Small kitchens can still produce high quality

By BigHospitality Writer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Kitchen, Chef, Cook

You don't need a big kitchen to produce great food, but you do need to be organised. That's the message from chefs who work wonders in small spaces When it comes to kitchens, it's true that size doesn't matter, it's what you do ...

You don't need a big kitchen to produce great food, but you do need to be organised. That's the message from chefs who work wonders in small spaces

When it comes to kitchens, it's true that size doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that really counts. This is just as well as there is a continuous procession of chefs who move from the payrolls of vast kitchens to opening their own places, where they often find themselves in significantly smaller kitchens.

Delivering top-notch food from a pokey room could be seen as something of a badge of honour for some chefs.

Certainly, Shaun Hill became well known for delivering Michelin-starred food from his broom cupboard-sized kitchen at Ludlow's Merchant House.

However, Adam Fellows, chef and owner at the 45-cover Goodfellows restaurant in Wells, Somerset, is somewhat dubious about the honour a small kitchen bestows upon a chef.

"If you've a large kitchen then most people would think ‘wow!'

But with a small one, people just think ‘oh, my God, you poor sod for having to work in such a small kitchen'."

Fellows moved from Head Chef at Charlton House, near Bath, where he gained a Michelin star, to his own place with a kitchen that he extravagantly describes as "15 to 20 times smaller" than his previous employer's.

It measures 2.4m by 5.5m, with a work space of about 1m by 4.2m, the unusual shape squeezing to a mere 55 centimetres at its thinnest point. He describes a service in the kitchen with his two other chefs as "like a ballet", since they are unable to pass each other in the narrowest part of the room without breathing in.

But despite this restriction of movement, Fellows does not believe that a small kitchen should alter the quality of food that can be produced. "There are no limits to what you can produce even from our kitchen, you just work in a different way," he says.

The space limitations have, however, put the kibosh on his installing a salamander grill as this would make the kitchen unbearably hot. He has also had to forego the luxury of a central island, which he enjoyed at Charlton House.

Shane Osborn, Head Chef at the two-Michelin-star, 65- cover (including private dining room) Pied à Terre, London, was only able to squeeze a central island (Hobart) range into his basement kitchen following a serious fire at the 1870s London town house.

The kitchen measures roughly 4m by 5m, with an additional 3m for the pastry section, and accommodates a brigade of nine. But it's a listed building and without the fire rendering building work essential, he would not have been allowed to reconfigure the kitchen to accommodate this important piece of kit.

"Other similar restaurants of this size could have 40 per cent bigger kitchens, including Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road and The Square in Mayfair, which is twice the size of ours. The major problem we have is where to store things," explains Osborn.

And like most small kitchens serving high quality food, Pied à Terre also suffers from a lack of surface area to work on, so Osborn uses the passe as an additional preparation area.

Adam Byatt, Head Chef at Trinity in Clapham, south London, and Executive Chef at Origin in Covent Garden, adopts a similar technique at Trinity, which he says has "an absolutely tiny kitchen that's the size of a decent-sized bedroom – in a London flat – compared with Origin where it's the same size as a whole flat!"

During preparation the passe is used as a work surface and then stripped in time for the lights to "come down onto it" for the service. Despite the limited space at Trinity, Byatt says he prefers its intimacy to the acres of space he has at his disposal in the vast Origin kitchen, which can house 20 chefs compared with Trinity's five – for a comparable number of covers and less complex food.

"There's no hiding anything so nothing can get past me, I can see every plate. And I can cook and plate up at the same time, whereas in Origin I can only work on the passe and plate up," he says.

However, Byatt accepts that it was hard work fitting all the necessary equipment into the space when working with kitchen design consultant Hansens. "I said to them, ‘This is what I want,' and they said, ‘We can get it all in but there won't be enough space for you to fit in.' You've got to be careful because when you stick in all the small equipment, such as blenders, fryers and ice cream machines, all the space goes.

