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Designed for dessert.

A professional pastry chef shares her dramatic but friendly kitchen ... and her starry almond meringues

WELCOME TO DINNER theater at home. This vivid tableau of friends conversing over dessert at the kitchen counter shows that you can successfully adapt the principles of restaurant design to a home kitchen. Here's how owners Emily and Peter Luchetti did it.

But first, take a glance at the meringue meteor shower at right, a sample of what Emily Luchetti produces in her new kitchen, and one of her favorite desserts. You'll find the recipe on page 111.

As pastry chef at Stars, one of San Francisco's liveliest and best-known restaurants, she wanted the efficiency of a restaurant kitchen at home but without the institutional feeling that heavy appliances often produce.

She also hoped to capture something of the visual excitement a successful restaurant like Stars creates in its main dining room, where the activities of dining, chef-watching, and patron-watching converge in an almost theatrical way.

From the start, the Luchettis agreed that their kitchen should be as open as possible, to share the dramatic bay view with the living room and to allow for informal entertaining. And because Emily Luchetti likes to chat with guests while she cooks, she wanted a kitchen in which their guests would be comfortable and nearby but not underfoot.

Peter Luchetti's brother, architect Robert Luchetti of Cambridge, Massachusetts, took up the challenge as part of his assignment to remodel the entire house.

A kitchen for working and entertaining

Robert Luchetti placed the kitchen on a platform at the rear of the house--behind the living room and about a foot higher. A line of four columns, plus the change in level, separates it from the living room without enclosing either space. The higher level gives the cook an uninterrupted view over the living room to San Francisco Bay. At one end, the kitchen opens to a breakfast area.

The kitchen proper is organized as an assembly line, with areas zoned for specific tasks. This allows a variety of activities to occur at the same time. Two 4-foot-deep islands dominate the space and form a long galley. The side facing the living room functions as a buffet counter, where guests can sit and talk to the cook as she prepares food.

The shorter island functions as a bar, with more seating. It contains a sink, an ice machine, and a refrigerator, and it allows guests to congregate where they won't interrupt traffic flow.

The longer island follows the food-preparation process, from the sink (three basins at different levels: the deepest for the garbage disposal, one for temporarily storing dirty dishes, and another for holding washed and chopped produce before cooking), to the six-burner gas cooktop--and finally to what is known in restaurant lingo as the "plating area," where plates are composed (filled) before being served.

Opposite the plating area, along the kitchen's rear wall, is the washing-up zone, which incorporates a dishwasher, a trash compactor, and a sink set into a stainless steel counter. This wall also contains two convection ovens, the centrally located refrigerator, and, opposite the bar, a pastry-making area with a marble countertop. Emily Luchetti doesn't use very much frozen food, so her refrigerator is all refrigerator. A freezer is located in the pantry adjacent to the kitchen.

The architect designed a storage system to fit the cook's particular needs, with shallow drawers beside the ovens and refrigerator for utensils, and deeper drawers beside and below the cooktop for pots, pans, and plates. She didn't want to incorporate appliance garages because she feels they're inaccessible and hard to clean. Instead, the architect provided cubbyholes behind the banks of drawers flanking the pastry-making center to store much-used appliances such as the food processor and the mixer.

Like an architectural chef, Robert Luchetti shaped his design from contrasting elements. Countertops combine cool, sleek stainless steel and warm, grainy mahogany; cabinetry is composed of light, grainy maple and hard, luminous etched glass; and the floor is of gray-tinted, vinyl-coated cork. Together, these elements form an understated, yet dynamic stage for cooking and entertaining.

A pastry chef practices her art at home

Emily Luchetti's kitchen and her desserts have a common theme: both achieve a streamlined elegance. And like her brother-in-law, whose kitchen plan brings out the beauty of the materials, she believes in emphasizing the ingredients' natural beauty and flavor.

"People forget that a dessert can't just look pretty; it has to taste good," she says. "All the components should be good enough to stand on their own and add something to each other."

With this pragmatic approach, her desserts transfer easily from the restaurant to the home kitchen. The almond meringue star with strawberries, champagne sabayon, and berry sauce at right is a perfect example; it's beautiful, delicious, and achievable.

She simplifies entertaining by preparing much ahead, "when I'm calm and relaxed and there are no guests with empty glasses."

As she does, you can make the meringues, berry sauce, and champagne sabayon (a French version of Italian zabaglione) in advance, then assemble the components while guests look on.

Almond Meringue Stars with Berries and Champagne Sabayon

4 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons finely minced toasted almonds

Champagne sabayon (recipe follows)

Strawberry sauce (recipe follows)

3 cups sliced strawberries

To make meringues. Line 2 baking sheets, each 12 by 15 inches, with cooking parchment; or butter and dust sheets with flour. On each sheet trace 3 stars, each about 6 inches across (use knife tip on floured sheets).

In large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar (about 1 tablespoon every 45 seconds), scraping the side of the bowl occasionally. Beat until meringue holds straight, very stiff peaks when beaters are lifted. Fold in almonds. If using parchment, glue corners to pans with a little meringue.

Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or fluted tip (or use a spoon instead of pastry bag). Pipe or spoon meringue about 1/2 inch thick onto baking sheets to evenly cover star shapes. About 1/2 inch from edges of each star, pipe or spoon on additional meringue into a rim about 1/2 inch thick and 1/2 inch wide.

Bake stars in a 225|degrees~ oven until centers are firm to touch and meringues just begin to turn very pale gold, about 2 hours; switch pan positions halfway through baking. Turn off oven and let meringues stand until cool, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Gently release meringues. If making ahead, store airtight up to 3 days.

To assemble desserts. Place each meringue on a plate. Spoon a little of the champagne sabayon in center of stars and partway around them. Then spoon a little strawberry sauce in empty space around stars. Spoon strawberries onto meringues. Accompany with additional sabayon and sauce. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 356 cal. (30 percent from fat); 6.4 g protein; 12 g fat (5.1 g sat.); 56 g carbo.; 51 mg sodium; 164 mg chol.

Champagne sabayon. In a large metal bowl whisk 4 large egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/3 cup slightly sweet (extra-dry or sec) champagne, or brut or extra-dry sparkling wine. Fill another bowl, large enough to contain the first bowl, 1/4 full of ice water; set aside.

Nest sabayon bowl in a pan over 1 inch simmering water. Vigorously whisk until sabayon thickens and mounds slightly, 4 to 6 minutes; if overcooked, the sabayon may curdle.

Immediately nest sabayon bowl over bowl of ice water; whisk until sabayon is cold, about 5 minutes.

In another bowl, beat 1/2 cup whipping cream until it holds soft peaks; fold into sabayon. If making ahead, chill airtight up to 3 hours.

Strawberry sauce. In a blender, whirl 3 cups hulled strawberries until pureed. Rub through a fine strainer over a bowl; discard seeds. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. If making ahead, chill airtight up to 1 day.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes recipe; bistro-style kitchen
Author:Gregory, Daniel P.; Johnson, Elaine
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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