5 Things We Can Learn from This Restaurant Kitchen

updated Jun 9, 2019
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The kitchen at DOC in Portland, via Frolic! (Image credit: Frolic!)

When you think of a restaurant kitchen, you probably picture a spare, utilitarian space, all stainless steel and smooth finishes, a row of fluorescent lights humming overhead. What you likely don’t picture is this — the kitchen at DOC in Portland.

Tucked behind a red gingham curtain, this is what happens when you blend the needs of a restaurant kitchen with the aesthetics of a home kitchen. Here are five things we can learn from this blended space.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

1. A magnetic board or strip at eye level.

Every restaurant kitchen has a place to keep orders. In this kitchen, that place is a black magnetic strip on the shelf edge above the main prep space, directly at the chef’s eye level. (You can see it best in the first photo.) A home cook could do something similar to hold recipes or grocery lists. While tablet and paper stands work fine, we’re all for anything that frees up countertop space.

2. All the essentials within reach.

One thing you repeatedly hear about working in a restaurant kitchen is the absolute necessity of owning your station, and making sure that you have everything you need within reach. Chef and writer Barton Seaver said it this way back in this 2013 Kitchen Tour:

One of the things I did in restaurants is when I had new cooks working at particular station, I would draw an ‘X’ on the floor in tape… and while you were manning the station, your left foot, say, could not leave that tile. So if your station was set up so that you had to move that foot, your station isn’t set up properly.

Work flow is as much about your physical presence as it is how you set stuff up. So, don’t set up your kitchen and then figure out the work flow. Set yourself and then put everything you need where you can reach it.

The vertical shelving in this kitchen enables the chef to set himself at his prep space and get to work. Plates, spices, and pans set are on the lower two shelves right in front of the him, while oils, salt, and prep tools are neatly arranged in the corner, without impeding the prep area. Also, this whole area is set up right next to the stove, a smart design move as we’ve learned.

3. A serious hood, especially if you have open shelving.

Restaurant kitchens don’t mess around when it comes to ventilation, especially since they’re often small and have open shelving, which makes proper ventilation essential. (Get that grease before it gets your shelves!) This kitchen has a proper hood and outside vent, as it should, and as any home kitchen would do well to imitate.

“But I can’t just go out and buy a hood for my kitchen, Cambria!” Totally understood. This is a design feature to prioritize only if you have the means to do so; if not, then just make sure you’re doing everything you can to encourage good ventilation. Keep your fan filter clean. Install a window fan and run it anytime you turn up the heat on the stove.

4. Prioritize open workspace, and keep it clear.

I noted a few months ago, after studying this diagram, that it’s smart to set up a prep space as close to the stove as possible, and to keep it clear and ready for use at all times.

This seems obvious, but available prep space is often sacrificed to the microwave, coffeepot, toaster, utensil crocks, even your beloved stand mixer. Whatever countertop space you have that serves at your main prep area, keep it clear (use a bar towel and clean as you go to help with this) or add an island or chopping block, like the freestanding Boos chopping block to the left of the countertop in the top photo.

5. Mix wood with metal for the best of both worlds.

Most restaurant kitchens would never bother with butcher block countertops (stainless steel is much easier to clean and sanitize) but the wood countertops in DOC’s kitchen are what help give it that homey, home-kitchen feel. While that may have been an untraditional choice, the kitchen stays true to form in the lower cabinets: industrial metal pieces that look indestructible, and are also (possibly?) refrigerator drawers — proving that the utilitarian functionality restaurant kitchens are known for can live in harmony with the softer, warmer materials and textures we want and need in our home kitchens.

And that butcher block countertop? I’m sure those chefs know how to clean, remove stains, and oil it!

What takeaways do you get from this restaurant kitchen?