In addition to the café and guest rooms, the renovation of the space also called for extensive reinvention within the kitchen operations—essentially replacing the standard one-kitchen model with three working kitchens: a production kitchen, a service kitchen, and—providing a conduit between these two spaces—an area dedicated to pastry and cold service.
“What we did was try to create some efficiencies with the way that the restaurant kitchen and the café kitchen operate,” Roberts notes. “I was inspired by my time at Gramercy Tavern in New York City in terms of how they use the space to operate the tavern-area kitchen as well as the dining room, so our kitchens have some efficiencies with a shared pastry station, a garde manger, and cold stations that can all work together a bit.”
For a 12,000-square-foot historic building, the footprint allocated for the kitchens is fairly generous—it’s about one-third (or 2,800 square feet) of the 8,500 square feet that comprises the lower level, which houses the restaurant, café, and foodservice areas. The hotel guest rooms are on the 3,500-square-foot upper level.
Describing the different kitchen areas, Roberts says the production kitchen in back is where all deliveries come through, where the food storage is housed, where the butchery work is done, and where the pastry and baking production as well as much of the prep work takes place.
“For example, if the café is serving brunch on the weekend there may be someone in the back in the production kitchen roasting vegetables or peeling potatoes and getting them ready for the service kitchen,” he explains. “Things are staged through the back: bread, pastry, cooking beans, vegetable prep, as well as some sauce making or stock making. Those kinds of things are all done in the back, and then just the finishing and the service is handled in the front kitchens.”
Housed in the production kitchen are the two walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer, the bread and deck oven, convection ovens for prep, the area for butchery, and a dish area. Before, the restaurant had only one small walk-in, and, Roberts says, “That really limited our ability to bring in any whole animal, and it limited our ability to do any type of curing or drying.” Now, with three separate walk-ins, one can be dedicated for proteins, one for produce as well as for mise en place, and one for the pastry team to stage their croissants and cookies.
“Essentially the Restaurant Alma kitchen handles prep and service. The café kitchen is exclusively a service kitchen. It is designed to run continuously throughout the day and be supported by the production kitchen.”
The café and restaurant run different menus, but their kitchens are joined in the middle, which Roberts describes as “kind of the dividing line.” This middle area serves as the pastry station, where bakery and pastry items are plated, and houses the cold stations where first courses, salads, and charcuterie are assembled.
“There are separate hot lines and hoods for the restaurant and the café, and they are expedited separately, aside from pastry,” Chef Roberts says. Both the restaurant and café have their own chef leading the area.
Many of the kitchen processes and organization were altered with the new space, but Chef Roberts kept some of the original equipment and remained loyal to the brands he trusts most. “We used everything that we could from the previous kitchen, like the old stoves. I’m a fan of Jade heavy-duty ranges and we’ve used Jade here at the restaurant since it opened, so we reconditioned the old Jade ranges that I opened with 17 years ago and put them back in the prep kitchen. We brought in some new Jade equipment for both service kitchens. We have French tops, flat tops, open burners, a Plancha cooktop, a grill, and a fryer.”
He uses a gas-powered grill with a wood-chip smoking feature, like a smoker box, but does not have a wood-fired oven. “It’s really exciting to have some new tools to work with, like a Plancha and a deck oven,” Roberts says. “Different equipment brings textures and flavors to food. You don’t get the same type of bread from a convection oven that you do from a deck oven, so for me as a chef, the integrity of texture and flavor that is developed from using certain pieces of equipment is really exciting to have. It allows us to cook a little differently than we have in the past.”