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La Petite Maison: My new kitchen

18 July 2007
La Petite Maison: My new kitchen

Head chef Raphael Duntoye's new kitchen at La Petite Maison in London's Mayfair takes the idea of open-plan one step further by siting the cold section in the restaurant dining room. Diane Lane reports

The trend towards open-plan kitchens - with the workings of the kitchen on show to add an element of theatre - is a growing one. However, at Arjun Waney's new Mayfair restaurant La Petite Maison, the idea has been taken one step further with one of the kitchen sections actually located in the dining room itself.

The 80-seat restaurant has adopted the style and essence of the Nice venue of the same name, frequented by celebrities for many years. The cuisine is typically Niçoise - French Mediterranean with Ligurian influences - with the emphasis on freshly prepared dishes designed for sharing.

"We cook everyday food that people can eat several times a week," says head chef Raphael Duntoye, formerly of Zuma, Sketch and La Tante Claire. "There's no need to store a great deal of produce. As it comes in, chefs take what they need and prep it."

The brief to Carford Group, which undertook the design and installation and manufactured all the fabrication, was for an open-plan kitchen. "The problem was the space available," says project sales manager Tony Perkins, who worked on the design with Duntoye. "So we looked at putting the cold section in the restaurant."

Separated from the kitchen by a glass wall, the cold section emphasises the fact that everything on the menu is freshly prepared to order, with its large bowls of ingredients such as artichokes, apples, tomatoes and lemons. Several metres of granite cover three Williams refrigerated counters, giving plenty of worktop space to the chefs preparing the salads and the fish carpaccio in full view of the diners.

The kitchen beyond measures just 40sq m, but a substantial amount of kit has been fitted in, including a bespoke Athanor island suite and no fewer than six ovens.

The suite houses three of the ovens - two gas ovens and an Alto Shaam holding oven - besides which there is a Bakers Pride oven in the pastry section, a 10-grid Rational combi for slow-cooking meat and a Josper charcoal oven used for steaks, fish, veg for the ratatouille and tasks such as smoking garlic.

Duntoye describes his Athanor suite as "awesome" and enthuses about every element on the 1,400mm x 2,950mm stove, supplied through Signature FSE, from the four-zone Plaque Athanor (plancha) at one end to the radiant hobs at the other. "We don't use it well enough at present," he says of the plancha. "We will eventually have an ‘à la planche' section on the menu." He particularly likes the fact that the suite gives him a clear view of every section in the kitchen, and its efficiency and heat-retaining properties.

Butting up to the plancha end of the stove are two twin-basket Valentine electric fryers, one for squid and beignets and the other for frites. A Rosinox salamander takes care of gratins and general finishing.

Refrigeration is by Williams and consists of three upright cabinets dedicated to fish, meat and vegetables, plus several under-counter units in a mix of cabinets and, for easy access for mise en place, drawers. A Scotsman MV300 takes care of the restaurant's ice requirements.

A granite top marks out the pastry area, which has its own under-counter refrigeration and a Bakers Pride oven for use during service, so the chefs don't have to cross the kitchen to the Rational combi-oven. There's also a Kitchen Aid mixer, a Carpigiani ice-cream machine, for making ice-cream fresh every morning, and a Caravell ice-cream freezer.

The bespoke Athanor island suite allows Duntoye to keep an eye on all sections of the kitchen. Two radiant hobs, with a temperature range of 70-500°C, are used by the pastry section near by, and Duntoye likes to use the area as pass with heat turned down. The two solid-tops reach 450°C and have impressed Duntoye with their ability to boil rapidly. The plancha is made up of four sections, each with independent heat controls for temperatures between 70°C and 450°C. The sections lie together rather than be split into two with a gap between, and this gives more space at each side of the suite for plating up.

There are two gas ovens and one Alto Shaam holding oven built into the suite. The gas ovens are used for dishes such as the whole roast Blackleg chicken with foie gras, which takes about 40 minutes, while the holding oven has found another use in confiting fillets of salmon in oil, which is heated to 50°C on the stove.

Made in Spain, the Josper charcoal oven is one of only a handful in use in the UK. While Duntoye initially wanted an open grill, planning restrictions wouldn't allow it, and he has been won over by the Josper oven. "There's nothing you can't cook in it," he says. "And it's very economical on the charcoal. We use 16kg a day." The oven is used at 250-300°C - a valve controls the amount of oxygen being let in and allows the temperature to be adjusted - but will go up to 500°C.

>The area of the dining room occupied by the cold prep section was originally going to be a wine cellar, but extra space was needed for the kitchen operation and it was the perfect opportunity for a bit of "theatre" for diners. Two chefs currently man the section - one preparing dishes such as artichoke salad from the bowls of ingredients on display, and one producing cold fish dishes such as carpaccio of tuna or scallops. The blue mosaic tiles on the walls match those in the kitchen and remind diners that this area is part of the food prep operation.

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