Would Mexican food taste nearly as delicious in a restaurant modeled after a French farmhouse? Would you want to eat a big plate of grits and shrimp on a narrow, metal, contemporary bench? Perhaps the biggest lesson that I, a novice when it comes to restaurant and kitchen design, took away from Culintro’s “Design: Stretching Boundaries” discussion about restaurant design trends last month is that design can be as important as the food in the world of restaurant creation.
Leading off the discussion was Stacey Shoemaker Rauen, Senior Managing Editor of HD Magazine, who spoke about four current trends in restaurant design that the magazine has been following. The first was “less is more” and the idea that simple gestures can make a big statement. A fine example of this, says Rauen: David Chang’s Má Pêche in Midtown.
The second trend — ongoing since last year — was “a homey feel,” as though you were eating over at a friend’s house. A trend that has been ongoing since last year, Seersucker in San Francisco provides a glimpse into this method of design, according to Rauen, though our own city is littered with examples as well. The third is “the use of art and graphics” and bringing in local artists, as can be seen, she noted, at BOA in Los Angeles. (Or the fist iteration of the pop-up restaurant What Matters When in Manhattan.) The fourth and final trend Rauen illustrated was that of “bringing the outdoors in.” JG Domestic in Philadelphia is one example she gave, a place with potted plants and a bright dining space. Here, it might be the Market Table overflowing with produce at ABC Kitchen.
Next up to speak was Jerry Kouveras, of Sam Tell, a Restaurant and Food Service Equipment supplier. Sophistication is the name of the game these days in restaurant kitchens, says Tell. Restaurants are striving to make sure they have the latest equipment and new techniques: Gone are the days of steam tables, in are plancha grills and sous vide. Meanwhile, says Kouveras, servers know the culture of the food on the plates, not just what’s merely on the menu. They know where the meat was raised and where the produce was grown, and the diners their serving welcome and expect the knowledge of where their food is coming from. (Music to our ears here at Edible, as we get ready to launch Eat Drink Local week to help share exactly that.)
Closing up the program was chef John Fraser of Dovetail, who discussed his latest venture, What Happens When, nearing the end of its short tenure on Cleveland Place in SoHo. After learning that the landlord was going to demolish the space, Fraser and his team decided to sign a 9-month lease and try something new, literally. Every 30 days, the menu, music and décor at What Happens When changes. The first “movement” saw a Nordic-esque themed restaurant, with the food and décor to match it. The second was inspired by the book Where the Wild Things Are. The third was inspired by Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party with a menu inspired by the South of France. Next, the restaurant headed to New Orleans, with a jazz-themed menu and design concept.
Funds for the project, naturally, came from Kickstarter.com, which pretty soon could be the subject of its own Culintro panel.