Yes, we’re definitely a brick and mortar cooking school.
We made quite a few design changes to Northwest in 2014, all reflecting the school’s natural evolution. We’ve always claimed to be a different kind of cooking school, going against the grain and all that, but the time has come to be a different looking kind of school. Not that we want Northwest’s philosophy to be judged by its cover, but space design can have a significant effect on how people behave, work, think, create, value, care, and inspire day in, night out. So not only with our website, but from front door to back, floor to ceiling, we’ve made (and are still making) conscious design decisions to affect every action and reaction on everything seen, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted. In essence, we’re going out of our way to de-institutionalize the school.
I’ve noticed more and more chef-owners are taking a similar approach to design. Farmer’s Apprentice, the hit restaurant in Vancouver in 2014, has the most inviting casual atmosphere that goes well with my personal vinyl music collection…and theirs is pretty darn good too! Recently, my colleague brought to my attention a short video with Rene Redzepi of Noma (talking about re-designing his kitchen with the intention to eliminate the old militant brigade behaviour (as seen on too many of those “reality” cooking shows…emphasis on the word “show” and de-emphasis on the word “reality”, but that’s another blog). BTW, I love the fact that Chef Rene doesn’t make it necessary to refer to one of the world’s leading chefs as “Chef” or “Executive Chef” or Master Chef”; instead, he seems to go out of his way to look like someone still in pure learning mode. The sign of a true craftsperson is too admit that one can become better, as both artisan and person. Re-designing a kitchen to reflect this only makes perfect sense.
Chef Rene mentions the significance of replacing the ubiquitous stainless steel with more natural elements, in essence creating the kind of kitchen which reflects Noma’s signature naturalistic plates. Why shouldn’t Noma’s talented cooks create in a kitchen that matches the impressions and atmosphere of the dining room – and the food itself. The biggest design flaw with most professional kitchens is that they are not very inviting at all, quite industrial, and set up only for practically churning out food.
Right after viewing the video, I was inspired to make an immediate design statement – but with our office space, which needed desperate attention. And it was necessary to make the office space feel like the educational experience we perform in our kitchens, one which does not churn out students but instead creates mindful and artisan-minded cooks and bakers. The answer? Simple. Showcase, in the most straightforward sense, what we are: a straightforward brick and mortar school, designed and built with our imagination, creativity, and our own hands.