Tue, 23 Dec 2003

Open Kitchen: A new dining concept at major restaurants

Rudijanto Contributor Jakarta

Good background music, suitable interior design, quality furniture and tableware have long been important factors that enhance a dining experience, but what about if the hectic activity and full environment of a kitchen became part of the dining experience as well?

Today's restaurants can hardly neglect other non-food aspects. Activities in the kitchen, such as chopping, frying or roasting, and the enticing aromas from kitchens have now become part of the total dining experience.

That is what the Open Kitchen concept, a new growing trend among modern restaurants, is all about. Look at Scusa, Italian and Mediterranean restaurant at Jakarta's Intercontinental MidPlaza that has its kitchen at right near the entrance.

Designed with futuristic interior and a good combination of metal and warm terracotta colors, Scusa looks just like other modern restaurants that provide a cozy atmosphere for dining except for one thing - Open Kitchen concept.

This concept is radically new among restaurants since the kitchen, traditionally a hidden place in most of restaurants, suddenly becomes one of restaurant's interior design. Under this new trend, the kitchen is no longer put behind the scene but comes to the fore.

In Scusa, the live or background music, cozy environment and good original Italian delicacies seem incomplete without another live show, the performance of its Italian chef Luca Pazzera on the kitchen stage.

Without a wall to hide behind, Pazzera are essentially on display for all guests who wish to watch their "gracious kitchen dance". It has become an important part of the overall experience, together with the soft jazz background music or even a live music performance to complete the dining experience.

Similarly, the kitchen is brought to life in the center of C's Steak & Seafood restaurant at Jakarta's Grand Hyatt. The whole process of cooking, all the ingredients and movements of Chef Massimiliano Ziano and his team have truly become the center of this restaurant.

Unlike at Scusa, where the open kitchen is off to the side, C's Steak & Seafood brings has its kitchen exactly in the center of the restaurant and, therefore it is completely visible from any corner of the restaurant, and thus, emphasizes the transparent interior design of the restaurant.

Just like Scusa's Luca Pazzera who is the lead actor on his kitchen stage, C's Steak & Seafood's Italian chef Massimiliano Ziano and his team are suddenly brought to the center stage, often times the only live show in the restaurant.

Savoring delicious t-bone steak or steamed garoupa will never be complete without viewing Ziano's and his team's kitchen stage performance.

Another restaurant that follows this radical trend is MAMA(r) German Restaurant in Bali. Located in the heart of Kuta on the main shopping road, Legian Street, Mama hides none of its kitchen activity from the guests.

Its German chef, Ralf Schmidt constitutes the inseparable part of dining experience in the restaurant. Maintaining high standards of quality and cleanliness, Schmidt has become part of the live show along with daily live music in the restaurant.

The restaurant is famous for its unique specialties, a crispy Pork Knuckle from the spit with home-made sausages prepared in its Denpasar meat factory. Badly affected by the Bali bomb that devastated Paddy's and Sari Club down the road on Legian Street, Mama now stays open - around the clock.

The Open Kitchen certainly demands more on the part of the chef. That's why Scusa's Luca Pazzera admits that in the first couple of days he felt a little bit distracted by guests' questions but after some time, he now relishes and sees it as a "beautiful concept".

"The open kitchen creates interaction between the guests and the chef because people can come to the kitchen and speak with the chef. I feel happy with this concept and it does not demand much more from me because I always work with a high standard of cleanliness," says Pazzera.

C's Steak & Seafood's chef Massimiliano Ziano essentially echoed Pazzera's feelings when he says that working in an open kitchen helps him to be more connected to the guests. But one important thing for Ziano is that it makes him understand all the problems on the other side of the barricade, namely the service people.

"I think the guests feel more comfortable when they can see what's going on in the kitchen, as we are proud to show the harmonic way to do our job of preparing food. Personally, working in an open kitchen gives me extra confidence when it's time for me to go to the table and speak with the guests," says the 29- year old chef from Turin.

In a tropical country such as Indonesia, the Open Kitchen has been a great challenge for Mama's chef Ralf Schmidt, especially in maintaining cleanliness, dealing with tropical temperatures and training the staff about maintaining a presentable preparation process.

"It's a great challenge to operate an open kitchen here in Indonesia...but I love big challenges and enjoy show-cooking," says the 38-year-old chef from Forst/Lautitz in eastern Germany.

MAMA's F&B Specialist John-Paul Eisermann adds that the Open Kitchen is very important in an environment like an Asian country to gain trust and acceptance of the mainly European guests. It is to show what and how the chef and his team are doing.

"Our foreign guests say that if they go to restaurants with a closed kitchen, they go to the restroom first and then decide whether to eat there," says Eisermann.

But does this open kitchen concept put less emphasis on the food itself? Not at all, since all chefs in international restaurants have shown fantastic expertise in the art of cooking.

But not all restaurant managers agree with this concept as most restaurants still prefer to emphasize the food quality they serve for their guests. Jakarta's Thaichi restaurant that serves Thai and Chinese cuisine at Crown Plaza hotel is such a restaurant.

Thaichi's general manager Jim Tehusijarana still believes that people come to a restaurant particularly for its food. For Jim, the Open Kitchen is just an addition to the whole atmosphere but it cannot replace the food quality itself.

With this emphasis on food, Jim offers his guests a Thai- Chinese cuisine of which some has been adjusted to local tastes. For instance, the originally spicier Thai Beef Salad is made less spicy to adjust to Indonesian palates.

Though not following the open kitchen restaurant, Jakarta's Japanese and Italian restaurant Trattoria Yoshiko tries to accommodate this popular trend by bringing its pizza oven out into the front part of this unique hybrid Japanese/Italian restaurant.

"Our interior was designed several years ago and I cannot make drastic changes with it," says Rio Kondo, the son of Madame Yoshiko, founder of Puri Yoshiko Japanese restaurant that was started in 1970.

The Open Kitchen concept certainly has become a new dining experience in Indonesia, particularly in Jakarta and Bali. With other international restaurants such as Thaichi and Trattoria Yoshiko that have their own unique concepts, the Open Kitchen is expected to enrich dining options in Indonesia.