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FE&SEditorial Archives2004June — Facility Design Project of the Month

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Newly nestled atop a hill on 80 acres of Rockefeller farmland 40 minutes from Manhattan is a rustic white-tablecloth restaurant with private dining and catering facilities designed to do more than serve great meals. Its real mission is to help change the way Americans think about food.

The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., is a non-profit farm, educational center and restaurant set in the heart of Westchester County. Forty-five minutes from New York City and resting on the 80-acre ancestral home of the Rockefeller family, the center's mission is to demonstrate, teach and promote sustainable, community-based food production.

The goal the project team pursued while developing the center's restaurant was to design a dining operation that fully utilized the natural bounty produced on the farm and expressed its rustic, stately setting. The result is a sleek restaurant with a private dining room and an as-yet-unfinished catering facility fueled by a smartly crafted, cleverly equipped kitchen designed to the exacting criteria of its chef/owner.

The 88-seat Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant, which resides on the site, began serving customers on April 14 and opened officially on May 1. The private dining room seats up to 60, while an outdoor patio accommodates another 30. The bar seats nine.

"The thinking behind the new restaurant's menu," said chef/owner Dan Barber, "was to follow the lead of the farm and utilize, to the greatest extent possible, what comes from the fields. Our approach is very simple: from farm to table, with the scraps and waste from what we produce in the kitchen going back to the farm." Blue Hill's seasonal American menu emphasizes the native products of New York's Hudson Valley, and prix fixe meal charges range from $48 to $68. Rounding out the foodservice operation are a small café and a planned catering facility located in an adjacent building. The café is located on the square between the two buildings and offers visitors salads, sandwiches, fresh ice cream and other grab-and-go items made from ingredients grown on the premises. Coffee equipment, refrigeration and a rethermalization unit round out the café's simple equipment package.

With catering, total first-year sales volume for the operation is projected to be in the $3 million range.

The spacious stone structures, which formerly housed livestock and all that went with them, seem almost to have grown up out of the countryside.

"Our mission was to make the best possible use of the existing structures, the farm's barns themselves, to house la carte and catering venues, and to do it in the context of the broader facility," said Gary Jacobs, vice president of Design for Pascoe-Jacobs Associates, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Sam Tell Cos. in Maspeth, N.Y., the dealer that handled this project. "The entire kitchen plan had to support the use of fresh organic ingredients, largely produced on the property."

The décor of the restaurant, private dining room and bar were recently described by The New York Times as "spare, elegant, cool, with a color palette that runs to taupes, browns and blacks. (T)he room plays off the old Vermont barn pine floor of the spacious dining room."

"The way we designed the interior ... was to keep the semblance of it being a barn," Barber explained. "The [steel] trusses in the dining room remind guests that this building used to be a cow barn. Our kitchen is in that former cow barn, too, so we've kept the original slope of the ceiling and the original lighting. This way, the overall plan is something that celebrates agriculture."

The traditional agricultural theme was carried all the way through to the tabletop presentation, where Barber's concern was "forgetting nothing of the past but interpreting it in a modern context." As a result, the presentation is elegant yet sturdy: Ceramic contemporary-looking plates have a "rustic 'of the hearth' feel," while silverware is "sturdy, strong and masculine without being in your face," Barber stated.

The cold room's vacuum packaging machine and blast chiller (left) allow sous vide production. The cooking suite's open-burner ranges with ribbon grates (below) give chefs greater temperature control.

The kitchen and its storage area - which includes four walk-in coolers, including one combination walk-in cooler/freezer - measure 2,500-square-feet. The total cost of the E&S package was more than $500,000.

Barber, who also owns Blue Hill Restaurant in Greenwich Village with his brother David, together with Chef Michael Anthony, were "very integral to every little nuance of the kitchen, more so than clients usually are," noted Jerry Kouveras, director of engineering for Sam Tell and project director at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. "I like it when a chef or team of chefs has such a clear vision."

Work surfaces in this restaurant's kitchen are large, the space handles sound well and there is abundant incandescent lighting. The windows on the side of the old barn facing the courtyard were retained, allowing still more naturallight into the new kitchen.

