RE: kitchen equipment
From: Hungerford, David (
Date: Wed, 18 May 94 14:16 CDT
to Monika Stumpf and also to Rob Sandelin re: commercial or "regular" kitchen 
stuff (and planning for facilities to accomadate meals)

At Muir Commons in Davis, CA, while average meal attendance is 35-45 out of 
about 70 people, we are very grateful we planned our kitchen and dining room 
to accomodate the entire community.  While the average meal is less, it is 
frequently the case (2-3 times per month, or 2-3/20 meals) that almost 
everyone eats or someone invites a group of guests.  We've had some meals 
with as many as 80 in attendance.  If we didn't have a large enough facility 
to accomodate them all, then we would have to overflow into other rooms or 
ration meals (first-come, first-served?).  Either option seems unacceptable 
to me.  When we were planning the Common House, the idea of making the dining 
room large enough for only the average came up as a cost-cutting option, but 
Chuck (Durrett) said we'd be very sorry.  I think he's right on that point.  
Remember, the experience of eating meals as a community is deeply affected by 
the built environment.  If you want limited meals participation, build a 
small dining room.  If you want people to avoid cooking, then make it 
difficult by building a small kitchen.  If you want to limit the variety of 
meals, then buy "regular" appliances which can't accomodate more elaborate or 
more creative meals. 

It seems that the challenge is to make a kitchen that _functions_ as a 
commercial kitchen in terms of ease of preparation and cleanup, space, 
storage, and hygiene, but which _feels_ like our own home: warm, cozy, 
inviting.  Our kitchen committee, working with Chuck Durrett as a 
consultant, did a great job, considering we didn't have any other model 
except the European communities.  Ours is large and has all "commercial" 
appliances, but still retains a homey, non-commercial feel (with a couple of 
exceptions I'll get to). So, to Monika's question:

Dishwasher:  we have a Hobart under counter model with bleach sterilization 
and pre-heater (so we don't have to keep the hot water at a critter-killing 
140 degrees) and three removable racks. It cost $3000 and is worth every 
penny.  It will do a load in under 3 minutes, which means clean-up can be 
accomplished in a reasonable amount of time.  The person who "persons" the 
dishwashing station loads and rinses the dishes (we've gotten to where we 
leave out bus tubs (those gray 14x24 plastic tubs) with soapy water so people 
bus can their own dishes and start them soaking) then loads and swaps racks 
every 3 minutes.  We end up doing between 10 and 15 loads per meal(including 
cooking paraphernalia).  I just don't see how one could use a standard 
dishwasher for more than 8-10 people.

Sinks:  We have a faily expensive double-deep well sink with one of those 
spray nozzles (an expensive but indispensable device) hanging over.  It has 
been a problem in that, in an attempt to keep the kitchen as homey as 
possible, we used a "drop-in" sink in a standard formica-topped 24" deep 
cabinet.  After three years the counter and cabinet are trashed--water 
damage.  The dishwashing area stays wet for long periods of time. We'll be 
replacing that with a stainless steel sink setup that can hold the 
dishwasher racks while we spray off the dishes.  Fortunately, that area is 
out of view of the dining room so the visual impact won't be too bad.

Refrigerators:  We have a Victory commercial double door (that is, 5 feet 
wide) fridge with the compressor unit on top (about $3000).  We went 
commercial because standard home refigerators can't recover (that is, return 
to the set temperature) fast enough to keep the food safe, at least when 
there is lots of in and out like there is with ours.  We have a 
registered dietician in our group whose chosen mission is to make sure we 
observe proper food hygiene,  and she convinced us this was important.  We 
also wanted enough space to store leftovers.  While our condiment collection 
is a bit larger than necessary, it is really nice to be have enough room to 
buy food in advance, or in bulk.  It's also nice to have a place to put the 
salads or other cold dishes until mealtime.  We also have developed a very 
workable leftover system.  People are charged 1/2 price for each meal of 
leftovers they eat (self-reported on a tally sheet). Most of us snag a 
container for lunch, or even dinner if a meal isn't scheduled.  Our meal cost 
still averages just over $2/meal, and we very seldom run out of food at meals 
anymore; people aren't afraid to make too much because the leftovers get 
eaten.  And we couldn't do this if we didn't have room in the fridge.  The 
downside is that the damn thing sounds like a train.  We had to move it out 
of the kitchen into our (fortunately large enough) bulk storage room.  We 
have a small "regular" freezer and use it very little for common stuff.  Most 
of the space in the freezer is taken by vegetables and fruits people put up 
(for themselves) in the summer, so no one has their own freezer (not that 
anyone has room). The freezer is an example of a shared tool, like the lawn 
mower, which has common and private uses.

