Posted by The Editorial Desk / Thursday, April 9th, 2009
If you’ve driven on Route 7 toward Falls Church City in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen a fresh new sign up for Open Kitchen, an innovative community kitchen, which will open this summer in the newly-renovated West Metro Plaza.
Roughly 150 community kitchens exist in the U.S. today, but Open Kitchen will be the first facility in the D.C. Metro area, offering commercially-licensed and equipped kitchens that entrepreneurs can rent for their food businesses.
We contacted Open Kitchen Owner Hue-Chan Karels and asked her how she came up with the concept for Open Kitchen and her advice for hosting a successful Iron Chef competition.
NORTHERN VIRGINIA MAGAZINE: How did you get started in this business?
HUE-CHAN KARELS: It all started with cookies! Back in 2007, I had the inspiration to make a lifestyle change and depart from my FDA regulatory and compliance consulting practice to start an artisan cookie business.
However, to my amazement I soon discovered that renting a commercially licensed kitchen to launch my business was next to impossible in the Washington DC Metro Area. All in all, it was a very frustrating and demoralizing experience.
As I did more research and talked to people currently in or wanting to get into the food business, I learned that I was not alone in my search for affordable and flexible commercially licensed kitchen space for rent. This process gave birth to the core concept behind “Open Kitchen” which is to provide licensed kitchen facilities for rent on a cost-effective and flexible basis.
NVM: Do you have clients currently lined up to use your services? Are they mostly Northern Virginians or do you have folks willing to commute from the District as well?
HCK: I’m happy to say that we have received multiple follow-up emails from many of those who have inquired about our kitchen rental facilities. Regarding the locations of our anticipated kitchen rental clients, the majority of the caterers, food producers, personal chefs and cooking instructors that have inquired about our services are in located in Northern Virginia (37%), followed by Washington DC (29%) and Montgomery County (25%).
Also, we already have several private events planned for activities that bring people together in the kitchen such as cooking parties and corporate team-building events. Regarding our targeted clients for cooking classes, many of those who have attended our past events are from the DC/Northern Virginia area, although we had several participants who came from as far as Annapolis and Frederick, MD.
NVM: I saw that your website mentioned the potential for families or groups of friends to host “Iron Chef” competitions in your rental kitchens. Has anyone contacted you to express interest in holding such competitions?
HCK: Yes, we have had many inquiries for “Iron Chef” competitions from people planning family reunions, birthday parties, or simply a fun and out of the ordinary get-together with friends.
NVM: What advice would you give to groups interested in hosting an Iron Chef contest at Open Kitchen?
HCK: Most home kitchens do not have the space to accommodate multiple teams cooking at the same time. In addition, the task of coordinating and managing the event so that everyone has fun, including the host, is a challenging one.
For those interested in hosting such an event at Open Kitchen, I’ve provided some basic planning steps to get started:
STEP 1: Identify “Iron Chef” and “Challenger Chef” Teams. Minimum of 2 teams and maximum of 3 teams; 3-4 members per team. From these teams, decide which one is to be given the title of “Iron Chef Team” (that is, “the team to beat”).
STEP 2: Determine who would make up the “audience.” Maximum total of 25 guests. It may be helpful to solicit ideas from these guests on who should be the Iron Chef Team and who should be the Challenger Chef Team(s). The Iron Chef should be an experienced cook known to all the guests. The challenger may be an amateur.
STEP 3: Create a list of rules and judging criteria. The most common rules include all cooking must be done on premises, it must be completed within one hour and all dishes prepared must showcase the secret ingredient. All teams must prepare enough food for the judges and guests.
STEP 4: Identify a Panel of Judges (3 is a good number). Make sure these individuals are well regarded, have an interest in food, can be objective, and have a creative sense of humor. As an option, Open Kitchen can provide our professional chefs as judges.
STEP 5: Designate a host to address the guests. The host should explain the format of the competition, announce the rules and then introduce both contenders.
STEP 6: Call Open Kitchen to book a date and let us do the rest!
Our entire Open Kitchen facilities will be reserved for the event, which typically spans about three hours, including our three commercial kitchens, bistro indoor dining room and terrace area.
Before the event, we will provide all kitchen equipment, set up the space and do all the clean up work, work with the event organizer to determine the theme of the Iron Chef, including the “secret ingredient,” supply these ingredients the day of the event, and assist the event organizer (if requested) in creating a list of rules and determining the judging criteria such as taste, presentation, creativity and the use of the secret ingredient
During the event, we will provide each team with a market basket of foodstuffs, including the secret ingredient, designate a Floor Manager and the appropriate number of kitchen assistants to help manage the flow of activities, provide a professional chef to help guide the teams (if requested), and provide finger food and beverage for guests during the cook-off.
PRIZES: The winning team will be named “Open Kitchen Iron Chef” and given a kitchen award. All participants will receive a cotton apron and a chef’s hat.
COST: For a 3-hour event and all the services describes above, the basic cost is $135-$150 per person, depending on selection of ingredients, with a minimum of 20 people and maximum of 40 people. Additional costs would apply for the services of our professional chef(s), additional rental hours, and for beer and wine.
– Christina Lee