A showcase-style, elevated exposition kitchen supported by a production and banquet facility allows culinary staff to create high-end casual fare in a contemporary, organic environment that features an 85-foot-long bar, floor-to-ceiling glass and a variety of natural and industrial surfaces.
William Kovel spent the early part of his career training and working as a chef in top-rated, four-star restaurants such as Jardinière in San Francisco and Orrery London. During his tenure at Aujourd'hui at the Boston Four Seasons he was named an up-and-coming chef by Boston magazine. Under Kovel's culinary leadership, the restaurant earned the AAA Five Diamond Award and Chaine des Rotisseurs named it one of "Boston's Top Restaurants."
In June 2009, Four Seasons closed the doors of Aujourd'hui. Kovel decided it was time for a change, so he focused on becoming a restaurateur and owning his own establishment. In September 2011, he opened Catalyst Restaurant situated in Kendall's Technology Square in Cambridge, Mass., located near MIT, the Boston Museum of Science, Novartis and Harvard.
Kovel, a native of West Hartford, Conn., selected a large space to showcase his high-end casual cuisine featuring top-quality seasonal foods and a preponderance of locally grown organic produce and wild and farm-raised meats and poultry. The 10,000-square-foot restaurant includes a 400-square-foot elevated exposition kitchen supported by a 1,200-square-foot production and banquet kitchen that extends to a second floor for food and beverage storage, meat curing and back office areas. A full-service bar extending more than 85 feet and zigzagging through a 700-square-foot space with a 26-seat lounge provides a gathering space in the heart of the voluminous restaurant. The establishment contains 20-foot-high ceilings, extensive floor-to-ceiling glass and a variety of both natural and industrial surfaces that blend contemporary and organic environments.
Catalyst's 2,700-square-foot dining room seats 86 people. The restaurant's 900-square-foot seasonal patio seats 40 people. In addition, Catalyst includes a 5,000-square-foot flexible function space that can accommodate up to 125 guests, making it one of the largest venues for private events in the area. "With my hotel background and experience with large events, incorporating banquet service into the restaurant was an important part of our mission and reason for selecting this site," Kovel says.
Though private event space occupies about a third of the entire restaurant space, Kovel says he and the architects didn't want the restaurant to feel empty if there were only a handful of diners. "Our tactic in breaking down the space was to create zones within—the chef's dining, atrium dining, the lounge, bar and outdoor patio—that could be occupied individually, privately, and feel intimate. With the installation of retractable glass walls, the private event space is entirely convertible from four separate rooms to one large assembly space for cocktail and dining reception," says Jessica Wetters, AIA, LEED AP, an architect at Locke Wetters, Inc., which served as architect and interior designer for Catalyst.
"Our greatest challenge was to transform the shell space of an extremely large commercial lab/office building into a warm and inviting dining destination that appeals to guests working in the nearby corporate/biotech companies who want to meet at dinner and lunch but also need function space," says Wetters.
The project presented several hurdles that the designers had to clear. For example, the fit-out space had an 18-foot glazed curtain wall of glass and steel that wrapped the perimeter of the restaurant. The space also had an awkward side entry and no street presence.
"Our design solution concentrated on the approach and flow for the patrons," says Deborah Locke, IIDA, LEED AP, LC, interior design partner at Locke Wetters. "We moved the entry to a central location with an inviting vestibule and signage. We identified this new entry, street side, with an architectural steel trellis that conveys a welcoming, human scale to the building."
While satisfying the chef's desire for a rustic environment, the architects converted the cross-bracing into the focal point of the space by applying a contemporary horizontal pattern of textural reclaimed barn board, floor to ceiling. "We played with the boards so you are left wondering if it's stone or wood," Locke says. "Again to humanize the dining areas, we dropped an interior trellis of rich red oak reclaimed barn beams and purlins above the seating areas, leaving the above structure and 18-foot windows exposed to absorb the babble." Other features include natural polished concrete floors, cold rolled steel with mottled patina and, to add sparkle, rich brown granite with mica flakes.
