From Concept to Kitchen: At the Chef’N Design Studio Where Stuff Comes From

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

We spend a lot of time talking about the sources and origins of our food, but do you ever wonder where your kitchen stuff comes from? We are also intensely curious about the design and making of our cookware and gadgets, so while on a trip to Seattle last month, I visited the design HQ of Chef’n, a small, vibrant company making creative kitchen tools.

Here’s a little peek at their studio — a place where something in your kitchen may have originated — and a quick trip through the design beginnings of one of their most popular tools!

Do you use any Chef’n tools? We’ve blogged about quite a few of them, including the Switchit spatulas, the SleekSlice mandoline, and the really fabulous VeggiChop. (And even if you don’t actually own a Chef’n product, you’ve probably come into contact with something else they’ve designed; they design for Starbucks and other companies as well as for their own branded lines.)

I was first introduced to Chef’n’s products a few years ago, and at first I was a little taken aback by the bright colors and playful sensibility of their gadgets and tools. They seemed almost too whimsical and even frivolous; were they populating the market with yet more needless options?

But after using a couple of their products, I was impressed. Yes, there is a playfulness and even silliness to some of their tools, like the rabbit-shaped Grabbit pepper grinder. Their best-selling tool (this thing has sold like crazy) is the Garlic Zoom Chopper, which is a total unitasker and probably totally unnecessary if you know how to use a chef’s knife. But you know what? It’s fun. There is something to be said, I realized, for bringing playfulness to cooking and the kitchen, and as long as the tools are well-made as well as fun, then great.

So I was interested to meet this design team and see what it’s really like to bring an idea from conception to the shelves of Target. Here’s a little peek at the design origins of another one of Chef’n’s popular products: the Palm Peeler.

This peeler, which slides over your finger and works with a very different set of movements than a traditional peeler, is a love/hate affair. Some people really don’t like it; it’s too different from a traditional peeler, and they find it slow. Others, like my mother for instance, adore it. It’s particularly popular among people with arthritis or other disabilities that make it difficult to grasp a peeler for long periods of time. Regardless, it’s sold like hotcakes and it has really loyal fans.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Designer Adam Jossem walked me through the process of how it was created; here’s an explanation of the photos above.

• 1 An array of prototypes.
• 2 The low, garage-like building where the Chef’n design team has its top-secret headquarters. (Just kidding about the top-secret part.)
• 3 Designer Jonah Griffith in front of the big green wall and giant writeboard.
• 4 Designer Adam Jossem, who gave me a quick tour of the design process for the Palm Peeler.
• 5 First, looking at inspiration boards for different moods that inspire product styles.
• 6 Early designs for the Palm Peeler, with different options for the finger grip.
• 7 More options and sketches. These are drawn up in drafting programs and eventually sent out to be prototyped.
• 8 Some early prototypes — some are held together with tape.
• 9 Adam shows some wax models, which can be made right there in their shop.
• 10 The wax model is used to make a plastic prototype of the design.
• 11 A related product: the Palm Scrubber, which was designed at the same time.
• 12 In fact, as Adam demonstrates, an early idea was to make the Palm Peeler and Palm Scrubber two halves of one product, which split apart for use and cleaning. Multi-use is better, right? Not in this case — they realized it was a potential hazard, with possibility for accidental cuts.
• 13 Playing around: there’s a competition among the designers every year to mod a Chef’n product into something goofy, like this monster Grabbit.
• 14 Another fun mod.
• 15 Part of the design crew on their way to lunch!

Thanks for the tour, guys! It was fascinating to see a little more about where some of our favorite products come from.

• Visit the Chef’n website and the Chef’n blog

(Images: Faith Durand)