes and watermelon.
  • Fruits and vegetables that become damaged by ethylene gas include: Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, cut flowers, eggplant, endive, escarole, florist greens, green beans, kale, leafy greens, lettuce, parsley, peas, peppers, potatoes, romaine lettuce, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, watercress and yams.

THE CLEAN-UP CENTER

The clean-up center includes the sink and faucet, compost/garbage disposal, compactor devices and the dishwasher.

1. The Sink and Faucet: The biggest revolution in sink design is the inclusion of accessories that allow the client to make the sink a “multi-purpose” center. Many new sinks have some type of sliding ledge around the bowl, which allows the user to add a drain board, cutting board and shelf receptacle so that the sink/water area can be much smaller during prep activities. Therefore, the cook can use part of the sink as counter space during the preparation process. Removing these accessories then gives the consumer full access to the bowl below. This new installation changes the cut-out sizing and the visual appearance of an under-mount sink. Make sure the countertop fabricator has a copy of the manufacturer’s cut-out template or instructions.

2. Dishwasher Choices: If the kitchen plan separates the food preparation area from the clean-up area, two dishwashers might be a possibility: one by each sink. In another scenario, a separate clean-up area away from the Great Room kitchen might be a good location for a second dishwasher, so that soiled dishes can be easily moved from the entertaining table to a hidden spot, allowing the host/hostess to stay with his/her guests after the meal. In addition to the question of one dishwasher or two, consider the advantages of raising the dishwasher. With consumer interest in coffeemakers focused on “one cup at a time, you pick your flavor” type of appliances – as well as smaller ovens doing double-duty as both microwave and conventional oven – it may make sense to move the dishwasher 18"-24" away from the sink, and elevate it, creating a secondary “tower” of appliances. Perhaps the dishwasher sits atop the toe kick, and then a microwave/convection/browning appliance or a coffee center (accessible with a tambour or retractable door) above the clean-up appliance would be a valued solution.

Selecting the cooking, food prep and clean-up appliances – as well as the sink(s) and faucet(s) – is a highly valued part of the planning process by the consumer, regardless of the budget. While many kitchen designers focus on a cabinet-centered profit center, consumers often think the appliances are the most important element of the space. Therefore, whether the designer specifies appliances or not, it’s important that professionals focused on delivering a total living/cooking/eating environment be actively involved in the appliance selection process.

Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, is a well-known author, designer, speaker and marketing specialist. A member of the NKBA Hall of Fame, Cheever gained prominence in the industry early on as the author of two design education textbooks. She manages an award-winning design firm, Ellen Cheever & Associates, and has been part of the management team of several major cabinet companies.

This article is part of a quarterly series of “Designer’s Notebook” articles, which will continue to run throughout 2012 exclusively in Kitchen & Bath Design News.

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