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What’s Cooking? Building Community Through Commercial Kitchens

What’s Cooking?
#Cooking   #ChefsKitchens   #MicroEnterprise   #communitykitchen   @GEMonogram   @GE_Appliances  #SacredSpaces

We just returned from four days of camaraderie and cooking at the GE Monogram Experience Center (MEC) in Louisville, Kentucky.  It was a trip filled full of appliance reviews and hands on testing, understanding and ending with new friends – fellow architects, kitchen designers, interior designers, and dealers, too. Sure, we’ve been treated to the “experience” so we can all learn more about their high-end of appliances, but seeing manufacturing being brought back home was truly inspiring; Made in America does have meaning. One could hardly imagine so many hands fitting together your new refrigerator as it comes to life on the factory floor. 

But really, GE wants you cooking – using that refrigerator with its chamfered edges and stainless finish, testing the induction stovetop and warming those griddle-made pancakes in the hybrid convection-microwave oven. By experiencing in hands-on ways and through our constant chit-chat our group successfully navigates through a plethora of choices to equip the perfect kitchen. The teaching kitchen at the MEC with its six learning centers comes equipped with real mentors: Chef Joe Castro and Chef Brian Logsdon who broadcast their experience, training and transmitting that it’s “all in good food.”  Although to be honest, we’re not all Bobby Flay or Gordon Ramsey. We learn in a classroom-setting, too, and tour restricted design and prototype departments to see what the future has in store.

Mostly, we pondered the many “perfect” kitchens. As architects and designers, we understand their complexities, even residential kitchens are requiring more electrical power than ever before, not to mention the exhaust challenges. We want quality food faster, hotter, and more precisely. And we want the kitchen to be a center – it’s the hearth, the warmth, the flow, the command center. It needs to function well, be efficient, be easy to clean and care for, be sustainable, and serve well. It should be beautiful in its form. There is a significant investment made to equip that dream kitchen – and the best design presents an equally large return on investment (ROI).

In the eyes of a municipality, serving at a day school, feeding the homeless, and selling food are just some activities that turn a warming kitchen into “commercial” enterprise – subject to health codes and inspections, requiring venting for those hoods, extra sinks, walk-in freezers, and more.  Yet, a well-equipped commercial kitchen can help a ministry, a school, or a for-profit or non-profit of any size become self-sustaining, as well as reinforcing concepts of community. Construction and maintenance costs can be offset by discovering revenue potential. Recently, our colleague Jack Berry of Perrysburg, OH-based Midwest Church Construction observed that in his experience “the kitchen a church builds depends more on ministry than money. Food can be a big deal”. We think that the ROI can be a qualitative as well as a quantitative opportunity.

Our GE experience has us percolating with ideas:  kitchens can help us serve and connect, they can become learning and creative enterprises, they hold potential as culinary incubators, and they can give us and others our daily bread.  Four years ago, Reverend Greiner and members of Takoma Presbyterian Church congregation discovered they weren’t addressing local inequalities in their community.  Aware of the high incidence of childhood hunger right in their own community, they interviewed Latina moms, who wanted to start food businesses to earn a living but needed a commercial kitchen space to make product. Making that a recipe for taking action, the church spent their first year changing zoning laws, which would enable congregations to rent out their commercial kitchens. They fundraised and received $250,000 in Maryland grants to renovate their dream kitchen. The kitchen that can change lives would help create jobs through micro-enterprise, provide education and improve employable skills, increase nutritional understanding and expand distribution of food to those who need it. Pastor Greiner notes that even before the renovation was complete, the church actively sponsored food handling and licensing classes in Spanish and in English.

As Julia Child once said, “Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.”

These culinary experiences, in ministries, commercial entities, schools and non-profits, across the country at well as at GE’s MEC, result in more dialogue about nutrition, fresher meals and encouraging healthier communities. At GE, we learned to differentiate convection from induction making meals on each and a whole recipe book of culinary tips, equipment, and techniques.  More importantly, a diverse group made time to come together – to organize, to cook, to stir the pot, to help each other, to be creative, to share experiences and to break bread together. That’s what we call a dream kitchen!

What’s Cooking was our latest blog for Designer Magazine – have you read all of them? We have been chatting about Lego and collaboration, BIM and Big Data, and Makerspaces, affording Promised Lands for Children, and the White House Maker Day.