At a glance what could New York City’s Times Square and California’s The French Laundry restaurant possibly have in common? One is a paved hellhole filled with leering Elmos and Guy Fieri’s namesake kitchen and bar. The other is a rustic cottage tucked away in the Napa Valley that is led by chef Thomas Keller and has three Michelin stars.
The answer: The two sites share an architect. That’s not a coincidence. A few years ago, architecture firm Snøhetta was chosen to reimagine Times Square as a pedestrian-friendly urban center. “The reconstruction of Times Square is all about how people coalesce or move past one another in a complex urban setting,” says Snøhetta principal Craig Dykers. “Thomas Keller saw that some applications of that that could be applied to a kitchen. It’s an intense working environment.”
That’s why Keller hired Dykers and Snøhetta to overhaul the kitchen and garden at The French Laundry. Space is at a premium in the 20-year-old kitchen. For instance, there are just 31 inches of space between different cooking stations—that’s less than three feet of shared countertop for chefs preparing between nine and 20 courses on any given night. Even the acoustics are cramped: during research, while shadowing the staff at work, the Snøhetta team noticed that the chefs and wait staff tend to face away from each other while talking, which muffles food orders and instructions.