Get inspired with design ideas from three of Central Florida’s top culinary experts
Photos by AaronVan
Dale Volkert and Robert Kramer
Lake Meadow Naturals, Ocoee
Farmer Dale Volkert is best known for his cage-free eggs and beautiful flock of cage-free chickens in Ocoee. Locals head out to Lake Meadow Naturals to shop in his Farm Store stocked with all-natural, sustainable food. But chefs love the home that he and partner Robert Kramer built in 2007—it’s 3,600 square feet, but that expands to 6,800 square feet when you count the spacious, covered porches for entertaining. (And it’s only one bedroom.)
Volkert’s kitchen is the centerpiece of the elegant farmhouse, where he estimates that he hosts 40 to 50 events every year, from nationally recognized dinners such as Outstanding in the Field to local fund-raisers like the recent Women in the Kitchen: Legends, Mentors and Friends to support the James Beard Foundation’s work in advancing women in the culinary industry. And while he hosts big fund-raisers, Volkert says that his kitchen “functions just as nicely for two.”
What We Love
With plenty of countertop space and an expansive island in the center, the handsome kitchen with Egyptian marble floors and granite countertops looks ordinary until you realize there’s no food—except in massive, stainless steel refrigerators on the back wall. There are no coffeemakers, or toasters or microwaves. Everything is brilliantly stashed out of sight in the adjacent pantry.
The most practical part of the kitchen design is “two big sinks and 42 drawers for gadgets,” says Volkert. And lots of outlets in the kitchen island. Plus the adjacent pantry with 50 shelves. Just 8 feet wide and 14 feet long, it’s like an alley. No cupboards, everything is organized and open and easy to reach with butcher block countertops for holding electronics such as a commercial Nespresso machine, food processors, Vitamix, toaster and microwave. A filtered ice machine rounds out the kitchen necessities.
The Best Part of the Kitchen
The most practical piece of equipment in the kitchen is a commercial dishwasher. “I wouldn’t trade it,” says Volkert. It’s a little tricky to install (water has to be a steamy 140°F) but it takes just 90 seconds to wash and dry dishes, using less than 2 gallons of water. Best of all, it’s the same size as a standard dishwasher. He rigged his with automatic dish soap for each wash. Cost? About $4,000, says Volkert. It can wash one load or 100 loads in an evening.
What Volkert Recommends
“I love the six burners and griddle on my gas range, but if I were redesigning my kitchen, I’d have a convection electric oven, where the hot air circulates through the oven and cooks food more evenly,” he says. That and more cookbook space.
Along with her husband, Ron, who owns a local construction company, Elisa Scarpa created a custom home just yards away from the first house they built from scratch for themselves and their two daughters. While every element of this newer gracious residence is inviting, the kitchen is where the family and their guests feel most at home — by design.
With white cabinets, white marble countertops and abundant natural light, Scarpa’s kitchen looks pristine, even staged, at all times. Bare Edison-bulb lighting, hardy rustic wood accents and terra cotta crocks add dimension, but not clutter. The personal chef, who works under the banner Fatto in Casa, has the same mess as everyone else though. She just hides it in two places: a prep kitchen hidden behind a wall, and a dish-drying rack that’s set into a drawer.
What We Love
For Scarpa, a kitchen is much a gathering space as a workspace. That’s why she split the heart of her newly built Audubon home in two.
How It Works
Beyond the open kitchen’s lengthy island with a sink and dishwasher, and its back wall with a stove-oven combo and cabinets, Scarpa has an entire second room. She jokingly calls it the “dirty kitchen,” although it’s rarely dirty beyond the short stints when her teenage daughters make a snack unsupervised. The long, thin space is accessed via doorway-size expanses on both ends of the main kitchen. This second area has its own sink as well as open shelving topped by butcher block countertops—ideal for chopping and other food prep; more open shelving overhead; an adjacent walk-in pantry with built-in wine racks, and a mobile butcher block cart that serves as extra food-prep space. Heavy kitchen appliances sit upon the counters full-time: a food processor, blender, panini maker and standing mixer. “It works better than cabinets,” Scarpa says, noting that everything she needs is easy to reach. “If you can’t see something that’s in the back, you never use it.” Below, wooden crates on wheels are filled with yet more easy-to-grab items. “It just works,” she says. “It’s quick and efficient.”
