Point of View
Christopher Styler - November 2008
For the multiuse dining spaces known as 42 atop The Ritz-Carlton Westchester, chef Anthony Goncalves created separate—but connected—work areas.
Meet Anthony Goncalves. He is well-spoken, appears calm at all times, and is possessed of both Mediterranean good looks and a healthy dose of self-confidence. Goncalves presides over a collection of dining rooms, a lounge, and a private club—all of which are known collectively as 42 and are situated on the top two floors of the new The Ritz-Carlton Westchester in White Plains, New York. His bold food, tempered with a compelling dash of New World ingredients, draws heavily on his Portuguese heritage. Witness Goncalves' fillet of hake set atop paddlefish roe with a lemon vinaigrette and strewn with a truffled succotash studded with mini lardons, or his duck with apple, powdered bacon, celery root puree, and date molasses. And there is one more thing you should know about Goncalves: He taught himself how to cook—only five years ago!
Step off the elevator and into the reception area at 42, and you'll be forgiven for not immediately realizing you're in a restaurant—or, more accurately, a collection of restaurants. What strikes you first is the feeling of floating over a landscape of trees, buildings, and the glimmering Long Island Sound. If the day is clear, the Manhattan skyline floats like an elegant ocean liner in the distance. If the night is clear, the same skyline is magical. Upon coming back to earth, you're met with two options: to head off to the right to the bar with its sofas, high back chairs, black granite bar top, and skylights (as if the floor to ceiling windows don't offer enough of a view), or to move to the immediate left to the casual lounge. Both offer a small plates menu. If you continue through the lounge along a corridor—more seating, more floor to ceiling windows, more stunning views—you may be momentarily distracted by the long rectangular window that affords a view of a different sort: Goncalves' magnificent yet compact main kitchen. The corridor, which serves as an offshoot of the main dining room and where you can order three to five course sweet/savory dessert tastings, ends in the lower dining room. It's in this formal room and the more casual dining room one flight up where Goncalves serves items from a menu of nine or so starters under each of two headings—"Cold" and "Hot"—and four main course items under each of two headings—"Sea" and "Land." In addition to the à la carte menu, 42 also offers diners a choice of two tasting menus: "Traditional" (currently four courses) or "Innovative" (currently six courses). If you continue through the lower dining room, past the glass-enclosed wine storage column, you'll find the private dining room, which provides yet another menu, one that is custom-built for each event. Although one or two center-of-the-plate protein items may appear on more than one menu, there's virtually no overlap among the à la carte menu, tasting menus, small plates menu, or lunch menus. Preparing dishes for several menus and delivering those dishes throughout a warren of dining areas might strike fear in the hearts of some chefs. And some might overcompensate with a cruise ship–sized kitchen. Not Goncalves, whose solution to the problem, like the varied but understated decor of the restaurant's enclaves, is simple and elegant. The kitchens, as well as the dining/entertainment areas, are spread out over two floors. Rather than complicate matters, this intentional distribution of kitchens streamlines the preparation, production, and service of food to the rather sizable number of guests served on any given day: 42 seats in the upper dining room, 68 in the lower, 30 in the lounge, 45 in the bar, and up to 150 in the private dining room.
After one look at the space, Goncalves knew that the kitchen operations would need to be decentralized. His plan sprang from the raw space. "I took one look at the views and knew we couldn't do anything to block them," Goncalves recalls. "That meant a small enough central kitchen to allow guest seating of one kind or another to flow around the kitchen. I like to break up spaces into smaller, more intimate ones, so when I envisioned the bar and lounge areas in one of the spaces and the dining room in the other, I just figured there would be separate kitchens to deal with them."
