I’VE BEEN harping about kitchens lately. But I recently was made aware of someone who knows just the tiniest bit more about them than I do: the chef/restaurateur (and very cute) Spike Mendelsohn.
Spike’s a “Top Chef” alumnus who grew up in a restaurant family and owns several places in Washington DC—Good Stuff Eatery, Santa Rosa Taqueria and We, The Pizza—so the guy knows his way around a stove. He has recently hooked up with the DC-area developer Van Metre Homes as the homebuilder’s executive chef and brand ambassador, complete with recipes and how-to videos (my fave is about peeling ginger with a spoon—who knew? everyone but me?).
Here is some of Spike’s advice about designing, or re-designing, your kitchen. I salivate over the acreage suggested by these Van Metre kitchens, but even tiny urban kitchens can benefit from a few of these tips. I hope.
Spike suggests that the key to a kitchen that works really well is to mimic the flow of a restaurant kitchen. Restaurant kitchens, as you may know, are cramped and filled with people doing very specific things. To avoid more moving about than necessary in the crowded space, tools and pots for each task are kept near each “station.” His kitchens, Spike says, feature pot and pan storage beneath the stove so everything is at hand, exactly where you’re going to use it. (That suggests you have a cooktop. I would add, if you have a freestanding range with no drawer space below, you can always keep pots and pans in a pot drawer or a cabinet right next to the range.)
You can also, of course, keep things at hand by way of a pot rack. But, Spike cautions, make sure the rack has rounded edges lest your head pay the price for your design error.
When it comes to microwave ovens, Spike suggests that, if you can, you upgrade to a speed oven instead—for better looks and versatility. A speed oven combines microwave and convection cooking and often a grill element.
Being a good brand ambassador, Spike touts the EVP (engineered vinyl plank) flooring offered by Van Metre, because it’s waterproof and scratch-resistant (and looks like wood planking). But he also urges homeowners to buy slip-resistant mats in high-traffic areas of the kitchen (though it must be said that home kitchens usually don’t have restaurant amounts of water and grease sloshing around! Cushioned mats in front of the sink are never a bad idea, though).
If you’re building (in my dreams!), Spike’s ideal would be to have the porch extend under a kitchen window so food and drinks can be handed out most efficiently. Mine too.
Speaking of drinks, a refreshment center in the kitchen is a goal for kitchen efficiency. The glamorous kinds have wine refrigerators and maybe refrigerator drawers and storage for glassware. But those are luxuries a cramped kitchen can only dream of. Not such a luxury might be storing the glassware and maybe barware near the family fridge so that drinks and ice and glasses are all in the same neighborhood.
Van Metre and Spike and probably the majority of American homeowners are fans of kitchen islands (some of which have taken on Brobdingnagian proportions in recent years). But Spike is loving the newer L-shape islands, which allow for prep work to be done along one length and for friends (or the kids doing their homework) to sit along the other. Either shape leaves the rest of us simply island-dreaming.
As a pro, Spike knows how useful it is to have open shelving in a kitchen. You can see where everything is and just reach without opening doors. But restaurant kitchens don’t have to contend with the kids’ jelly glasses and three different sets of dishes and weirdly shaped what-is-that-thing? You’ll notice in magazine spreads, and even Ikea ads, that those open shelves hold pristine stacks of simple white dishes, a few simple, same-color mugs, etc. If you can stick to that, it’s a great look and, yes, restaurant-kitchen-efficient. If your tastes in cookware and serveware are, er, a bit more eclectic—okay, if you’re a slob and a rat pack like me—open may not be the way to go. Though it would, perhaps, curb baser instincts.
Spike is a major fan of pantries. But he’s not talking about those pull-out units filled with staples. He’s talking about a whole area of the kitchen or even a separate space for ingredient storage. He recommends adding an extra sink and a countertop to the pantry so prep work can be done there, leaving the kitchen a thing of beauty in the eyes of your dinner guests.
Back in the land of the realistic and space-constrained, a dedicated pantry joins the “most wanted” list that includes a well-organized mudroom and a well-lit, glamorous laundry room. You would find that having an expanded pantry, Spike says, is priceless. Somehow I don’t think “priceless” is quite the word; I’m sure there’s a handsome price tag attached.
But dreaming is free, and that’s what I’m going to do with his suggestions. Maybe one or two of them will materialize.
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