In the main kitchen, to the left of the island sink, Scarpa has a dish rack for hand-washed items set below waist level into a cabinet-area drawer. The exterior is wire mesh, which allows water to evaporate. Inside, the pull-out drying rack is stainless steel, with gadgets to hold plates, containers and more. A stainless steel tray on the bottom catches excess water. “I invented it, but in Italy you’ll find similar cabinets with drying racks above sinks,” she notes.
You Can Do It
It took Scarpa’s cabinet maker six months to understand how to build the built-in dish rack, so if you want one of those, ask her for a picture (Instagram @fattoincasawp) and just copy hers. As for the dirty kitchen, you don’t really need a second room. Simply replicate the ease of having all your equipment handy. Step one is simple: “You need to know what you need,” Scarpa advises. Once you narrow that down to, say, the juicer, coffee grinder and toaster, figure out a way to put them where you can always reach them without climbing, bending or lifting. That might be an empty stretch of countertop, a workstation on wheels or a pretty piece of furniture that’s sturdy and counter-height. Buy wheeled boxes, or install shelves, for other items you’ll grab and use frequently, from water bottles to lunchboxes. It may create more of a chaotic look, but if—and only if—ease outranks neatness in your home hierarchy, you will benefit.
Trina Gregory-Propst and VA Propst
When baker Trina Gregory-Propst and her wife, VA, purchased their Orlando home in August of 2017—just 11 days before Hurricane Irma was scheduled to hit—they estimated that they’d be moving in sometime in November. But even with zero damage to their new property, the workforce they’d been counting on was soon occupied with emergency repairs and had little time to help the pair rescue their abode from its “very ’90s” interior. Fast forward to March 2018 and there’s still no furniture in sight, but the cabinet boxes and appliances are in place and the kitchen’s footprint has been expanded to occupy an unneeded eat-in area, making even more room for Gregory-Propst’s battery of baking and cooking supplies.
What We Love
Gregory-Propst chose everything from the mix-and-match countertops to the varying brands of appliances with an eye toward individual function, and while everything looks high-end, it was not necessarily high-dollar. The Italian-made Tecnogas Superiore 36-inch range features six gas burners, but with room for three full-sized sheet pans, it was the oven that warmed the baker’s heart, and at under $5,000 it didn’t break the bank. An enormous but elegant side-by-side Electrolux single-door fridge and freezer (“less than $3,000!”) keep things cool along with an under-counter ice maker, a wine cooler and a beer chiller.
How It Works
The acacia butcher block counter is ideal for rolling pastry and bread dough, while the stainless-steel counter on the island can weather the high heat and stickiness that comes with making candies and chocolates. A wide galley sink is flanked by manufactured quartz for easy cleaning, always a plus since Gregory-Propst’s 12-year-old son, Jacob, likes creating in the kitchen as much as she does.
Anchoring the kitchen’s many moving parts are espresso-hued custom wood cabinets, which VA crafted herself after builders tried one too many times to talk the couple into a standard design that didn’t jibe with their needs. Gregory-Propst wants glassware at an accessible height and canned goods below and out of sight, but she doesn’t mind climbing for the occasional cake stand or holiday platter, which will live in sturdy cabinetry that stretches up to the vaulted ceilings.
You Can Do It
Gregory-Propst originally planned to be a private chef who would also teach clients to organize and stock their own pantries. While her career has taken a different turn, her advice on pantry and kitchen design holds true for all home cooks: “Don’t let people tell you what you want! Figure out what you need and do the research to learn ways to accomplish it without spending a lot of money.”