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The Caterer

My new kitchen: Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

10 November 2005
My new kitchen: Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

Almost everyone had the same reaction when they were shown the old kitchen at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. It seemed impossible that so many trays of amuse-bouches, so many perfect plates of food, pre-desserts and mignardise could come from such a small kitchen. Yet for 18 years, with only a single six-burner Garland stove, a combi-oven, two chefs and a massive amount of skill and organisation, that is exactly what happened, earning Le Champignon Sauvage its two Michelin stars, four AA rosettes and a legion of admirers.

When the building next door became available this year, David and Helen Everitt-Matthias leapt at purchasing it. Although the dining room area would double, they chose to expand the number of seats by just 12, to 40, giving a sense of space to diners. Only the lounge area would remain much the same, with two leather couches providing a comfortable place to have an aperitif or retire for coffee and petits fours.

For the kitchen, Everitt-Matthias chose Space Catering Equipment (SCE) to help him with the design and installation. It had the added benefit of being the agent for Electrolux and, in turn, its subsidiary company Molteni, maker of bespoke kitchen suites. Still, it was never going to be simple. As the SCE designer, Mike Mellor, says: "David has been there for 18 years and knows every nook and cranny of the kitchen. Every square inch of it had a job. But it's so much of a personal domain for him - much more so than usual - that we had to be massively client-led on every decision."

At the centre of everything is the Molteni suite, which all the chefs are exceptionally happy with. "It's so hot," says Everitt-Matthias. "We often switch it off two-thirds of the way into the evening and cook using just the residual heat." On the far end, nearest the wall, are three 9.3kW burners, mostly used for stock and jus production, though the two burners on the end are switched off during service so the heat won't disturb the work of pastry chef Steven Wise, on one side, or third chef Steven Lyons, in charge of amuses, soups, pre-desserts and petits fours, on the other. If there's an order of brioche perdu or another hot dessert, instead of switching the suite back on, the pastry chef can use the 4.5kW induction burner at the other end without increasing the temperature of the kitchen.

The rest of the suite is divided up with two planchas, two solid-tops, two gas ovens and a temperature-controlled hot cupboard. Above the induction hob is a salamander. The ventilation, built by Trivent, includes a fully controllable fresh-air input system to keep the stations around the suite cool.

Carried over from the days of the old kitchen, each chef is responsible for their courses from prep to final plating. Because of this, each of the appliances in the kitchen might have three or four completely different uses, so most of them are kept mobile. No space is wasted. A centre rack of shelves located next to the pass holds a Stella ice-cream machine, used for the elderberry sorbet with brown butter ice-cream among half-a-dozen others; a pasta machine; one of two Clifton Food Range water baths made by Nickel Electro for sous-vide; and a Santos dough mixer, which Wise considers excellent for quantities of dough up to four or five kilograms. There are several Kenwood units including the Gravity Feed Slicer and the Versatile Kitchen Machine. Everitt-Matthias's favourite is a new addition, the Vertical Cutter Mixer, which has the engine on the side so there's less danger of cream splitting or protein denaturation from motor heat underneath.

The kitchen is divided into four stations, two on each side of the suite, with a separate area for washing up and teas and coffees. At the amuse/soups section, Lyons has an L-shaped stainless-steel counter in the corner. A refrigerated cupboard is at eye level, with shelving deep enough for whipper bottles. A single Gram under-counter refrigerator keeps his mise en place and also the portioned pre-desserts. He uses the solid-top to heat his soups, such as asparagus velouté with coconut foam. Underneath his counter is a mobile Electrolux Dito vacuum packer which can be wheeled between the stations for individual use.

Opposite him across the suite, pastry chef Wise has a single Gram under-counter refrigerator and separate freezer. In the corner, a Pacojet, which can be programmed for individual portions, helps him with the five or six different sorbets and ice-creams that are a regular part of the menu. Everitt-Matthias also likes to use it for flavoured oils and, especially, with the vegetable purées used for soups.

An under-counter gastronorm tray holder has found a new use as a way of organising the various moulds used during prep and service.

For the different breads baked before each service Wise uses a new Electrolux Air-O-Steam combi-oven, which has its own ventilation, both to prove the dough at 25°C and then, when cranked up, to bake them a few minutes before the first customers arrive.

Next to pastry is the starters section run by second chef Marcus McGuinness, recent winner of the 2005 Young Chef award. Besides a double-door Electrolux Smart refrigerated counter, he has the kitchen's second Clifton water bath to sous-vide his fillet of megrim sole poached in smoked milk. He uses a Barbell blender, which also heats and cooks, to help with the golden raisin and verjus purée.