All of the materials were locally sourced, according to Locke. The wood came from barns within a 100-mile radius; the stone is from Vermont. Tabletops are reclaimed barn beams and the wood chairs feature simple Scandinavian design. The custom light fixtures, hand-blown by artisans from Detroit, which is home to the architect, add beauty, a touch of color and radiance to the space.
"It was important to us as environmentally responsible designers to select materials based on LEED standards and use as many reclaimed, sustainable, low-VOC materials as possible, which can often dictate the look and feel of a space," Locke says. "LED lighting was used in most instances with the objective of a reduced carbon footprint; and a floor-to-ceiling, living green herb wall provides the kitchen with some local flavor."
The food is also selected with sustainability in mind. "The food I prepare comes from a passion for fresh, simple flavors cultivated in California, Boston and Europe, threaded together with classic French techniques," Kovel says. "I selected the modern American menu—with simple, delicious food, much of it sourced locally—based on menu items I would want to eat if I came to dinner here." The menu, designed to appeal to guests who work at prestigious universities and tech companies, includes everything from burgers and pasta to rotisserie chicken and grilled fish.
Food production begins with deliveries of ingredients to the loading dock. "A loading dock area with a service entrance as well as an elevated structural slab with established septic lines defined the back-of-house production/banquet kitchen's location," says the project's foodservice consultant, Ed Doyle, president of RealFood Consulting Inc. "Moving from this initial layout, product flow was rapidly established to streamline operations."
After food and other products are delivered to Catalyst at the loading dock, staff place items in dry storage in the production/banquet kitchen. Staff take cold products up a staircase located immediately inside the service entrance to a mezzanine space over the production/banquet kitchen and place them in a walk-in cooler or beverage cooler. This space also houses some of the offices, employee areas and mechanicals. The mezzanine space was created because kitchen space was at a premium due to the desire to maximize revenue-generating space while making the best use of the volume the space afforded, according to Doyle.
"Though the walk-in is located on the mezzanine, there is a two-door staging reach-in in the production/banquet kitchen to support function preparations and setup, so prepped food for an event does not have to be stored upstairs," Doyle says. "This provides additional staging space for the à la carte kitchen when functions are not taking place."
When production for à la carte service and catered functions begins, staff transport food from storage to the back production kitchen. Worktables, a slicer and a food processor support staff's initial ingredient prep. Equipment on the back line includes a combi oven for cooking meats, vegetables and breads; a six-burner range for making sauces and soups; two stockpot burners for stock production and a warming oven.
Across the room, a pastry area contains a 40-quart mixer, an ice cream machine and batch ice cream freezer. "We selected a top-shelf batch freezer to support William's passion for frozen confections," Doyle says. In addition to house-made ice cream, staff produce desserts such as chocolate fondant with caramel glaze, hazelnut streusel and banana coulis; Bosc pear tarts with house-made crème fraîche ice cream and candied almonds; and butterscotch and passion fruit pudding with warm pound cake croutons.
The restaurant's foodservice equipment is what Kovel calls "necessary." He explains, "I'm a traditionalist when cooking. I don't want fancy gadgets, but rather basic equipment that is very durable and easy to clean."
Kovel also believes in "beautiful" equipment. "If we work with beautiful, well-cleaned equipment, the overall morale of the kitchen is improved, and staff will make beautiful food," he says. Staff clean the line every night and clean hoods weekly.
One of the biggest challenges when creating the back kitchen was installing an extremely low-profile hood with custom exhaust risers to allow for required clearance for structural steel and to enable field welding of the ductwork. "There was a huge grade change—an 18-inch height difference between the 30-foot-high ceiling in the front of the house to the 7-foot, 3-inch ceiling in the back of the house," Doyle says.
"The architects couldn't change the back of the house, but could raise the front kitchen so the flow from the back kitchen to the expo kitchen is seamless," Doyle says. "The elevated rear kitchen was extended to create a stage for the exposition cooking line, chef's expo area and waitstaff pick up. What was initially seen as a design challenge resulted in a solution that became a unique design feature for the space."
