During a lunch in Venice I visited the kitchen of Quadri, something I almost always do as a ritual. During this visit I was very impressed by the quality and finishing of their kitchen. I asked the chef Silvio Giavedoni for more information and he immediately contacted the owner of Marrone, Armando Pujatti and introduced us.
Some time passed until I finally contacted Armando in the fall of 2014, and followed up with a preliminary layout including of my new kitchen idea. The challenge was to develop the function of space needed within the existing space, and move forward as quickly as possible. Without having met, the design could only be articulated by phone, and so our dialogue began with several Skype meetings.
I am not sure I ever admitted to Armando, but once I spoke with him on the phone I knew working with other suppliers would be tough. Designing a space is one thing, and designing a professional kitchen is another ballgame. In my particular case I had my own vision about the kitchen space and it included a hot section, a cold section and a pastry and bread section. Time was of the essence and I needed to establish the kitchen’s elements and their priorities in order to move forward on a timely basis.
This time I would dedicate a wok area, something I hadn’t considered in the past. At the time of designing the “Anatomy of a Kitchen” I wasn’t totally aware of the significance of adding a dedicated wok to the hotline. I adore wok cooking but it’s a life unto itself.
The following story tells you about the development of the project and illustrates the hot section, one of the three sections in our test kitchen.
The decision to make a dedicated wok area also had to do with a tribute to my Uncle Leo, who was Chinese and always inspired us about Cantonese cuisine. He had Asian spirit, even though he had lived outside of Asia for many years. He was still very dedicated to Asian lifestyle and his lineage was very interesting to say the least:
The wok area is a kitchen unto itself, it requires plenty of study and thought and a dedicated space. So I called on a close friend in Tokyo who organized a visit to his kitchen. A Chinese cooking experience in a one star Michelin Chinese food restaurant was something I had never tried. It was very helpful in understanding how a wok area functions. I was amazed by the high heat, the flames, the fast action of the chefs and the kitchen’s flow.
I had visited wok stations during our travels but it isn’t often you can get into a Chinese kitchen as to see them run, it seemed hectic. I discovered what it’s really takes is “turbo” when it comes to a professional wok, where the fire’s flames jump with an intensity the likes you’ve never seen. After discussing it with Armando he convinced me that 25kW wok would be more than enough. One of the features of my wok is the burner plate made from a heavy gauge steel weighing in at 2.5kg. It has moon shaped half slits to help shape the flames distribution and it works perfectly.
Simply by the flick of your knee, a component incorporated by Armando on special request, the fire is tweaked and the flames roar. This is key for Chinese wok cooking because both hands are needed at all times.
The new kitchen project started late and I needed to scramble to get the schematics completed. Usually I design my spaces and this time the challenges were greater than we expected due to the confined space we had to work with. I wasn’t willing to go outside the footprint and so we struggled to get the right flow.
It’s important to understand that Marrone are not kitchen designers, they do not normally make home kitchens. The design of a kitchen is very complex especially when its custom made and can become very confusing and tedious. I was determined to get it right, and in the end it we achieved a clean functional space, which is more than I expected.
I should say that anyone is lucky to have a Marrone kitchen – they are simply incredible. Since I started exchanges with Armando in January, I sent him multiple emails. Actually after some 800 emails and 80+ conversations, almost daily Skype calls that would last for 5 months it was getting all worked out.
To understand Marrone professional kitchens, you must grasp that not one part of their kitchens are modular, and designing a kitchen takes a plenty of concentration. I had to decide on each and every square millimeter of the design, and the only standard fixings are induction and gas tops. That doesn’t mean that I designed it all alone, because without the tremendous know-how of Armando, it couldn’t have been so possible. He facilitated the design and realization and supported me throughout the entire process. He made our new test kitchen become a real dream. /Thank you/
The first factory visit was like a kid going into a candy shop, and I roamed freely around the factory and watched the craftsman at work. Armando asked politely not to photo one of his propitiatory machines otherwise the factory was open to all the photos I liked.
It’s important to understand that the Marrone kitchen is unlike any other kitchen I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in hundreds. It is the Ferrari of custom kitchens with no exaggeration. The workers are well dressed, diligently working, each at their respective workstation. The kitchens are mostly by handwork, and look beautiful from start to finish. The noise level is surprisingly low except for a few grinders polishing edges and the factory is immaculate.
