December 5, 2013
I’ve been designing in my mind what I call a pitch-in kitchen. It’s a kitchen designed for multiple helpers to pitch in. The kitchen might be used for servicing large parties, or to efficiently feed the homeless, or to simplify food preparation for a collective of neighbors. Today I’m focusing on the design, not the ultimate use of it.
The idea is to make the kitchen so user-friendly that a stranger could walk in and know where everything is and how it works. Perhaps there are tablet computers at each food prep area of a central island that gives instructions for tasks that are auto-assigned to people from a master menu. Anyone can walk in and tap the tablet’s “what’s next” button and immediately see instructions for washing and prepping the carrots, for example, complete with a picture showing the quantity needed and how they should be sliced. The software would be in charge of sequencing the steps as each volunteer checks in. If a volunteer doesn’t feel comfortable with a step that is assigned, he can choose another.
I imagine the plates and cookware are color-coded so anyone can tell which cupboard or drawer holds what. If you can’t find a ladle, type its name into the search box on the tablet computer to see a map of the kitchen with an arrow to the correct drawer.
People enjoy helping in the kitchen as long as they know where everything is. Most adults like the feeling of being useful. And food prep can be fun if you get the right group together. The trick is to automate the thinking and planning part of the meal prepping and let the humans do the mindless chopping, stirring, washing, sautéing and other tasks.
The meal organizer would start off by choosing a recipe online. Then the organizer would enter the number of diners to size the ingredients and click one button to order it all for delivery at a set date and time. Another piece of software would send out email invitations for kitchen helpers from the list of your party-invitees or volunteers. As people reply for various kitchen roles, from prepping to cooking to clean-up, the software keeps track and reduces the available openings on the fly. The software then sends out a schedule to each helper telling them exactly when in the process their contributions are needed. Perhaps each helper has a companion app for their phone that buzzes them when it is time for their step. You might be chatting with other party-goers until your phone says, “Time to wash the broccoli.”
On a smaller scale, I designed my current kitchen for pitching in. For example, I didn’t put the garbage receptacle below the sink because someone is often standing in the way when you want access to it. And I recently added a block of cutting knives on top of the counter because “Where do you keep the knives?” is the first question every kitchen helper always asks. I also plan to standardize the Tupperware-like containers so they all have the same lid no matter their depth.
Had I been cleverer, I would have added a garbage bag storage area inside the garbage/recycling pull-out drawer so any helper could see where the replacement bags are when they help take out the trash.
My favorite kitchen-nerd innovation is the kitchen cart. It’s a wheeled metal cart that is tucked under a counter until needed to help clear dishes after a meal. Just wheel the cart around and load the dirty dishes and glasses from every nook and corner of the house after a party. If I had been smarter with the cart idea, it would include an attached garbage bucket so I could scrape food into it as I do the pick-up.
Do you have any kitchen efficiency ideas to add?