The kitchen is operated by anywhere from 12 to 25 staffers at any one time, according to Kouveras, "yet it was designed for a multitude of employees to work in. One might even think we created some duplication of stations. But the whole flow, the whole design, was planned for control. In this facility, there are as many people as possible on hand to assist with preparing different components of a dish. Yet, the way production flows, every plate is taken to that one point where Chef Barber's or Chef Anthony's are the last set of hands that touch what has been created by many people."

Another thing that sets the Stone Barns kitchen apart is "the visual perspective, the openness of it," stressed Kouveras. "There are no over-shelves in the kitchen. With the exception of the exhaust hood, there is nothing at or above eye level that breaks the sight line. It is a very open environment and one that is conducive to communication between every person working in that kitchen."

"Because there are no full-height partition walls throughout the kitchen," added Jacobs, "wherever the chef happens to be, he can look around and see pretty much everything that is going on."

Bussers return to the back of the house by entering the warewashing area to drop off soiled dishes. "We wanted to minimize the distance that the wait staff had to travel to get their work done," said Jacobs, "and we wanted to separate the sanitary from the soiled, which is why there is more than one entrance." (A second entrance leads in from the adjacent catering facility, while a third opens into the receiving/storage area.) A dishwasher in the dishroom is fully insulated for quieter and cooler operation.


Key Equipment List

Key Equipment List 1. Beverage refrigerator
2. Liquor storage
3. Ice & water station
4. Bread drawers
5. Espresso machine
6. Beverage refrigerator
7. Coffee production
8. Drop-in sink
9. Clean dishtable
10. Storage shelving
11. Glasswasher
12. Dishwasher
13. Sink booster
14. Potwashing
15. Power washer
16. Soiled dishtable
17. Hand sink
18. Expediting table
19. Warming lamps
20. Pan rack
21. Utility cabinet w/sink
22. Refrigerated worktable w/cabinet
23. Plate storage cabinet
24. Wall cabinet
25. Refrigerated worktable
26. Freezer worktable w/dipper
27. Induction cooker
28. Ingredient bin
29. Worktable
30. Pan rack
31. Mixer
32. Exhaust hood
33. Stack convection oven
34. Sheeter
35. Butcher block
36. Work surface w/sinks
37. Vacuum packing
38. Blast chiller
39. Reach-in refrigerator
40. Spreader w/induction
41. Spreader
42. 6-burner range
43. Hot-top range
44. Plate cabinet
45. Salamander
46. Combi oven
47. Convection oven
48. Shock tank
49. Tilting skillet
50. Tilting kettle
51. Stockpot range
52. Scale
53. Ice production
54. Walk-in cooler
55. Mop sink
56. Walk-in cooler/freezer
57. Back-bar cabinet
58. Glasswashing
59. Beer dispensing
60. Insulated bin
61. Ice bin
62. Drainboard
63. Soda dispensing

A full-blown cooking suite sits at the center of the Stone Barns kitchen. It is comprised of a heated plate cabinet, two full-size open-burner ranges with ribbon grates, two half-size French-top ranges, a combi oven and an induction cooking station.

"It's really the heart and nerve center of the kitchen," said Kouveras. "It's what I like to call an American-style cooking suite. (Anthony differed, pointing out that American-style suites are traditionally wall-mounted.) It's unlike a European cooking suite, which is much narrower, and allows for cooperation across the line, such as when more than one chef works on the same dish at the same time. Our American-style suite is much wider and more geared toward increased production. Staff are really not assisting each other across the line, because they can't reach across 78 inches to 84 inches of equipment, especially over the working heat sources."

"We started by creating the entire kitchen around the Waldorf suite," said Anthony, who was the chef at Blue Hill in New York City. "We used some custom fittings for the plate warmer and custom-fit the combi oven. It allowed us to save money and still create the increased organization and efficiencies that happen when staff work around an island suite."

"Despite ours being a mock Waldorf," commented Barber, "it's pretty seamless. The best bonus is the 'S' (or ribbon) grates that work essentially like a flat top. The heat is terrific, and we have storage for pots and pans as we're cooking."

