NEW YORK — How do you arrange space for two chefs so that too many cooks won't spoil the broth? That's the vital new question for today's kitchen planners as two-cook kitchens become more and more common, especially for career-oriented couples.
Ellen Cheever, a certified kitchen designer who is also design director of the Maytag Kitchen Idea Center at Newton, Iowa, confirms that preparing dinner is no longer just one particular person's responsibility.
With the time limits imposed by jobs, school schedules, and extracurricular activities, Cheever said, people tend to cherish the precious minutes they spend cooking together as well as those they spend eating together. Preparing meals together, she believes, contributes a lot to family communication.
"With husbands and wives, apartment mates, parents and children all sharing in the chores and in the cooking," she said, "they are looking for kitchens geared to today's faster pace and new attitudes."
Consequently, Cheever is giving more attention to planning kitchens in which two or more cooks can work together with ease, with appliances properly placed for maximum two-cook efficiency and with ample counter space planned to be the correct height for both husband and wife.
In a two-cook kitchen, the designer insists, the very best thing to have two of is a sink.
The sink is the most used appliance in the room, she said. It is used in food preparation, while cooking and during cleanup. People can share a cooking appliance, but it's harder to share a sink.
For best results, she says, both water sources should have hot and cold water taps as well as a separate food waste disposal unit. She advises putting extra dollars into a quality disposal unit because it produces less noise. Also, each sink should measure at least 15 by 15 inches, or, better still, 17 by 22 inches. Another suggestion is to place the second sink within an island in the middle of the kitchen.
Since in many kitchens there are traffic jams at the stove as well at the sink, the next best thing to have two of is a cooking surface, Cheever said.
One possible candidate for the second cooking surface is a down-draft range, which eliminates the need for an overhead hood and can also be placed on an island or a peninsula.
The third element needed when two cooks operate together in one kitchen is, of course, more counter space. For the kitchen with one cooking surface, Cheever recommends putting counter space on either side of the range so that both cooks have easy access without stumbling over one another.
In many cases, she said, the man in the kitchen is a specialty cook who needs a little space of his own in which to pursue his interest, be it baking, tossing salads, soup-making, or barbecuing. Sometimes this special place can be fitted out on the periphery of a kitchen, so he cook can work outside the main traffic pattern.
One of Cheever's real concerns is in seeing that men have a proper counter height and do not have to work at the traditional 36-inch-high counter that was developed with women's average height in mind.
What is the ideal counter height for a man? He should stand in shoes he normally wears around the house and flex his elbow. His ideal countertop height is two or three inches below his flexed elbow. If his specialty is baking and he has to knead and roll out dough, the proper counter height is six or seven inches below his flexed elbow.
This means that the right counter height for a 6-foot-2-inch man could vary between 39 and 43 inches, depending on what his cooking specialty might be. "When I am planning a new kitchen," Cheever said, "I always try to give the man specialty cook a counter of the right height, good lighting, a second sink and a storage area designed just for his own equipment.
"For instance, if he bakes, we put vertical dividers into the cabinets to 'file' his baking tins and cookie sheets. We also build a marble slab into a section of his counter surface. If his specialty is meats or salads, we build a big chopping block into his counter area."
Cheever also provides a duplicate set of knives for the second cook, as well as a set of spices and measuring equipment.
When planning a kitchen for two cooks, a minimum of 36 inches (preferably 42 inches) is required for one person to bend over, she said. If two people are working together, it is wise to have from 48 to 54 inches of free space so they can pass each other easily and move freely.
It is also critical that the refrigerator be placed close to the entry and along the longest uninterrupted counter space. And refrigerator doors must open the right way. Cheever frequently specifies refrigerators that have reversible doors.
"If you are planning a kitchen for two gourmet chefs, both of whom think of cooking as theater, then you have to be very, very careful about where you place the work centers and what kinds of appliances you recommend," she said. "In such cases, space and money permitting, it is usually best for both cooks to have their own triangle of sink, cooking surface and refrigerator in which to perform."