A secondary kitchen in the home can really cater to entertaining needs. Featuring warming ovens, additional countertops for food preparation and extra refrigeration, a catering kitchen keeps a meal’s mess out of the main kitchen, where most parties eventually end up taking place.
“The kitchen has always been the heart of the home,” says Zach Elkin, director of brand marketing for Thermador, a nearly century-old kitchen appliance corporation. “As more people continue to gather in the kitchen space, homeowners are finding it necessary to expand and to create the ultimate culinary stage where they can cook impressive feasts.”
A catering kitchen in the home is not to be confused with a commercial space for catering companies. While some homeowners bring in caterers for parties thrown at their homes, a catering kitchen can also be seen as the evolution of the kitchen pantry, expanded into a work area that not only stores food but also holds serving dishes, additional glassware and appliances.
“The area surrounding the kitchen is prime real estate in a home,” says Geri Higgins, CEO and president of the design firm Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City, Missouri. “We are designing these secondary or catering kitchens by combining the pantry, mudroom and laundry spaces into one large utilitarian room that really cooks.”
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Before building a secondary kitchen, you must first have a plan in place. Otherwise, there is the potential for the space to become a catchall, especially if it will be used as a multipurpose room, including laundry and storage. “This needs to be one of the most purposefully designed rooms in the house,” Higgins says. “There needs to be a place for everything, so everything is put back in its place. This room also requires a door that can be closed, because people in the kitchen during a party just need to experience the magic, not see what happens behind the curtain.”
A catering kitchen is usually designed to be the bridge between the garage access door and the opening to a home’s main kitchen. “This is a great in-process room and isn’t just meant for the wealthy who host catered affairs in their homes,” Higgins says. “It can also be the room in which you do all the food prep for a party — from chopping vegetables to decorating cookies.”
Because they are physically linked, Higgins says the catering kitchen should also emulate the main kitchen, but with a cleaner design. “The catering kitchen is really the workhorse of the main kitchen,” she says. “Flooring and paint colors can be the same as they are in the main kitchen, but surfaces need to be easy to clean up and wipe down.”
That means placing chef mats on the floor, having slab door cabinets — without rails and moldings — and as much clean, uncluttered countertop space as possible.
Culinary creativity can start in the catering kitchen. While the main kitchen can tout beautiful form, the catering kitchen is all about the function.
▪ Island life rules. If space allows, a catering kitchen shouldn’t be unchartered territory for an island. A kitchen island requires, minimally, a 3-foot clearance on all sides. Optimally, the dimensions of an island should be about four feet long by two feet wide with a no-fuss, no-mess surface, such as engineered quartz stone countertops, which are durable and low maintenance. While recessed can lights may be the standard in a catering kitchen, task lighting above an island, such as simple pendants, is also a bright idea.
▪ Bring the heat. During large gatherings, there’s never enough oven space, so a set of wall ovens in the catering kitchen is important. Higgins says some people have warming drawers in their catering kitchens, while a microwave is a must. If there’s space, you can have a cooktop in your catering kitchen, but the flat surface of the induction variety is preferred over one that has gas or electric grates on top.
▪ Water, please. An additional dishwasher pressed into service during and after a party can make cleanup quicker and easier. A deep, non-divided sink made of metal, stone or porcelain is essential to wash large serving pieces. Higgins says in a catering kitchen, some clients prefer professional faucet fixtures with sprayers, while a heavy-duty garbage disposal is a necessity.
▪ Chill out. Refrigeration is key during party prep. Higgins says to make sure the refrigerator in the catering kitchen can accommodate large trays of party food. If space allows, refrigerator drawers for bottled beverages, an ancillary ice maker and a wine refrigerator can make replenishing refreshments easier.
▪ Additional appliances. More hectic households are building breakfast bars into their catering kitchen designs with a complete coffee station, which can also be pressed into service at the end of an evening. The catering kitchen is also the perfect place to house countertop appliances, such as the large stand mixer, blender and toaster.
▪ Simple storage. Since many people will use this space, it’s important to have shelving and cupboards designated and designed for the items housed there. Roll-outs are especially good to use in cabinets, while trays and containers can organize items on shelves.
But homeowners don’t have to undergo a total remodel or spend a golden egg to enjoy the benefits of a catering kitchen, says Higgins. “If you have a walk-in pantry or laundry near the kitchen, you can start by making that space a more beautiful one in which to work,” she says. “A catering kitchen shouldn’t be a disconnect with the main kitchen, and should empower the entertaining experience in a home.”