Stove:  We have a Wolf 6-burner restaurant stove and we hate it.  In fact, we 
just installed (where the refrigerator used to be) a "regular" KitchenAid 30" 
double oven (electric, $1200).  The commercial gas oven wouldn't keep a 
constant temperature and didn't heat evenly inside--many baked meals were 
late or burned until people just gave up and stopped using it.  The new ovens 
are great.  The 30" width (standard width is 24" measured by the opening it 
fits into) is wide enough inside to handle 2 9x13 casseroles(or one 13x20) 
per shelf--so we can bake 8 casseroles at once (2 shelves per oven), or bake 
two different dishes at different temperatures.  The Wolf oven is gathering 
cobwebs.  If we had it to do over again, we would probably skip the 
commercial range, going instead for a high end countertop unit--KitchenAid, 
GE, Jenn-Air and some others offer 2-burner systems that you can substitute 
griddles and grills for, and build a counter with 6 burners (3 instead of the 
normal 2 units)--and of course, the double ovens.  To belabor my 
previous point, just having the ovens has changed our diet; we eat more baked 
dishes (and breads and rolls and cakes and cookies) because it is easier.  I 
regard this as good, although I've noticed that many waistlines are 
Vent hood:  Maybe because we had the Wolf, the city made us put in a huge, 
ugly, expensive ($3000) commercial vent hood with fire suppression system 
and elaborate grease drain--as if we were going to grill steaks every night.  
It is the most obtrusive feature of our kitchen, and makes so much noise it 
drowns conversations.  If anyone currently planning their kitchen can figure 
out a way to sidestep this monster, do it.

Pots/Pans:  Go commercial.  Even though $200 sounds like a lot for a 10 qt. 
stock pot, even the best "regular" stuff like Magnalite and Farberware just 
doesn't stand up.  The handles break, or they seem to require much more 
attention to keep from burning large volumes of food.  Anyone in cohousing 
who has eaten the inevitable "singed" spaghetti knows exactly what I mean.  
Go for top quality stainless with thick bottoms.  Ours still look like new.

Dishes:  Commercial dishes don't chip or break as easily, flatware doesn't 
bend as easily, and both can be replaced easily (patterns are 
long-lived).  And honestly, the stuff is not that much more expensive and the 
patterns are benign enough that consensus can be reached in just a few 

And for Rob, why do people not participate in meals?  I suppose everyone has 
different reasons, and you pegged most of them, but you didn't suggest one 
thing I've observed, and that is that eating at the Common House, at least in 
our community, tends to be cyclic withing families as well as with the entire 
group.  Weather makes a difference; winter meals, on average, are better 
attended.  I don't know if in summer people have more (conflicting) 
activities, or if early darkness or the weather itself has an effect. Other 
climates might be different.  I know that in summer we tend to have more 
"feast day" type meals that people spend all day preparing and almost 
everyone eats.  As a family, we tend to eat almost every meal for awhile, and 
then not eat for a month--for no other reason than that's what we just stop 
signing up.  As long as there isn't a real "problem" that keeps people from 
enjoying their meals, expect a little ebb and flow.  To deal with problems,  
we've had "meals check-in" at general meetings a couple of times, and have 
addressed noise, kid energy, and other what works and what doesn't questions, 
which has helped diffuse tensions and made meals work better for everybody.  
And we'll probably do it again to keep fine-tuning and to keep responding to 
people's changing lives.
At Muir Commons everyone cooks and everyone cleans, whether they eat in the 
Common House or not.  It's not a "rule" but a "guideline."  If someone just 
can't fit cooking into their schedule one month, or is on vacation, or having 
a life crises, then they may beg off by just not signing up, and no one 
really checks up on it anyway. However, it is expected from all adult members 
of the community (including housemates and room renters) as part of basic 
participation; an even higher priority than meetings.  We felt, in making 
this decision, that our meals would not work if people could escape cooking 
by saying "I don't eat" because once someone stopped cooking, they couldn't 
even sign up for one meal without feeling guilty.  The attrition would 
eventually drop meals participation below critical mass.

Whoops, this is too long so I'll stop. 

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.