In the exposition kitchen, culinary staff use two high-efficiency fryers for natural-cut french fries and seafood frying; a six-burner range for sautéing vegetables and lemon sole, and finishing à la carte items; and an overhead broiler for warming and preparing dishes au gratiné. Next on the line sits a pasta cooker for creating dishes such as goat cheese ravioli with spinach, pine nuts, Serrano ham and baby tomatoes, and garganelli with chicken oysters, bacon and black truffle butter. An adjacent French top allows culinary staff to finish sauces to order, warm various menu items and cook cider-glazed pork chops. A conventional oven beneath finishes pan-roasted menu items. The culinary staff use the charbroiler to cook burgers and meats such as tournedos of beef. A rotisserie serves as a functional showpiece for cooking chicken and contains an attached warming cabinet. An extra-deep refrigerated rail and refrigerator support staff by giving them easy access to ample cold storage.
"In between the prep areas are dipper-well units with continuously running hot water so staff can keep serving and sauce spoons clean at all times," Doyle says.
An extensive pick-up area allows all culinarians to face customers at a 26-foot service line where the chef is able to expedite, finish garnish and detail dishes from the front of the line.
For cleanup, staff transport pots and dishes to a designated dishwashing area where dirty and clean tables assist staff in keeping the two separate. "The ultra-high-efficiency rack-style dishmachine was selected for its very low water use and energy consumption," Doyle says.
The full-service bar commands attention because of its 85-foot-long granite-topped counter and its comfortable, varied-style seating that attracts guests looking for a place to socialize and dine. Because the service stations are exactly alike, staff members can move easily between the two during slow and busy periods. The two draft beer towers are functional; they contain a 200-foot draft line run with eight lines and serve as conversation pieces because of their aesthetics. The bar contains only one high-temperature glass washer in order to conserve water and energy. The use of a modular die wall and elevation of all the equipment assists staff in keeping the area clean. "It's possible to hose down the area easily and deep clean the space, which is free from obstructions, legs and plumbing," Doyle says.
Another aesthetic consideration at the bar is the positioning of the POS system. "It's almost below the level of the bar so it doesn't look too prominent," Doyle says.
Throughout the restaurant, multiple efforts were made to drive efficiencies and promote sustainability. "Of course, all choices were made relative to top performance while returning higher efficiency," Doyle says. For example, fryers are high-efficiency units, and fryer oil is collected and turned into biodiesel fuel. The rack dishmachine uses minimal amounts of water; walk-ins contain LED lighting; and the building's chilled-water loop extends to refrigeration cooling. In addition, light in kitchen space is naturalized with a lightly frosted wall of windows in the production kitchen and front line.
Other sustainable elements include using LED lighting in glass door bar coolers, installing reclaimed barn board paneling, and sealing and polishing existing concrete flooring.
As word spreads about Catalyst, Kovel will continue to bring new flavor combinations to his creative menus, which will soon include brunch in addition to lunch and dinner. His insistence on simple and beautiful equipment will continue to provide the backbone for the operation as well as the competitive advantage needed to recruit the most talented and devoted staff.
Catalyst Restaurant opened September 13, 2011, in Cambridge, Mass. Located in Kendall's Technology Square development, the 10,000-square-foot space includes an 400-square-foot elevated exposition kitchen supported by a 1,200-square-foot production and banquet kitchen that extends to a second floor for food and beverage storage, meat curing and back office areas. A 700-square-foot bar, extending more than 85 feet and containing 26 seats, provides a gathering space in the heart of the restaurant. Catalyst also contains a 2,700-square-foot dining room with 86 seats and a 900-square-foot seasonal patio with 40 seats. A 1,600-square-foot flexible function space can accommodate up to 125 guests. The restaurant is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. until midnight. Menu specialties include a regularly changing menu featuring locally grown and organic produce and wild and farm-raised food from sustainable sources. A 65-member staff serves the restaurant.The equipment investment is $450,000.