A kitchen equipped with state-of-the-art equipment allows students to experience the joys of fine dining food preparation. This design project also includes a deli kitchen and dining/banqueting area.
"This is the kitchen of my dreams," says Christopher Koetke, MBA, CEC, CCE, vice president of Culinary Laureate International Universities, which owns Kendall College, and executive director of Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. Koetke worked with Ed Norman, FCSI, MVP Services Group, Inc., over a one-year period to plan this project. An architectural and interior design team from Perkins + Will, which included architect Mark Jolicoeur, principal, and Agnieszka Chapman, LEED AP, senior associate, interior project manager, were brought into the project in 2009. Equipment manufacturers also worked in partnership with the college on the project, Koetke says.
Within just months of opening, the Dining Room received a high rating in Zagat Survey's 2010/11 survey of Chicago restaurants as well as notable recognition in the Michelin Guide Chicago 2011 (the city's first), which showcases the finest restaurants and hotels in the city. The guide describes both the experience and the ambiance of the Dining Room at Kendall: "Imagine that dining out could be a sneak peek at a future Michelin-starred chef. That's a real possibility in this dining room and kitchen, which doubles as a test space for culinary arts students. Forgive the jitters as servers-in-training deliver your meal, which you can watch being prepared through floor-to-ceiling windows onto the kitchen. The lunch prix-fixe menu includes three courses for under $20, with dishes such as green gazpacho and a buttermilk panna cotta that rivals what may be served in nearby fine restaurants. Additionally, enjoy many other fine dining indulgences, such as an amuse-bouche, intermezzos, and very good bread. It is not just the chefs who come from the school: many of the herbs and vegetables are grown in campus gardens."
"Inclusion in the Michelin Guide is a sign of excellence," Koetke says. "This honor is a reflection of the passion and dedication of the students and faculty that make the restaurant such a special place."
Kendall College's public restaurant kitchen was previously located approximately 200 feet from the public dining room. Student servers had to pass through public spaces carrying food to restaurant customers. "The old kitchen and the distance from the dining area was far from optimal," Koetke says. The project required a relocation of the public restaurant kitchen to another area of the building on the third floor, immediately adjacent to the public dining room. The old kitchen was redesigned to become a new teaching classroom-kitchen for hospitality management students.
In addition to the Dining Room, this design project also included a new 800-square-foot deli kitchen, which is adjacent to the fine dining kitchen. What's more, the project included a dining/banquet area to support student/staff dining and special events, which eases the pressures on the existing employee cafeteria when it is filled to capacity, such as during peak enrollment periods. "In the new dining area adjacent to the deli, a multilayered lighting solution allows the room function to change from a student lunch cafeteria to more formal room for evening activities," says Perkins + Will's Chapman.
Due to the age of the facility — a 100-year-old building that was formerly a Sara Lee research facility and, before that, a tannery — a few constraints required finding innovative approaches to challenges. "For example, when we started fitting everything between the outside walls, the columns and stairhalls, we could have used an extra three feet here and there," says David Kipley, a Kendall board member and owner of a construction project management and consulting company in Northbrook, Ill. "We would have liked a larger shared cooler for the fine dining and deli kitchens, but we had to compromise its size to fit other elements. But all projects require a process of considering absolute and not-so-necessary desires and requirements."
"The project budget was conservative, and the owner wanted to reuse as much equipment as possible while still bringing forward a new-looking facility that would make a strong statement of Kendall's professionalism," Norman says.
In order to create a bridge between the experiences of restaurant customers and those of the chefs in training, large glass windows were placed in between the kitchens and the dining rooms to allow customers to see students learning and instructors teaching. At the same time, student-chefs can observe operations in the front of the house and see their guests enjoy the fruits of their labor.
"The goal inside the fine dining kitchen and the deli kitchen was to create an elegant but understated backdrop for all the cooking activities through use of white glazed ceramic tiles on the walls and medium-tone gray monolithic flooring," says Chapman. The combination of state-of-the-art equipment, extensive use of stainless steel counters and guards and large exterior windows located on two corners of the kitchen area provide a modern, open environment in which to showcase student activities.
"The building's size, shape and other physical characteristics were a huge factor in designing the facility," Norman says. "The bay in which the new kitchen was to be located was somewhat problematic. The space between columns was slightly narrower than the previous kitchen, and the floor was not level. One salvation was that in this portion of the building we had a direct shot to the roof for HVAC. The restaurant kitchen is designed to accommodate up to 18 student-chefs, one chef instructor and one pastry chef instructor. The deli kitchen holds up to eight student-chefs and one instructor. The function and flow of work needed to be carefully explored and thought through as the design took form."