The main kitchen, which is really three distinct kitchen areas, is on the 42nd floor. Although physically separated, these areas work together seamlessly, without wasted steps on the part of servers or confusion on the part of the expeditors. Here's how: The main kitchen, which supplies all hot food for the main menu, tasting menus, lunch menu, and special events menus, is a narrow rectangle, which houses a 14 1/2 foot custom-built Bonnet cooking suite at its center and a battery of special use equipment along its back wall. The two sides of the island are mirror images of one another; each side features (working from the rear of the kitchen to the front): a large gas burner (used mostly for hot prep), a charbroiler, two planchas, and two flattops. Finishing off the line closest to the pickup area are two induction burners. Lining the walls opposite both sides of the island is a row of under-the-counter refrigerators with deli-insert tops. The lower inserts house prepared proteins, while the upper inserts hold a plethora of ingredients needed to finish the plates. A combi-oven, stone hearth oven, pair of fryers, and tabletop steamer for retherming sous-vide products are situated along the back wall and add flexibility to the already option–rich kitchen. The work flow is a thing of beauty: Proteins start at the rear of the kitchen and then are cooked on the island's grill or planchas or in the steamer, combi-oven, or stone hearth oven. As the plate progresses toward the front of the line, the appropriate accoutrements are added from the flattop or induction burners. The finishing touches--"licorice" made from dried olives and star anise among them--are added when the plate lands on the pickup table.
The pickup area faces a spacious aisle, which leads through one door to the main dining rooms and through another to the special events area. Across the same aisle is the garde-manger (responsible for all cold dishes on the à la carte, tasting, small plates, and party menus), which is connected via a short corridor to the small plates kitchen (responsible for the hot side of the small plates menu), which in turn has a service door that opens to the bar and lounge. A study in making the most of limited space, the hot line of the small plates kitchen consists of a pair of fryers, an oven/plancha/salamander, and a charbroiler. "Instead of confusion, separating the kitchen areas gives them their own identity," Goncalves states. "I find I do my best work when I work lean and mean."
The dessert preparation area is an entity unto itself. All desserts and the flourishes needed to finish them are prepared in a separate area on the same level as the central kitchen. This kitchen, with its extraordinary views, is another exercise in compact efficiency: A marble topped reach-in refrigerator serves as storage below and a chocolate work area above; a compact convection oven fits neatly below a combi-oven next to a generous but not vast work table. Small tabletop mixers and a two burner induction cooktop can be stowed marina-style when not in use. The use of induction means no gas lines run to the pastry kitchen.
Finished desserts are shipped up to the 43rd floor, where all desserts for all menus and events are plated. This relieves the three kitchen zones on the floor below of the need to store, plate, or serve any desserts--a big plus. On the opposite end from the dessert plating station is the cold storage and prep areas with distinct zones for fish, meat, and vegetable prep. Two vacuum sealers, one for large items like sides of salmon and a smaller one for precut portions of meat and fish, handle the items destined for use in one of Goncalves' sous-vide setups. The rest of the proteins are shipped down to the kitchen on the 42nd floor as needed before each service period. The prep and dessert plating areas are connected to the central kitchen, one floor below, by means of a staircase and one person elevator.
In short, whether a server is picking up a mix of hot and cold small plates for the bar area, hot entrées for a party, desserts for the lounge, or a mix of hot and cold appetizers for the main dining room, there's easy access from the pickup area to the dining area in question with very little cross traffic. It's really rather ingenious. One more small feature: The corridor that runs between the garde-manger area and hot plates kitchen is an addition that Goncalves felt strongly about creating. "If I didn't create a corridor there, it would have meant servers, dishwashers, and everyone else would be moving back and forth through the main kitchen. By putting up a wall to make the corridor, I made a more defined path for people to travel and closed off the kitchen. That created much more calm in the main kitchen." By making the corridor wider than it strictly needs to be for traffic, Goncalves has also created a centrally located storage area for pots, dishes, and storage items.
The venues of 42 have been up and running for over a year now. Goncalves changes his menus seasonally and continues to tweak the overall mix of dishes. But he has never nursed second thoughts about his original and somewhat unorthodox approach to the kitchen design. "It works just the way I hoped it would," he says.
Charbroiler Jade Range
Chocolate temperer Mol d'Art
Combi-ovens Alto-Shaam, Electrolux
Convection oven Blodgett
Cooking suite Bonnet
Fryers Jade Range, Pitco
Ice cream freezer Pacojet
Induction cooktop Spring USA
Plancha/salamander Jade Range
Reach-in refrigerator Traulsen
Stone hearth gas oven Woodstone
Tilt kettle Jade Range
Vacuum sealers Minipack-Torre