Consuming nearly half the space of this authentic French brasserie, a departmentalized kitchen brings a high level of efficiency and cleanliness.
Traditional French brasseries are informal and comfortable. San Antonio's Brasserie Pavil provides the same appeal with an elegant touch. "We created a pavilion, or gathering place, for people to come together to socialize and share food and wine," says Michael Bazar, vice president of operations for the restaurant's owner, Watermark Hotel Company, Inc. "We want to introduce people to casual, classic French cuisine. Nothing like this was in operation in San Antonio before Brasserie Pavil."
The menu, which is the brainchild of Scott Cohen, executive chef, includes chicory frisée salad, French onion soup, cheese fondue, plat du jour featuring cassoulet or braised short ribs, steak au poivre, coq au vin, burger and pommes frites. Cheeses, crêpes, classic chocolate fondue, cakes, crème brûlée, sorbets and sundaes are among the dessert offerings. In addition, the brasserie offers a large selection of wines and boutique beers. "A brasserie gives license to have a breadth of menu selection and a broad range of price points," Bazar says.
Located in a high-end plaza with retail establishments and restaurants, Brasserie Pavil's high ceilings provide a vast, open environment. "In addition to the main dining room, the restaurant also includes four private rooms seating up to 100 guests," Bazar says. "These can be separated spatially by large wooden sliding doors and separated acoustically by the use of special ceiling paper that prevents echoes without interrupting the service in the dining room," Bazar says.
"Our main objective was to create an authentic French brasserie rather than a thematic environment," says Karen Rogers, principal and interior designer at Sypult-Rogers Studios. "We wanted a warm and charming space that was sophisticated yet extremely unassuming and inviting." To achieve this, she and partner Tamara Sypult used classic brasserie elements, such as a polished brass railing and coat hooks, an antique mirror and wall clock, rich mahogany millwork, an inlaid tin ceiling and a bar with a zinc countertop.
The floor tile features a bold graphic pattern that uses predominantly fresh gold and cream colors. A wide variety of seating includes grand banquettes with chocolate brown mohair fabric, leather-cushioned chairs, bistro tables and wood slatted booths with Carrera marble topped tables adjacent to the bar. The lighting adds interest through the use of wall sconces with the classic Pavil "P" and warm, amber pendant fixtures. The exterior includes a large millwork entry surround with display windows, rich burgundy awnings and "Pavil" spelled out in bronze letters inlaid into the entrance floor. A collection of French glass vessels--bon bonnes and demijohns—sit in the entry display. "The result of layering all these various details and accents is a classic European dining experience," Rogers says.
The owners plan to develop the Brasserie Pavil brand into a chain of restaurants. Bazar says an exact date is not yet specified.
The restaurant's kitchen, which is departmentalized for efficiency and cleanliness, is designed for quantity production. "On Mother's Day, for example, the restaurant served 800 covers and the kitchen wasn't in peril," says Theodore "Ted" Barber, FCSI, president, Theodore Barber & Co., Inc., the project's kitchen designers and consultant. "The original space in the plaza was reserved for a steakhouse, but the owners didn't fill the requirements to occupy this location," Barber says. "The kitchen was half the size we needed. We needed 47 percent for the back of house production because the menu is extensive and everything is made from scratch."
Among the back-of-house components requiring considerable space allotment are a dish machine that is isolated so fumes don't pass into the kitchen, an isolated drop-off area to enhance the flow and prevent contamination, a distinctive, controlled-temperature bakery and chocolate room, and a linear cook line. "I've worked in many restaurants, and I've found that a straight line design is more efficient to do a large volume and maintain quality," says Scott Cohen, corporate executive chef and executive chef for Brasserie Pavil. "Also, a highly efficient kitchen allows us to grow and handle even greater volume." Scott believes the restaurant will eventually handle an average of 600 covers a day, including lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
Staff receive provisions at the dock, which connects to the walk-in coolers and freezers that are attached to the building as an appendage. "The 17-foot-long refrigerated rack is outside, as well," Barber says. "Putting the main refrigeration systems outside the building has an expensive first cost, but the cost of air conditioning in the long-term is greatly reduced."
A separate humidity and temperature controlled pastry room allows staff to produce artisan breads, French baguettes, croissants, ropes, chocolate fondue and other desserts including cakes, tarts, crème brûlée, sorbets and ice cream. "I'm proud to say we've been given the distinction of having the best bread in San Antonio," Cohen says. The room contains a multi-deck hearth oven, a proofer/convection oven, a floor mixer, a ingredient bins, a marble table for chocolate preparation, a four-burner stove, and supporting tables and sinks. Staff can bring stainless steel covers over the sinks for use as prep tables.
Another prep area contains a smoker for salmon, beef, chicken and game, a food slicer, vertical cutter mixer, a food processor, sinks with stainless steel covers and a refrigerator. Nearby, staff use a steam jacketed kettle to make various stocks, a convection oven, a floor mixer, and a worktable with refrigerated bases..
A pantry allows staff to prepare garde manger for salads and desserts and mise en place for sauté. Overhead pass-through refrigerators run the full length of the pantry. "Anything cold can be staged here," Barber says. "With the amount of covers handled, the chef does not want any of the chilled items to drop in temperature." The area also contains pass-through shelves, which can be heated or kept cold as needed.
Also in this station is a six-burner range, two fryers, a microwave oven, a conveyor toaster, a double-sided griddle, a salamander broiler, two panini grills and two crepe machines. Perhaps the most unique piece is a meat mincer, which the pantry staff use to make steak tartar. "I didn't think I needed this," Cohen says. "But, when we walked through the process of making the steak tartar, I realized we need to keep the meat at proper temperature throughout the prep process."
