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Functional Kitchen Design Notes

Introduction
I'd like to cover some notes I have on designing a functioning kitchen. Generally my goal is to implement a kitchen that maximizes availability of ingredients; efficient, safe and fast cooking; and food quality.

This requires a well planned, , organized and intentional kitchen.

Your kitchen can be divided into three separate sections: food storage, food prep/cooking and food presentation. There is a flow of raw goods into the kitchen and after being worked on flowing back out of the kitchen in the form of prepared dishes.

From here the details get more complicated so let's break this out into sections:

  • Raw Food
  • Food Prep
  • Cooking
  • Presentation
  • Cleanup

Raw Food
We eat and buy an extreme diversity of foods and to store them correctly it requires you to know something about what you eat. For the longest time I threw everything on a shelf or in the fridge. I know now that isn't the best way (e.g. tomatoes shouldn't be refrigerated). So you will need several types of storage for your raw goods:

  • Dry goods: these should be stored in airtight, vacuum sealed canisters. Each canister should be labeled and dated for expiration. Cabinets are okay for this but I find a large pantry with wire shelves allows fastest access. I organize my dry goods by type:
    • Sugars
    • Nuts
    • Grains & Grain Products (Pasta, Flour)
    • Canned Veg
    • Prepared
    • Chemicals (think baking soda)
  • Fresh goods: a bowl or a hanging basket or some kind of storage in your pantry. The key here is air circulation. Fresh stuff should be ventilated, kept cool or room temperature and not allowed to rot. Be careful of mixing some fruits as they accelerate ripening.
  • Refrigerated: for things that must be refrigerated keep an area in your fridge dedicated for fresh stuff. Being organized is key to finding what you want when you need it. I separate veg from cheese and I keep prepared foods on a separate shelf from raw foods.
  • Frozen: Again, have a dedicated area. Label and date all your frozen goods for freshness.

Food Prep
You need a large enough area to prep food and use your electrics. The area should be contiguous with your cooking area.

I use the following in my kitchen.

Electric:

  • Blender (high power and hand held)
  • Food processor
  • Spice grinder

Hand:

  • Cutting board
  • Knife set
  • Mixing bowls
  • Small and large measuring tools
  • Whisk set
  • Spoons
  • Screen
  • Various small tools

Cooking
Finally, cooking. This is your stove and oven and anything else you have (like a grill or toaster oven or crock pot). At a minimum you'll want a stove, oven and a microwave. Everything else is gravy but nice to have (like a crockpot).

It's important to have a great set of cookware and (I think) just as important to have a great set of hot tools.

Checklist for top notch cookware:

  • Heats fast and heats even
  • Stays hot
  • Handle is ergonomic and cool
  • Lid seals well, is insulated and stays cool
  • Can handle both the oven and the stove top
  • Light weight
  • No mess pouring
  • Easy to clean and doesn't require special treatment

I don't go in for "one type fits all". In my experience they're handy because they do everything but they also do it poorly. I think having a specific piece for each task is the way to go.

Types of cookware:

  • Frying pan
  • Sauce pan
  • Saute pan
  • Saucier
  • Dutch oven
  • Casserole dishes
  • Stock pot large enough to steam tamales with pasta insert and steamer insert

There are plenty of other pieces out there and if you do a specific task often then it's usually worth it to get a customized tool. But with the stock pot and the dutch oven and the other pots you can generally roast, steam just about anything and prepare any type of sauce you need as well.

In addition you'll want these hot tools:

  • Spoons, many sizes, slotted and non slotted
  • Spatulas, flexible and rigid
  • Whisks for various tasks
  • Tongs
  • A ladle

Presentation
Mealtime:
I don't have much to say about the aesthetics of the dishware someone chooses. Everyone is different but I will say a couple of things. The things you use in your life, the mundane, commonplace, utilitarian items that you take for granted shouldn't be just a tool that you use. They should be the background fabric that sustains the myth, the portal, that helps carry you through life. So buy dishware that means something. Whether it's a beautiful set of china or that Belgian glassware that transports you to a special place. Use it and also I'd say have lots to choose from (if you can) because having a piece that's just right can really make the difference between a mundane experience and a magical, memorable experience.

Leftovers:
Have several types of plastic storage for leftovers. I'd recommend having one set for the fridge, one set for dry storage and another for the freezer. This allows you to identify things quickly. Be sure to have some way to label your food for freshness.

Cleanup
You'll want a couple tools to clean your tools (soap, scrubbers, towels, etc). You'll also want a trashcan (or two if you recycle). In addition bar keeper cleaner for stainless steel is essential.

You must separate dirty areas from clean. Treat your kitchen like a restaurant and have strict rules about not mixing dirty and clean. The same goes for hot and cold areas if you can (or if it makes more sense raw vs cooked areas). It is essential for good health.

Conclusion
That covers everything.

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