Is the open kitchen over? CID’s sister magazine Caterer Middle East looks at how far kitchen design and equipment choices are affected by dining trends.
Much attention and debate is given to the arrival and eventual decline of culinary trends, in regards to menus, concepts, and front of house design. Yet the design of the kitchens and choice of equipment is almost equally affected by changes in consumer taste. While there most certainly is such a thing as back-of-house design trends, they are also largely intrinsically linked to the trends consumers can see from their point of view in the dining room.
One of the most obvious trends in kitchen layout in recent years has been the increased use of open kitchens and similar design devices (if not fully open) that allow restaurant guests to see the chefs at work.
Chef opinions differ wildly on the trend, some considering it an invaluable exercise in interaction with guests, others considering it an unwelcome intrusion. Designers who have worked in the Middle East also differ in opinion as to how far this trend has already run its course. Speaking to CID’s sister magazine Caterer Middle East, Tina Norden, designer and project director at Conran and Partners, who was tasked with the design of the new Anatolian restaurant Rüya at Grosvenor House Dubai, told us that from her perspective, the open kitchen trend “has not yet reached its peak”.
“Restaurants, particularly upmarket restaurants, used to be quite harsh — white table cloths, quiet, and an elegant, upmarket atmosphere. I think people are beyond that, they find it boring, and quite stifling,” Norden shared.
“Obviously, the minute you have an open kitchen — with that level of noise and energy — immediately it gives a liveliness to the space. I think it is due to people being interested in where their food is coming from, and wanting to see it being cooked. Chefs are superstars these days. All of that means people love open kitchens,” she added.
Yet, looking internationally, Norden highlighted that one current trend in restaurant design is a more intimate form of open kitchen: “What I see a lot in the Far East, in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London, are a lot of smaller scale restaurants, which focus on the kitchen. Places which literally have a kitchen, with people sitting around it. I went to a place in Berlin recently, basically a kitchen, with a big counter around it. There are a number of places in London and Hong Kong where it is all about the chef. It is often young guys, coming out of a famous kitchen and maybe they are starting on their own. People like Jason Atherton, who really supports young chefs and gives them the remit to run their own kitchen.
“The focus on the chef means that everyone wants to see them and everyone wants to engage with them. So you can sit at the counter, and the chefs can chat to you, and say, try this, have a taste of that,” Norden revealed.
To some extent, progression in the open kitchen trend has also been noted by Paul Bishop, managing partner of Bishop Design, who told Caterer: “There is a current trend to have a completely bespoke walk-in or open kitchen where the actual equipment and customised stations used are beautifully crafted and form an integral part of the design aesthetics.”
While Norden’s work on Rüya includes an open kitchen, the team did not decide to go as far as this “dining at the counter” concept she describes from London, Tokyo and Berlin.
“At Rüya, we discussed a lot whether people should sit at the kitchen. Obviously Rüya is quite a large restaurant. We had many conversations with Colin Clague [executive chef of Rüya] about this. If we had people sitting at the counter, serving out would have been quite challenging,” Norden explained.
Interestingly what the GCC region (if not cities such as Beirut in the wider Middle East) largely lack is this degree of independent restaurant scene that Norden describes in Berlin and London. As such, this level of kitchen and dining area integration is perhaps still a long way off from reaching the region.
Nevertheless, Norden issued a warning on the subject of trends.
“Obviously, we look at trends all the time,” Norden told us. “But if you are designing a restaurant, it normally takes about a year. If you look at the trends that are starting to happen when you start to design it, in a year’s time, are they still trends? No.
“The important thing is that it fits within the concept. You are not designing a restaurant for next week, but for next year, and actually if you want to give value to your client, the next five years at least.”