The offices are modest and so is Armando and his co-workers. I cannot help to think that Armando was doing me a favor building my kitchen. He is more busy that than a top world-class chef and his phone is ringing almost every minute. His clients require careful attention without waiting a second. You begin to understand the world of Marrone working with top Michelin chefs all over the globe.
I started to understand that Armando is working 24/7 and always reachable and always focused. It’s quite amazing to watch him work, he is like an octopus, he can do many things at once with precision. More importantly you only need to mention a detail once and he’s on it.
I find him by phone early morning on his way to work, or on his way home after sunset. He has a travel schedule that takes him around the world and we were lucky to have him visit Mykonos during installation. Here he is pictured (center) in Mykonos during the installation.
This Mesubim test kitchen was an important project for various reasons. For one our test kitchen was always suffering from technical issues and the local technicians were taking advantage of us. This is not uncommon in small island communities, but here it was taken to another level. The old kitchen was Electrolux (Thermaline) and at the time I purchased it, it was state of the art. The problem with Electrolux is its modular and the counter isn’t seamless. It is pieced together (modular) and for a top-level custom kitchen this is not good enough.
When you start to look around there are few choices that come even close to Marrone’s quality. This isn’t to say that I didn’t try to work with other custom builders, I did. The greatest disappointment was Menu systems, a Swiss supplier who have top of the line induction systems.
I was in contact with their sales manager (Mr. Ramos) but he lost interest, stopped communicating – no more replies to my emails. They did produce a few emails with some nice 3-d schematics but I felt they weren’t thorough enough. He didn’t seem knowledgeable enough and when I asked questions he generalized. I had the feeling he just wanted to sell. This doesn’t mean that Menu systems is not a professional, or serious company, but this was my experience which probably relates to the fact that they saw us as a small residential project. /see Menu Systems image below/
I also spoke with Athanor in France on the recommendation of a Parisian chef. Athanor also had a high recommendation from a three star Michelin chef I know. But in the end, Athanor wasn’t capable of delivering the design support and I had to abandon their offer. I felt sad because they do make nice kitchens. /see Athanor image below/
Then Electrolux offered Molteni and it never panned out and then again the local service wasn’t up to snuff. /see Electrolux image below/
I choose to forge ahead with Armando and frankly (in hindsight) there was no way anyone competitor could have devoted the time to detail as he did, or kept up with the pace of this project. Additionally Armando is irreplaceable, as he has at his finger tips his own factory and manages his designs with a microscope and precision of a Doctor. His technical skill and understanding of how kitchens components work is tremendous, and if he cooked he would be a top chef. He is the most dedicated person I’ve met and he does everything in his powers to satisfy all his clients – amazing!!! /see image Marrone hot section below/
He sits on top of his production and can easily glance from his office window into his factory. It did occur to ask him why he doesn’t have a plant manger, and he said, I like it this way, my workers are responsible for themselves. I agree with him, it fits his personality and is a good genuine philosophy.
There is no doubt Marrone is a signature product, it has no real competitor. Subcontracting is something that Marrone prefers to stay away from, except for certain finishes such as the coated painting finishes seen here.
The equipment produced by Marrone is heavy-duty and not for home use unless you can scale it back. I had no intention of doing so, and I went full force ahead with a design that I felt would bring a level to our kitchen that is unparalleled. Considering that we are not a restaurant, and our purpose is very different. But we couldn’t compromise when working with top chefs and the design and construction had to be top-notch.
In hindsight without Armando our kitchen would never be at the level I dreamed, quite just impossible. He respected my interest and knowledge and we collaborated as if we knew each other for years. There is nothing like the challenge of designing a custom kitchen. I would compare it to a custom car except a kitchen has more than one drivers seat.
After I decided to install a wok station for testing high temperature cooking, the decision was made to dedicate over 1000mm for a wok station it represented 25% of the hot section space. The wok decision was made from the outset, but I had to learn something new in cooking. I never admired the Chinese kitchen until I passed over the MSG fears that really are not relevant to the core of this type of cooking. There is no doubt that the sophistication of wok cooking is extraordinary.