"The flow of the restaurant and deli kitchen combine classic and traditional, which I think is wonderful," says Benjamin Browning, dining room chef and instructor, who runs the restaurant and teaches in the evening shifts.
Food for the kitchens is transported daily to a small walk-in cooler and dry storage from a small storeroom on the main floor that houses all food deliveries arriving at Kendall. Students and instructors take food products from the cooler as needed to the small prep area in the back of the kitchen or to the many undercounter refrigerators positioned at various stations. "We put in as much refrigeration as we possibly could," Norman says. "Chris and I went through every component in the kitchen to make sure each station is equipped properly."
The small prep area in the back of the kitchen contains worktables, sinks, slicers, an ice maker with a bin, a floor-model mixer, a pressurized steam-jacketed kettle and a combi oven. The kettle and combi oven are among Browning's favorite pieces of equipment.
"We've learned that we can make our stocks in the pressurized steam-jacketed kettle, which is pressured at 250 degrees F so the stock won't come to a boil," Browning says. "For example, the kettle cooks veal stock in three hours compared with 18 hours in a nonpressurized kettle. And, we get better extraction of gelatin from bones, and the stock is clearer because it never boils."
Browning also appreciates the qualities of the combi ovens, one of which sits in the back of the house and the other in the pastry section of the kitchen. "I like the touch screen and self-cleaning and capabilities, as well as the versatility of cooking with steam and dry heat," he says. The chefs in training use combis primarily for baking crackers and breads. Eventually they come to use equipment for cooking meat and poultry.
For students, especially members of Generation Y, the higher-tech foodservice equipment is readily embraced. "They've grown up with an understanding of technology and how to work with push-button technology, so they learn how to use the equipment very quickly," Browning says.
In the fine dining kitchen, student-chefs work with Browning at night and with the daytime chef instructor, Peggy Ryan, at a classic center-island suite to prepare garde manger and cook and finish dishes. "I prefer working with suites because all the cooks can see each other and communicate more easily than on a linear line," Browning says.
"We had a suite in the old kitchen, but this one has all the bells and whistles," Koetke adds.
At one side of the suite, students use equipment to prepare appetizers. Deep fryers, imbedded into the line, cook such menu items as crispy pig ears, which have been cooked in the pressurized kettle in the back of the house and then breaded. After frying, the dish is garnished with bitter mustard greens and a mustard vinaigrette. All appetizers and entrees change continually so chef instructors can incorporate seasonal and local ingredients and make sure students are learning techniques required for earning their degrees.
This side of the suite also contains a heavy-duty range, a range with a solid top, induction cookers, stainless steel countertops, a char broiler and a bain marie. At the end of this line and the line on the opposite side are utility chases with oversized shelves.
Student-chefs use the heavy-duty range to roast fish, smoked tofu and lamb shank. The range holds pans containing vegetables that are warmed for various dishes. A salamander broiler warms smoked tofu, and the oven below keeps dishes such as the lamb shank warm.
Pans used on the range and induction cookers are placed on a flattop-style, stainless steel plaque that is heated from below. "This is different than a traditional flattop because we can put multiple pans anywhere on the surface and they get the same amount of heat. The only downside is it always must be on," Browning says.
Both sides of the line feature induction cookers, which are among Browning's favorite pieces of equipment. He and student-chefs use this technology for making the ricotta used in appetizers such as Jersey milk ricotta gnudi with brown butter, sage and cured truffles. "The induction heat is even, so we're less likely to scorch cheese," Browning says. Oxtail marmalade for roasted bone marrow appetizers (the bone is warmed in the oven and browned in the salamander) is also prepared using the induction technology.
Browning teaches a class about induction cooking and is an avid proponent of this technology because of its energy efficiency. "The energy used is where it needs to be because only the pan is heated and, as soon as the pan is taken off the 'burner,' no more electricity is used," he says. "You don't have to turn gas valves on and off, and there are no pilot lights."
Browning also likes induction ranges because they speed cooking times. "We can boil a pot of water in two to three minutes compared to 10 to 15 minutes on a regular range," he says. "But you have to set the control setting properly, or you can quickly burn what you're cooking. When we were at the manufacturers' test kitchen, we placed a sauté pan on a burner, walked away for a minute, and when we came back the pan was on fire. Students who are accustomed to cooking only on traditional ranges must factor this in when using the induction equipment."
Koetke is also a fan of induction and admits if he were to build a nonteaching kitchen, he'd use induction almost exclusively. "Students will be finding this technology in more and more commercial kitchens, and they need to know how to use it effectively."
