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Building a chef's kitchen
A highly functional space is the key


January 2015

The rising popularity of television cooking shows has upped the ante in today’s residential kitchen design, with homeowners seeking kitchen renovations fit for a professional chef. Yet designing a chef’s kitchen is more about creating a highly functional space than a sleek space crammed with the latest gadgets.

"People are in love with cooking shows," says Michael Feker, executive chef and owner of Il Mito restaurant in Wauwatosa. "Food has always been a universal language."

Feker, who often consults on kitchen remodels, says the first thing homeowners need to do is forget their fantasy chef’s kitchen. "Don’t work with an image in mind," he says.

When working with homeowners, Feker often asks about their favorite cooking style or the cuisine they like to prepare best. "Knowing how you like to cook helps set the stage," he says. "First you make it functional, then you make it pretty."

Russ Waters, a kitchen designer with Wisconsin Kitchen Mart, uses the same approach when guiding homeowners through a renovation project. "I spend a lot of time talking to my clients about how they cook," he says.

Use space wisely

A chef-style kitchen doesn’t have to come at a premium price. Feker always tells his clients to work within their budget, even if that means working within the footprint of your existing kitchen.

Nathan Wachtl, a senior design consultant with SJ Janis Company, agrees that it’s not how much space you have, but how you use it. "Size isn’t as much an issue as how the kitchen is laid out," he says. "Functionality is key."

Although the standard work triangle of fridge, sink and stove is still practical, Wachtl says the concept doesn’t always fit homeowners’ needs today. "The kitchen is no longer just a utilitarian space," he explains. "Having multiple zones creates more flexibility."

For even more functionality, kitchen work zones can serve several purposes, like a desk area for doing homework or paying bills or a kitchen island with staggered heights, ideal for kid-assisted baking projects or a buffet-style spread at social gatherings.


Coveted countertops

An essential workhorse in any chef’s kitchen is counter space. "A lot of counter space isn’t necessary; it just has to be useful," says Feker. That means having adequate countertops to facilitate food production, from washing, to prepping to serving.

Wachtl says islands are a huge feature in chef’s kitchens because they add a great deal of functionality. "Kitchen islands are real multi-taskers," he says. "They’re ideal for prepping food while guests or family members spread out and relax."

The material you choose for your countertops is largely a matter of personal preference, but at-home chefs may want to consider surfaces like quartz or soapstone, which require minimal upkeep. "Low-maintenance materials can still be beautiful and timeless," says Wachtl. "Plus they ease the chore of cleaning up so you can have a happy cooking experience."


Sensible storage

If counter space is crucial, storage is equally important, says Feker. "Your kitchen storage needs to make sense," he says. That means a place for everything and everything in its place. "Everything should be easily accessible," says Feker. "Store ingredients where you can see them, keep your pots and pans by the stove."

Homeowners needn’t limit their storage options to cabinetry. Pot racks are a chef favorite, and creative storage solutions like wall-mounted spice racks and magnetic knife stripes leave countertops uncluttered.


Tools of the trade

Appliances are another important aspect of a well-functioning chef’s kitchen.

"Without proper appliances you’ll never be able to fully enjoy your kitchen," says Feker.

But that doesn’t mean you have to splurge on high-end professional-grade appliances. While Feker’s restaurant kitchen is equipped with Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances, he has a Kenmore refrigerator and dishwasher at home.

"Don’t just look at the name of the appliance, look at how it performs," says Feker.

Six-burner ranges and ranges with griddle tops are popular among chefs because of their efficiency.

"True chefs use griddle tops for more than cooking breakfast," says Wachtl. "They’re also good for sautéing vegetables and can accommodate larger pots."

Waters says kitchen tools should simplify your life so you can focus on what you enjoy, like cooking and entertaining. Wall-mounted accessories like pot fillers — a faucet mounted near the stovetop to fill large stockpots — do just that.

Likewise, limited space doesn’t have to mean limited functionality. Appliances like dual fuel ranges, which can cook foods at two different temperatures simultaneously, and hybrid convection oven/microwaves like the GE Advantium speed up cooking without sacrificing quality. 



This story ran in the January 2015 issue of: