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Architects and Chefs

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Architects and Chefs

By Bob Borson, FAIA August 5, 2018

Architects and chefs share a great number of personality characteristics with one another, and in my extremely scientific poll (conducted by me) a vast majority of architects actually like to cook, although, even more dislike cleaning up after cooking.

In this fifth episode of the Life of an Architect podcast, Landon and I take on the topic of Architects and cooking and how those two things come together in a way that could be unique. These are the show notes for this week’s podcast but I think you’ll find that even if you don’t listen – which you should – there is still something here worth your time. Speaking of worth your time, listen to the very end of the podcast where I include a little bit of bonus audio to reward those people who stick with us all the way through where I share a story about eating dog food that has stuck with me for years … this seemed as good a time as any to share it with you.


Who’s a Better Chef? You or your Mom? [4:19 mark]
If you like to cook – or maybe it was part of the culture of your family, at some point, your cooking is going to be compared to that of your mother’s cooking.  I feel fairly strongly that all great chef’s either come from families that cook amazing food, or from families that cook terrible food … and there’s nothing in-between. Landon clearly comes from a family where his mom runs the kitchen and prepares food worth eating … I was not so lucky. My mother used to prepare amazing food – true southern classics, but these are typically time-intensive meals and around the time I was ten-years-old, my mother announced to the family that she was done with it all. While she was great at cooking fried chicken, cast-iron skillet cornbread, biscuits and cream gravy … she wasn’t all that great at anything else. I think my initial interests in cooking were born out of wanting to eat something that was slightly more involved than opening a can of [fill in the blank] and heating it up.

A connection between architecture and pastry making [8:30 mark]
In 1815, French chef Marie-Antoine Carême wrote Le Pâtissier Royal Parisien Ou Traité Élémentaire de la Pâtisserie Ancienne Et Moderne Tome 1 which was a treatise that codified how architectural principles like drawing and planning could be applied in pastry. Clearly, there is a connection between the two industries and if you can read French, and you like to bake pastries, then this is the book for you.

Kitchen Design Juror for National Kitchen and Bath Association [23:30 mark]
I just got back from spending 4 days in Hackettstown, New Jersey, home of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) and owner of the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), North America’s largest trade show dedicated to all aspects of kitchen and bath design. I was there for 3 intense days judging kitchen designs from around the country that were submitted for consideration. I’ve been a design juror many times over the last 8 years but this competition was different from most that I have participated in as a juror. Part of the review process included looking through the construction drawings for each kitchen for award consideration and checking the dimensional control in addition to evaluating the aesthetics and functionality of the kitchens.

The Role that Cooking Plays in the Design of a Kitchen [28:23 mark]
I don’t think that it would come as a surprise to learn that I believe – strongly – that an architect’s ability to design a proper kitchen flows from their knowledge on preparing food. To that end, there is almost no shortage of steps we will take when designing a kitchen and trying to accommodate not only the skill level of the individual who will be preparing food in the kitchen, but the role that the kitchen itself plays in the culture of a family. The plan above on the left is the ground floor plan of a house we designed that had a large outdoor cooking area – a space intended to feed a large family and their friends while everyone was in the backyard having fun and playing in the pool … but what a pain to walk down to the ground floor level when you simply want to toss something quick on the grill. The plan on the right shows a small grilling area just off the main living room and kitchen for just such occasions. Once we had a chance to talk with the client about their lifestyle, it became clear that despite the advanced stage of plan documentation, we needed to make some changes to accommodate this small grilling space.

Public Kitchens and How to deal with them [31:20 mark]
We just completed a project this last year where the kitchen was incredibly public and visible from many different vantage points throughout the house. The concern that we worked through with the client was to develop an enlarge pantry, or Butler’s Closet that would allow us to move part of the responsibilities required of a traditional kitchen and put them behind a door. This allowed that “face” of the kitchen to have a smaller footprint while keeping the highly visible counters clean, while allowing a space (shown in blue) that would allow coffee makers, toasters, space for caterer’s to set up, secondary oven and dishwasher, etc. to live somewhere else while still being conveniently located.

This solution actually worked out so well that should I win the lottery, this is how I will design my own kitchen.

For those of you that don’t care to puzzle out the floor plan, here is a look at the public face of this kitchen. I am hardpressed to look at this space and not want to spend as much time in it as possible. It has great light quality, plenty of room that supports many different social functions, and it has a 15′ long and 4′ deep island …

In My Spare Time [35:20 mark]
[enter Landon, blog stage left]

This time on In My Spare Time, Bob and I dive into what shenanigans we’ve been getting into since we last sat down for the previous podcast.  Apparently, the last episode wasn’t enough to settle the talk on traveling, as each of our segments involves our traveling adventures the past two weeks out of the dusty haze of Dallas.

A trip I’ve booked since the end of March, my fellow Virginia Tech lads (spread out from Nevada to Austin to Washington, D.C.) and I met up to soak up the landscape of Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho:

photo cred to Emma Tulsky, Gold Miner Extraordinaire

This is but a small and wonderful excerpt from our trip, but it shows just how jaw-dropping the mountains of Idaho really were.  Who knew there were more than tumbleweeds and potatoes up there?   Needless to say, I’ll definitely be making a trip back (probably not until my back realigns from sleeping on the ground for three nights though).

Bounding wildly into nature with nothing but your two hands and a sturdy hiking stick might sound like a adventure to rival Huckleberry Finn, but unless your on some soul-searching, deep-connection-to-earth, caveman-like adventure, I recommend you bring along at least a small handful of essential items from the 21st century to get you through a few nights away from civilization (this includes a sleeping bag, which my two of my friends seemed to have forgotten in the near-freezing Idaho nights).  One piece of equipment I got as a gift a few years ago from my brother and brought along on this trip was this hiker’s water microfilter:

Katadyn Hiker Microfilter Water Filter ($52)
Made for backpackers walking multiple-day trails, it allows you to not have to carry 3,979,834 liters of water for your extended trips, and you really only need a nice running stream periodically along your way to have an almost unlimited supply of clean drinking water.  This puppy can run through 750 liters (that’s a lot of Nalgenes), and then it’s only a matter of changing out the filter to have it pumping like new again.

As with anything, there’s always newer gear to be had, and in thinking about future backpacking trips I’m currently waiting for the opportune adventure to warrant purchasing this slick little guy:

Osprey Exos 38 Backpack ($150)
Hopefully replacing my older, chunky sack of a hiking backpack, this ultralight should be an essential piece of gear to get me up that next mountain.  Stay tuned in and you might catch me happily lugging this guy around on my next adventure!

Bob’s Spare Time …

Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II Headphones ($350)
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I listen to a lot of music … and I listen to music constantly. I put together playlists and get excited to expose something new to people, and one of the best feelings I get in the world is when I play a song for someone who really likes it and has never even heard of the artist before. For all of these reasons, I pay a lot of attention to the headphones I use to deliver my music. When I started traveling a lot for work a few years ago, I started researching noise-canceling headphones. I finally decided to bite the bullet and I bought myself the Bose headphones … and I have never regretted it. I actually carry these headphones to and from work every day so that they are always on me just in case I need them.

The fact I work in an open office and can put these headphones on – even if I don’t play music – just to block out some of the excessive aural stimulation should tell you just how good they work. If you listen to music, or just don’t want to listen to anything at all, then these are the headphones you’ve been waiting for.

Every architect I know likes to cook and it goes beyond eating food … it’s the whole creative process. It’s the idea that I have to put time, attention, and rigor to the execution I’m looking to create an output that’s not just delicious, but looks good, was fun, feeds me mentally as well as physically … maybe I should become a chef since I clearly have some passion for it.

So what do you say … do you like to cook? Did you want to become a chef?
Bon Appétit!

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