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Amuse Bouche: All you need is a carrot

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PHOTO BY ARMANDO ARAUZ

By Scott Mechura EBS COLUMNIST

A restaurant kitchen can be an intimidating place.

I’ve even seen some seasoned cooks walk in to certain big, bustling kitchens and have that look in their eye; that look of seeing everything happening around them and wondering where and how they’ll fit in.

Pans are clanging, several conversations are running at once, people dash around corners or up and down stairs with heavy boxes or stock pots. Often there are about 13 different things in various stages of completion in ovens and on stove tops. There are pots and pans, dishes, glasses and silverware piled up to be washed … and on and on and on.

And someone designed all that.

I’ve been a part of many kitchen designs, from a busy downtown steak house to a boutique hotel. There are people, often teams of them, all with their hand in it: chefs, architects, industry designers, owners, general managers and consultants all creating floor plans, computer aided design drawings and mock spaces to ensure that the day the kitchen goes live, it functions properly. And all of these things cost money—a lot of money.

But if you want to design a kitchen, all you need is a carrot.

When I have been involved in the design of a new kitchen, I think about something as simple as a carrot, or any vegetable.

Let’s consider the provenance of that carrot.

First, it needs to arrive inside the building, presumably through a loading dock or at the very least a back door of some sort. That door needs to be easily accessible first to the person delivering the carrot but then it needs to be received by someone who, once taking possession of the carrot, needs to bring it to the cooler. And since that carrot will probably be in a 50-pound bag of more carrots, it needs to be a clear path without obstacles and preferably without stairs that leads to adequate storage.

Next, someone will select that carrot to wash before they prep it. There needs to be a sink somewhere. And is that sink big enough for several carrots?

Then it will more than likely be peeled, which will require a work surface in which to peel it. Then the peels will need to go in a trash can which should fit nearby.

Someone will need to cut that carrot. Where are the knife and cutting board stored? They should be stored close to where you are cutting and easy to return once they are washed somewhere else.

If we’re going to cook this carrot in a stock, that stock pot must be located somewhere easy to access by all staff, both big and small. It should be close by to wear it will be used because it’s heavy.

Perhaps it will be cooked in a smaller pan or pot. This could be stored farther away from the stock pot but still close enough to a stove that makes sense.

And there will be other ingredients to accompany that carrot. All the logistics, all the provenance of that carrot would be followed for each and every one of those ingredients.

In other words, there should be a sensibility to how food, people and equipment flow through a kitchen.

The dish with said carrot will need a plate or a bowl to serve it in. This plate needs to be kept right by where the carrot is cooked so it remains hot.

And when the server clears this dish from the dining room, what is the most efficient path to the area it will be washed, dried, and walked back to its original place on the shelf for the next carrot dish?

Until tomorrow morning, when the next carrot arrives at the back door.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef, former certified beer judge and is currently the executive chef for Horn & Cantle at Lone Mountain Ranch.

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