The Marrone design process simply put is incredible, I was so impressed with their work and intensive approach to get things right. Armando Pujatti is “one of a kind” in the business. After my experience with Menu systems, I heard from a hotel owner in Amalfi coast that they were bidding for their new kitchen project. I thought to myself it’s a small world, hard to believe the arrogance of some employees. However, I doubt Menu systems could have matched the rigorous design process I put Marrone through.
I couldn’t have spent more hours discussing details down to the millimeter. That’s what it takes to get perfection, and only the owner can dedicate the appropriate time to getting it right. When we finished the design and I visited the factory when we decided to powder coat the Stainless Steel in a white finish to match the feeling of the anatomy’s space. Don’t be fooled by the white baked finish because it is heavy gauge stainless steel, tough and very durable.
The final details of the wok design was finally accomplished by Armando’s persistence to get me the right knee lever. He installed hot water at the wok station so I can cook continually without losing the intense heat of the wok. Hot water is key to the wok work and the depression at the wok allows a good flow and easy ergonomics. The front side has a trough and the debris and excess water flows into the drain which works perfectly.
The power fire of the wok is as much as you would want in a private residence. I showed it to Hakkasan Ling Ling head chef (Wei) and he was impressed even though the head said, “it’s not the big turbo type”. He shouldn’t talk, because he works with induction. The 38cm will disappear and next season we will bring a larger sized 48cm which will be much more practical for cooking.
Left of the wok, I added a huge sink, Armando called it a pool. It’s large for a reason measuring width 490mm by 700mm and 300mm deep. You can see the large sink is a custom sink made from 3mm stainless steel, and I wanted my sink to have the feel of a heavy-duty counter.
I installed a multipurpose spring-loaded KWC swivel water hose that is very effective, efficient and useful. The decision to place the sink here has to do with efficiency in a hot section. If a pan gets dirty you can easily clean it instead of motoring over to the washing area. Also this area will double for a cold cutting station for wok preparations.
The left side, I have my four point induction. This is something Armando told me I would love and I do. It is so practical and easy to use, no fire, limited heat and fast as lightning. I wish I had more!
Next is one of the best design ideas I’ve seen and its so practical and something I couldn’t live without after having it. A depression with water at the push of a button. The spoon box is great for any kitchen and a chefs dream.
This is connected to the water-tower, where I have two power receptacles and a holder for the Bamix. While I am not a Bamix fan (too little power) it comes in handy and has a clean place to sit at the counter side.
The gas burners are tremendous, heavy as can be and cleaver. The top is fitted with a secure system so moving heavy pots is easy and safe.
The sous vide is my life, sorry Master Chef Roshfeld, but I love it and can’t live without it. Roshfeld believes more in touch and feel, he calls it emotion in cooking. I too believe in emotion but I need cooking precision. It’s one of those tools I cannot live without and having two water baths is a chef’s dream. One for meat and the other for veggies makes it the perfect world.
The second last appliance at the hot section is the compound Plancha, something I hardly use because I have no opportunity. But having said that, it’s a must for many chefs.
The controller was something I saw at the factory on my second visit and asked Marrone to install it. Here you control the Plancha heat, and two heated drawers for marinating freshness.
The Convotherm with a swivel door is magic and thanks to Xenex Athens I have an oven I learned to enjoy.
My Giorik salamander, I choose a smaller version because I didn’t want to have an over sized salamander in my eyes all the time and space was limited and that was the reason.
To the left side, I have a plancha and a controller to both control the temperature, and the two heated drawers under the Convotherm oven.
The water-spout are all controlled by the push of a button. I have water surrounding all cooking surfaces expect the induction because it’s perfectly flush mounted. With circulating water around the gas burners and plancha, it helps prevent foods from getting baked onto the stainless steel. This is a chefs dream come true.
The controllers switches of Marrone are the precision type controls. The flame of the gas is torch shaped and is very useful for grilling a pepper, or whatever. The flame power is intelligently designed thanks to Marrone. I think the single most important design aspect of the hot section are the introduction of drawers, where you can open a drawer and easily access a plate, or bowl.
Thank you Marrone and Xenex for your support and for helping throughout the process and thank you to Dimitris (k-studio) for making the anatomy project come true.
I shouldn’t forget my wood burning oven, life without wood isn’t a kitchen life – remember your roots.
The new project officially launches next year after we have ironed out some of the new equipment changes. We still miss some equipment central to learning. If you are a serious chef contact us for a cooking week or a position.