The ribbon grates, one of only three in use in the United States made by the manufacturer (the others are at the Blue Hill in New York City and Jean-George Vongerichten's Nougatine Kitchen), accommodate "everything from a 10-inch sauté pan to half-pint butter warmers," said Kouveras. "These grates also allow the open burners to be level with the French-top or hot-top setup. It allows us to control our cooking temperatures closely. We can have sauté pans centered directly over the fire or we can move them over two inches, three inches, five inches. It really gives the chef who loves sautéing great control over production."

There are two undercounter reach-in refrigerators just off the main line, four more supporting each side of the range battery and 10 doors more in the pastry and garde manger areas.

Anthony likes the proximity of the garde manger station, "close to the pass-through. That means while expediting as a chef, I can easily get around to both fish and meat and cook on the line. At the same time, I'm not missing what's happening at the garde manger station. This kitchen was designed so there was no isolation of any of the stations - again, facilitating even work flow and constant communication among staff."

Efficient plating is supported by the breadth of the equipment. A chef's pass table between garde manger and hot production measures 78 inches front to back. "I believe that table is 20 feet long," said Kouveras, "so you have phenomenally spacious work areas. It is a sacrifice not having any over-shelf assemblies, but it works."

Design Capsule

Officially opened on May 1, 2004, the 88-seat Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant is located on Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. The 80-acre site, part of the Rockefeller family's estate, was turned into a working organic farm and agricultural education center in order to connect people with the food they eat. It will provide classes about ecology and farming for Westchester County schoolchildren as well as classes for adults. The 88-seat restaurant, together with a 60-seat private dining room, 30-seat patio area and nine-seat bar, is owned and operated by brothers Dan and David Barber, who also run the trendy Blue Hill Restaurant in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. A 1,600-square-foot mezzanine kitchen for catering is planned. First-year sales are projected at $3 million. The restaurant is open nightly for dinner only, from 5:30 to 11:00 Monday to Saturday, and 5:30 to 10:00 Sunday. Private lunches are held from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns Restaurant: Dan and David Barber
Chefs: Dan Barber, Michael Anthony, Juan Cuevas
Equipment Dealer: The Sam Tell Cos., Maspeth, N.Y.
Project Manager: Jerry Kouveras, The Sam Tell Cos., Maspeth, N.Y.
Architect (for the grounds): Machado and Silvetti Associates, Boston
Architect for Restaurant/Interior Design: Asfour Guzy Architects, New York
Construction Management: Turner Construction, New York

A "cold room" in the upper right-hand corner of the kitchen is used as a venue for butchering meats and fish, as well as temperature-sensitive chocolate work. "The cold room is essentially where the majority of the prep is done on our protein items," said Kouveras. In addition to a 24-inch by 24-inch, 16-inch-thick butcher-block table, there is a long U-shaped prep table along three walls. The only interruption in work surface is a marble slab that is used in instances when production requires an even colder surface to work on. There is also a large two-compartment sink here.

At the far end of the cold room are a floor-model vacuum packaging machine and a blast chiller applied to sous vide production, the last stage of moving foods from prep into storage.

"The cost of keeping the overall kitchen down to 70°F. or 72°F. was extraordinary," Jacobs pointed out. "We felt that a better solution was the cold room, which is about 15 feet by 9 feet with all-stainless-steel and fiberglass panel surfaces."

Anthony said he is "extremely excited" about the addition of the room, which is maintained at 48°F. to 52°F. Added Barber, "I think the cold room is a great bonus for any kitchen. It's a great way to deal with products."

No final decisions have been made yet on what sort of equipment may go into a 1,600-square-foot mezzanine kitchen located in a catering facility in another of the compound's buildings. Said Anthony, "It will be anchored by two long plating areas with cook-and-holds on each side of the kitchen. The space is a little bit challenging because it's fairly narrow, and will have a limited amount of firepower. It's more or less going to be a finishing kitchen."

Blue Hill at Stone Barns has garnered a lot of attention both in and out of the restaurant industry, which is understandable for good reason. "It's a very prestigious project, a high-visibility project," said Marc Tell, president and CEO of Sam Tell. "We worked on it with some great and talented people. I could not be happier that we were part of the process."

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