Across from him is his own solid-top, used to pan-fry the cock's kidneys, make the cumin caramel or finish a jus. He uses one of the Molteni planchas for searing diver scallops, which he serves with cumin froth, cumin caramel and cauliflower purée.

Directly opposite is Everitt-Matthias, who looks after all of the main courses from prep to plate, whether it means peeling cèpes, deboning a belly of pork, finishing a risotto of snails to go with the fillet of zander, or pan-roasting a breast of pigeon to serve with four-inch coxcombs. Being next to the pass allows him to oversee everything coming into or out of the kitchen. Again, an Electrolux Smart refrigerated counter with one door and three drawers allows him to portion and store his mise en place.

On the other side of the pass is an increased-capacity washing-up station with a large, stainless-steel double sink. Another holdover from the smaller kitchen is that everyone takes responsibility for the washing up. If anyone has a few spare moments during service, you'll find them racing over and working through whatever needs cleaning. A new Electrolux dishwasher takes care of most of the china, and a Classic Duo dishwasher accommodates the new Schott glass heights. Off to one side is an area set aside for tea and coffee production.

The new store room at the back completes the renovation, with two floor-to-ceiling reach-in chillers set at different temperatures flanked by shelves holding a plethora of unusual herbs and spices, an older refrigerated counter, and storage bins for the different flours.

With 10 services a week, and careful planning, the new kitchen has proved a cinch to clean. Each section closes down as its last plates go into the dining room, then at the end of service everyone pulls together to finish the cleaning, which takes only 25-30 minutes at the end of the night.

The brief

For almost two decades at Le Champignon Sauvage small miracles were performed daily in a kitchen not much larger than a broom closet. When they were finally able to expand, owners David and Helen Everitt-Matthias knew exactly what they wanted - they would increase the dining area, but, more importantly, they could more than double the size of the kitchen, add another chef and, for the first time, bring in a full-sized bespoke cooking suite.

1. The Molteni suite measures 2350mm x 1500mm with two 502mm x 675mm solid-tops churning out 14kW of gradated heat. The residual heat from the ovens and solid-tops leaves the surface area between appliances at 60-80¡C, perfect for resting plates, sauces or proteins.

molenti-suite1
molenti-suite1

2. There are two static gas ovens, one on either side, lined with hanging cast-iron plates for a more even heat distribution. There's also a temperature-controlled (up to 110°C) hot cupboard on the side. This came in particularly useful for one party when there were 28 portions of lamb cooked off on the solid-top and then held at 60°C until service.

static-gas-ovens2
static-gas-ovens2

3. Simple to scrub clean at the end of the night, the plancha has taken over most of the searing and many of the pan-roasting duties. Set at an angle, excess fats run off into the drainage channel, which is easy to clean.

plancha3
plancha3

4. Everitt-Matthias wanted a really sturdy range of pots that could cope with everything from the fierce heat of the 9.3kW burners to the gentle stirring of a risotto. Above all, they should be induction-friendly. He decided upon a range by the Italian company La Porcellana, which is rugged, but of a much lighter weight than many equivalents.

pots4
pots4

5. Used in conjunction with the Nickel Electro Clifton water baths, this Electrolux Dito vacuum packer has become invaluable. It is kept on a cart which can be rolled to any of the stations, be that to the amuses section to vac-pac the asparagus stems with butter before poaching, to the starter section for sole in smoked milk, or mains for partridge with cèpes. Everitt-Matthias is experimenting with rice puddings scented with citrus and cinnamon, as he finds the vacuum allows the flavour to penetrate more noticeably.

vacuum-packer5
vacuum-packer5

6. The logic behind the shelving is explained by Mike Mellor of SCE: "Most kitchens have shelves at eye level, but David requested a shelf arrangement just above the worktop - 150mm deep and 300mm above the worktop - for bottles and oils, individual ingredients and seasoning, and we thought it was a really good idea. Very close to your hand, but it doesn't interfere with your work surface."

shelving6
shelving6

Contacts

  • Barbel 01629 815211
  • Classic 01889 2726300
  • Electrolux 0121-220 2800
  • Gram 01322 616900
  • Kenwood Catering 023 9247 6000
  • La Porcellana 020 8671 5959
  • Nickel Electro 01934 626691
  • Pacojet/Magrini 01543 375311
  • Santos/Nisbets 01454 855555
  • Space Catering Equipment 01452 38300
  • Stella/Robot Coupe 020 8232 1800
  • Trivent 0113 276 0611
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