Foodservice Equipment Reports

UNIT DESIGN: R’evolutionary Kitchen

“Sexy” is not usually a word used to describe restaurant kitchens. But at Restaurant R’evolution, opened in June at The Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans in the heart of city’s French Quarter, the adjective fits. The restaurant’s main kitchen and exhibition kitchen both feature the same meticulous attention to detail and sleek design as its stunning “Old New Orleans” front-of-house setting. R’evolution kitchen highlights include a 36’-long cooking suite enameled in brilliant “R’evolution Red,” polished brass heat lamps, granite countertops and walk-ins with see-through doors.

“People thought we were nuts [to make the kitchen look so nice],” says Chef Rick Tramonto, who along with co-founder and Louisiana legend Chef John Folse, created the Restaurant R’evolution concept. “Everything here is sexy, and yet everything is totally functional. You can have it both ways.”

The 200-seat, 6,000-sq.-ft. restaurant recreates the look and feel of a turn-of-the-century New Orleans mansion. R’evolution’s seven interconnected “micro”-dining rooms start with Bar R’evolution, decked out as a carriageway. The Bar leads to the Courtyard Gallery or the Bienville Room, which in turn opens onto the Wine Room. The Pantry and Kitchen have a homier, more casual feel, while the Market Dining Room, featuring a dynamic expo kitchen, recreates a famous 1920s-era New Orleans delicatessen.

Menu First, Then Kitchen

Restaurant R’evolution’s was the brainchild of Chefs Folse and Tramonto, who forged a bond in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when Folse asked Tramonto (known for founding Chicago dining icon Tru, Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood and Osteria di Tramonto) to join his efforts in feeding survivors and rescuers. Later, when the Royal Sonesta Hotel approached Folse to develop a restaurant, Folse again reached out to Tramonto.

The duo began working on the R’evolution menu in 2009. After the menu was complete, they sketched out a kitchen to support it. In 2011 the colleagues tapped Dustin Bennett, a manager and designer at NOLA Restaurant Supply & Design, a branch of Louisiana Food Equipment in Alexandria, La., to do the kitchen drawings and oversee the project. Building and construction was carried out by Landis Construction, New Orleans. The interior design team was led by Bill Johnson, The Johnson Studio in Atlanta, whose firm created the look of Tru, Osteria di Tramonto and Tramonto's Steak and Seafood with Tramonto years earlier.

The R’evolution kitchen design and building team faced more than a few challenges. For starters, the restaurant space provided by the Royal Sonesta Hotel had previously pulled hard duty as a banquet kitchen and meeting rooms.

“Contractors had to rewire everything, drill through concrete to run utility lines into the basement, install new plumbing,” Bennett recalls. “This is an old building in the French Quarter—it needed a lot of work.”

The ancient banquet kitchen was gutted to the studs. Only one type of equipment was re-used in the R’evolution kitchen: its hoods and ventilation system. The decision to keep the hoods was a practical one. “Both hoods’ ductwork ran to a single, huge fan, as did the hood in the employee dining room kitchen,” Bennett says. “The chefs briefly considered changing the configuration, but installing new pollution control units and fire suppression systems for each hood would have cost about $30,000 per unit. They opted to work with the existing system and invest the money they saved into other parts of the kitchen instead.”

Another technical challenge came from the remote refrigeration racks requested by the chefs as a way to reduce excess kitchen heat—a significant concern since nearly every station is equipped with some sort of undercounter cooler or freezer. Planners ultimately placed the 4’W x 9’L x 4’H compressor rack in a former storage room in the underground garage, along with an industrial wall fan to cool the compressor in its un-air-conditioned setting.

Equipping The R’evolution Kitchen

R’evolution kitchen covers 3,000 sq. ft., including garde manger, pastry, hot line, expeditor station, back prep line and walk-ins.

The main kitchen layout can be broken into thirds. The prep line—with its butcher’s table, braiser, fryer, smoker unit, steam-jacketed kettles, range, convection oven and a power sink—comprise the back third. Off to the side, two menu-driven pieces of equipment include a custom-made, four-drawer fish file and a cheese cave, both with programmable temperature and humidity settings.

The next third sits to the right as you enter from the dining areas. It includes the garde manger, featuring induction cooktops and custom refrigeration, and the pastry station, with its Pacojet ice cream machine, 60-qt. mixer, stand mixers and a dedicated walk-in.

The kitchen’s front third supports cooking and finishing action. The cookline, extending a jaw-dropping 36’ and enameled by the supplier in the concept’s signature “R’evolution Red,” starts on the left with a free-standing, high-speed broiler capable of temps up to 1,200°F. The suite itself comprises a charbroiler, bain marie, a 12-burner range/oven with a salamander above, a convection oven, pasta “fryer” for quick boiling, plancha with convection oven below, grill with customized four-drawer refrigeration below and a breading and fryer station on the far right end. The six stations along the suite each have their own KDS brand monitor displaying orders. Pots and pans of various sizes hang from a sturdy rack mounted onto the front of the hood.

The suite’s individual components roughly match the menu. “The units for appetizers—fryer, breading station, start on the right, moving to center of plate and proteins on the left,” Tramonto says.

Because the suite’s components sit directly on a tiled curb instead of legs, and because each piece fits snugly against the next with seams silicone-sealed and edges coved to prevent grease and debris build-up, cleaning is extra easy. (“You can hose down the area with no worry about the suite’s electrical components,” Bennett notes.)

Directly opposite is the chef’s counter, a custom-made piece. The side facing the cookline holds a raised refrigerated rail above and cold storage below. Predicting that the rail would be open and in near constant use, the chefs requested that the rail be chilled to a cooler temperature than the base. This required installation of two sets of coolant lines with two temperature points.