With earlier versions of induction technology, special pans were required. Today, nearly every type of pan can be used. Browning says he uses cast iron and stainless steel. For preparing dishes on the ranges and induction cookers, Browning prefers to use a combination of cast iron skillets and stainless steel pans. "The cast iron holds temperatures longer at a more unified temperature, which is good for panfrying items such as gnocchi." Gnocchi is combined with other ingredients such as pan-seared bay scallops, oyster mushrooms, shallots and white wine that have been prepared in a stainless steel pan so as not to pick up the seasoning or black bits from a cast iron skillet.
The grill on this line is used to cook appetizers and main courses, as well as occasionally to keep items warm.
On the other side of the line, instructors teach student-chefs how to use the grill to cook bison strip loin served with roasted root vegetables, black currant gastrique and bone marrow hollandaise; skirt steak of grass-fed beef with winter green gratin, poached farmhouse egg and pickled ramps; and chicken breast and chicken and savory sausage with red rice pilaf and apple chutney. A salamander broiler also supports the grill station.
Next to the grill station at the garde manger and salad station, student-chefs prepare the bone marrow appetizer as well as a grilled winter green salad with goat cheese. Bison carpaccio, beet salad and salads with local greens with spiced pumpkin seeds, ribbons of carrot, Capriole goat cheese and pumpkin seed vinaigrette.
Also on this line, induction cookers and sauté burners on the range warm beets, mushrooms, heirloom winter beans and other vegetables for entrees and salads.
This new kitchen also contains a pastry section, which the old one didn't have. Mixers, an ice cream maker and a combi oven support student-chefs as they make apple terrine, apple tarte tatin, pumpkin soufflé, cocoa chestnut crepes, dark chocolate beet cake, sorbets, ice cream and a host of other delectables.
In the deli kitchen, a heavy-duty range, induction cooker, salamander broiler and fryers support the menu production. This area also contains a rapid-cook oven for heating sandwiches.
A dishroom sits off the deli area and employee cafeteria. Dishes are manually bussed from fine dining room and deli tables and then placed on carts and wheeled into the dishroom. A pulper was not installed, though this may be possible in the future.
One of the most ambitious challenges posed to the design team was to be as sustainable as possible. "We were asked to explore every possible green alternative and add this to the design criteria," Norman says, adding that Koetke received an award from FCSI four years ago for his green initiatives and has continued to support Kendall's movement towards becoming more sustainable. In addition to composting and focusing on water and energy issues, the school grows vegetables in a large plot just outside the kitchen.
The kitchen utilizes state-of-the-art kitchen exhaust systems that are effective in maximizing energy use, thus contributing to the sustainability objectives. The system monitors all functions of the HVAC and records data that is compared to a traditional hood system used in other areas of the building. A large-screen monitor located in the kitchen projects this data so students can take note of the energy savings. "Eventually the school will add monitoring devices for water, gas and electrical consumption so that students can fully realize and appreciate the amount of energy required to operate the facility," Norman says. "Provisions were made during design and construction to allow this additional monitoring capability as soon as funding becomes available."
Getting approval from the City of Chicago for the new kitchen ventilation system was a challenge and required a team effort because the city codes are in the process of being updated to allow for these new technologies in kitchen ventilation. "The design team sat for literally hours and hours at City Hall with the engineers from both the manufacturer and the design team to gain approval for this system," Norman says.
"We're using about 40 percent less energy with this hood system than we would with a traditional hood," Browning adds. "We figure the energy savings will allow us to realize payback within five years."
Another energy-saving process allows pilot lights on equipment to be turned off manually at the end of the night. "We manually light the burners at the beginning of a shift but aren't keeping them on when we're not there," Browning says. In addition, refrigerators are monitored for HACCP recording.
When asked about his wish list, Browning hesitated and extolled all the equipment that now exists in the kitchen. Finally, he admitted a wood-fired oven would be welcomed. But, he knows his wish won't likely come true because it would require the addition of another dedicated hood system and the expense would likely be prohibitive.
As a hospitality management and culinary school, Kendall is undoubtedly one of the most highly reputable. By investing in open fine dining and deli kitchens, Kendall is extending its education beyond enrolled students to the public. "We hope customers will come here for the food and service and also see what the future holds for equipment and sustainability," Koetke says.
In 2010, 76 years after its opening in Chicago in 1934, Kendall College debuted its 2,200-square-foot restaurant, the Dining Room, which includes a kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment and a 90-seat dining room. Guests spend an average of $35 for lunch and $45 for dinner. The restaurant is open for lunch from noon until 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. The menu features contemporary American cuisine with an emphasis on local sourcing and inspiration. The design project also includes a new 800-square-foot deli kitchen and dining/banqueting area to support student/staff dining and special events. The entire project cost $1.6 million, including design services. Equipment manufacturers worked in partnership with the college on the project. Website: www.kendall.edu