You need to make sure you've got loads of shelves to put things out of the way. Although there's more to think about in a small kitchen, there are fewer decisions to make. The ergonomics are everything."

The type of food you cook also helps, according to Matthew Barnett, Head Chef at seafood restaurant the Drum & Monkey in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

"The bonus is that it's quick and easy," he explains. "The maximum cooking time is four minutes so it's bang it in and bung it out. It's all about speed and freshness with fish. You're either steaming, grilling, baking or pan-frying, all fast methods."

Barnett says it means he has fewer equipment demands in his 15sq.m kitchen, where he works with two other chefs delivering up to 120 covers per service. He relies on two ranges comprising a fast oven for pies and a slow oven for holding food. He has also installed two salamander grills for flashing the food on the way out.

Things are not quite so simple for Simon Rogan, Head Chef at L'enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, who has a reputation for creating experimental multicourse menus that require the use of all the latest gizmos.

As he explains, "The kitchen we've got is very well thought out, with under-counter fridges and glass-door fridges on the walls. We've used every centimetre of space. It's full to the brim with everything except a blast freezer because there's just no space left."

Although he acknowledges that his kitchen would be sufficiently big to produce a conventional menu, his 20-to- 30-course productions require a little more space – especially for plating up.

"At full strength, with seven people in the kitchen, it can get pretty hairy. We've developed a telepathic sense of each other's movements," he explains.

Rogan was unable to introduce a central island into the kitchen so to increase the available space he cut the room in half with a wall that created two L-shaped areas, which provided more shelf space and increased the number of worktops. One half houses the ranges and fridges, while the other half is used for the larder and pastry section.

To create more space for the pastry section, Rogan cunningly added an extra 2m by 3m of working space through the introduction of an innovative structure that he calls the ‘Burger Van'. Because L'enclume is a Grade II listed building in a conservation area, planning permission for building an extension would have been very hard to get, so instead, Rogan commissioned a madeto- measure acrylic unit which resembles a portable burger van and is connected up to the kitchen's door.

"We're not allowed to touch the fabric of the building so we've used builder's foam to link the two," says Rogan, "And it's on wheels so if there is any trouble with planning we can say ‘sod you, it's moveable'."

Tom Kerridge, Chef and proprietor of the 48-cover Hand & Flowers pub in Marlow, Bucks, does not suffer from the same problems (in his 4m by 3m kitchen) as Rogan because, he says, he prefers to keep his food "very simple" with no prestarters and pre-desserts. Within this space he packs a 2m-pluslong six-ring burner and fryer along with a hotplate in front of the passe. Although this does the job Kerridge says he would ideally like a convection oven if there was sufficient space for such "luxuries".

But even Kerridge's brand of stripped-down Michelin-starred food poses him problems in his small kitchen. "With a larger kitchen the food would not change but the service definitely would as we'd be able to do more desserts and more covers. Because of space, if the starters and desserts cross then we've a problem, which means we can't turn tables."

Kerridge is like most chefs who ply their trade in small kitchens, in that he is proud of what is achieved from the limited space but would jump at the chance of swapping it for a vast kitchen, in which he could wallow and no doubt brag about its size to other chefs. Thankfully, for him, relief is at hand because he has been granted planning permission to add a new kitchen to the Grade II listed pub and convert the existing kitchen into a training facility for Greene King, which owns the freehold.

Likewise for Rogan, who in May will open a second restaurant in Henley-on- Thames, just down the road from Marlow. Although he will retain L'enclume and its almost perfectly formed kitchen, the new place will give him the opportunity to create his dream kitchen from an unseemly amount of space.

"It will be the most amazing kitchen in the country with both prep and service kitchens, which will be designed to the hilt. I'm going from one extreme to the other. All the things I've wanted I can now have in Henley. It will be very white and clutter-free," says Rogan, while chefs across the country scuttle off to cry in their embarrassingly small kitchens.

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