The stainless work surfaces of this custom unit are topped with dishwasher-friendly 2”-thick cutting boards. Above, ceiling-hung stainless shelving holds dishes at the ready and maximizes space and sight-lines for workers on either side of the counter. Six KDS monitors supply finishing cooks with order details and status.

The side facing the expediter (expo) table is finished in black granite. Two raised granite platforms make it easy for cooks on the opposite side to pass dishes across. Below decks, heated plate storage areas feature insulated glass doors that let workers see what’s where, at a glance. A four-well soup station anchors one end.

In front of the chef’s counter, the 8’ butcher-block expo table is where servers consolidate orders on trays for service. Those trays, made of silver, store in horizontal, felt-lined slots under the table when not in use; drawers provide ready access to various tray accoutrements. Locking casters underneath allow the expo table to move for cleaning.

The chef’s office sits on a mezzanine level, across from the pastry and garde manger area. The space, furnished with a large wood meeting table and walled with a floor-to-ceiling, one-way glass window, overlooks the kitchen action. The room serves double duty. By day, managers use it to run the restaurant. Come evening, sliding doors close to hide desks and computers and the room transforms into a Chef’s Table venue with the best culinary views in the house.

Sexy & Functional

Tramonto and Folse are big believers in equipment and fixtures that combine function with aesthetics. Besides being easy on visitors’ eyes, it’s also adds a mental boost for cooking staff. “They have to spend most of their day here, so why not offer them a beautiful environment?” Tramonto asks.

“The eye appeal is tremendous, especially with the R’evolution Red suite,” Folse agrees. “The first thing visiting chefs notice is not only the kitchen’s beauty, space and equipment, but also how quiet, cool and clean it all is.”

Start with “glass” doors. The two main walk-ins feature Jamoclear see-through, cast-acrylic doors with stainless kickplates and hinges. “When you’re coming out of the cooler, you can see if anyone’s coming along the passageway,” Tramonto says. “You also can see inside the walk-ins while standing at the expo line.” For visitors, the crystal-clear doors convey the cleanliness of the kitchen and the fresh bounty stored within the coolers. The other cooler doors all have windows for similar reasons.

The cast-acrylic doors created a few challenges during installation; they weigh nearly 30% more than standard doors and have an extra-long lead time for delivery from the manufacturer. A change to the location and ceiling clearance for one walk-in after construction had started meant the pre-ordered, 7½’-high Lexan door would be too tall. The installation team saved the day with on-site cooler modifications to make the door fit properly.

Shortly into operations, the R’evolution team discovered one more fact about life with the see-through doors: the temperature and humidity difference from one side to the other caused them to fog up on the outside. “The hotel had to add air ducts in front of the doors to prevent condensation,” Bennett says.

High-polish brass heat lamps hanging over the expo table and in the Market Place exhibition kitchen are as pretty as anything found in a high-end residential kitchen. They’re practical, too: the lamps are suspended by a retractable black fabric-covered cord that allows chefs to raise or lower them as needed. This enables them to fine-tune the amount of heat hitting plated food. Individual power switches installed on each lamp (rather than a single switch to control all the lights) make the lamps even more adjustable.

“Once everything was planned out, we went back and took a hard look at every aspect and asked why it was that way and how we could make it better,” Tramonto recalls of the design process.

The beverage and bread area, separated from the main kitchen by motion-activated sliding pocket doors (“no door-kicking needed, and no jostling of food on the trays,” Tramonto notes), is completely self-contained. The bread station is especially well-equipped. Its white-tiled counter has an inset area for a pair of wood cutting boards. Above it are ceiling-hung shelves. Warm yellow lighting mounted into the bottom shelf makes the baked goods look their most appetizing.

Six Hatco heated drawers below hold the many kinds of bread served at R’evolution. “We can adjust the drawers’ temperatures and humidity levels,” Tramonto says. “We use them to hold biscuits, lavash and more.” Nearby, a Hatco conveyor toaster toasts brioches to perfection.

The beverage area features a Vivreau filtration system that allows R’evolution to serve its own “brand” of still or sparkling water. “The system will save us about $100,000 per year vs. buying bottled water,”Tramonto notes.

But Wait! There’s More!

R’evolution has a second, smaller exhibition kitchen in its Market Dining Room. Covering only 300-sq.-ft. with a black-and-white marble tile floor, its equipment is arranged around a 6’-square custom cherry butcher block table. The kitchen features a Waring panini press and a Wood Stone hearth oven—unusual for New Orleans, but close to Tramonto’s heart. “I’m looking forward to introducing this not-so-traditional element to New Orleans diners,” he says.

Also in the exhibition kitchen is a “tank-sized” J&R rotisserie, which will be used to roast everything from suckling pigs to chicken to salmon and more. The cooking line-up is rounded out by an Alto-Shaam combi oven, a Viking 6-top convection oven, a hand-cranked Berkel meat slicer (in R’evolution Red, of course) and custom refrigeration. In keeping with its ’20s-era delicatessen inspiration, Folse and Tramonto have installed two custom-made meat holding cases – one for curing meats, and the other for aging.

A Look Ahead

The R’evolution may be young, but it’s positioned to be a significant player in the New Orleans culinary world. Initial plans include filming cooking shows in the exhibition kitchen—Folse has had a regular cooking show with PBS for 20 seasons now. “They’re looking forward to doing the shows here,” Folse says.

The chefs also are partnering with The Royal Sonesta Hotel to add R’evolution menus to the hotel’s banquet program. To prepare for that, Sonesta chefs will be trained in the R’evolution kitchen.

But in its early months of operation, Folse and Tramonto know the key to success. “Get the food and the service right,” Folse says. “A customer who’s had a great meal here is the best publicity we could possibly have.”

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