In addition, Barber adds, "The meat is held at proper temperature and is dispensed in portion sizes. Also, there is a UV-light in the mincer that prevents any residual product from allowing harmful bacteria to maturate. Nearly 30 orders of steak tartar can be prepared and dispensed as needed."
Another feature of the pantry is an ice system that brings in ice from a remote ice machine into two bins that pantry staff use for seafood plateaus and other cold items. The system is regulated by a light beam so as one bin fills up the ice is diverted to another bin. "A staff member never has to leave the station for ice," Barber says.
A support cook line sits behind the main pantry. Staff use a 12-gallon trunion kettle for stocks and sauces, and 60-gallon steam jacketed kettles to make stock for onion soup. "It takes three days to cook the stock to its proper consistency," Barber says "It's almost like a ritual here. In Scott's training, no one walks by kettle without checking the stock and stirring it. After several days, it reduces and becomes a base for soups. Scott runs a strict kitchen, a kitchen of teaching. The food is sensational." Tilt skillets also allow bulk cooking in this area.
Two undercounter shock freezers sit beneath the elevated preparation counter. This equipment allows staff to prepare and sear osso bucco, for example, place it into vacuum packaging and then into the shock freezers to bring the temperature down within 90 minutes and manage respiration and mitigate bacterial growth. "When the products that are shock frozen and subsequently rethermed, they come back tasting the same as if they had been served immediately after cooking," Barber says.
"We don't know how many portions of items such as osso bucco or short ribs that we might need," Scott says. "So we can now make the items, freeze them, take them out for service, place them in a sous vide water bath and then into the combis." Staff also prepare and flash freeze stocks and crème brûlée.
A 42-inch-high table supports the back line of the main kitchen. "It is set up for parties and for times when the staff need all chefs there cutting and preparing," Barber says. "Everyone stands at a different height, but everyone can work at this height. It is completely lit using incandescent bulbs so staff can examine plates thoroughly."
The Brasserie Pavil's kitchen offers Scott his first experience using combi ovens. "The first time I used them I was skeptical," Scott says. "Now that we have them, I wouldn't trade them in for anything. We're getting greater yield and consistency. This and the shock freezer allow us to sensibly regulate production and staffing."
On the front line, refrigerated bases operate from the remote rack. In fact, all refrigeration is remotely controlled. From right to left, staff use an atmospheric pressureless steamer with two compartments for seafood and vegetables; a plancha with a convection oven beneath for cooking items such as veal bones that staff then place immediately into kettles; and a sauté range with ribbon burners. "Ribbon grates run from front to back," Barber says. "Chefs like to slide sauté pans around the stove without 'landing' on a burner." Two infrared salamanders for melting cheese on the restaurant's highly rated onion soup sit above the range.
A half-size, double-stacked convection oven is next to the sauté range. "We put opposite hinging on the doors, so a sauté and broiler operator can hold a pan at eye level rather going under the range," Barber says.
A deck broiler with a refrigerated based beneath sits on other side of the double-stacked convection oven. A cook uses an over-fired drawer broiler with a searing top for tuna and filets.
The bank of fryers comes next on the line. They are equipped with auto fill so oil is pumped into fryers and filtered in the footprint of the fryers. When fry oil has expired, the fryer system pulls out oil and deposits new oil in fryer. "Staff never have to leave the fry station to refill and this is much safer because there is no need to transport hot oil through the kitchen," Barber says.
The center cook line sits under a water wash hood, which is designed with an integral utility distribution system.
Across the aisle is the chef's table, with a belly rail. The chef's table is the centerpiece of the production line, containing two stations that mirror one another on either side of a center line. Each contains a large bain marie to hold demi glazes and vegetables, and refrigerated drawers built on curbs so no food or dirt can slide underneath the equipment. Epoxy flooring material covers the stainless steel curbs. Refrigerated rails support all the garnish work and mise en place for the sauté station and plate presentation. Lighting and wiring in the two overshelves are concealed. In addition, a pot rack hangs overhead for sauté pan storage.
The main chef orchestrates and expedites from this counter. "The chef can see the pantry to his left and he controls the activity on the hot line," Barber says. "In a traditional European kitchen like this, the chef du cuisine builds plates to meet his criteria. Rather than moving in an axial line, he now has everything he needs, including a suspended refrigerated rail where he can garnish plates. He hands the plats underneath the counter to a server on the other side," Barber says.
On other side of the chef's counter, food runners pick up trays and take them to customers' tables. Undercounter refrigerated tables hold waters and condiments.
A beverage counter stands behind the pick up counter. It contains a soda dispensing machine, glass racks that sit underneath the main counter, ice tea and espresso machines.
To the left of this area sits the dish room with a conveyor machine and rack machine exclusively for wine glasses. A separate glass washer is crucial to this operation, which has a capacity of 6,000 bottles of wine. "The wine glasses don't go through the rinse water or detergents used for soiled dishes with food," Barber says.
An agitated pot washer also expedites clean-up. "I hadn't used this before either," Scott says. "The whirlpool action and constant water heating is giving us continual access to clean pots."
Wine, beer and liquor service is crucial to the Brasserie Pavil. The walk-in wine cooler is held at 55 percent to 60 percent humidity and has three compartments for champagne and delicate whites.
The bar, with its zinc top, spans 40 feet long. Italian draft heads dispense micro-brew beers. The back bar contains undercounter refrigerators with glass doors, an espresso machine and storage for 1,000 bottles of wine.
As customer traffic increases, Brasserie Pavil's design will accommodate expanded production while maintaining a high standard of quality. No matter the numbers of guests served, however, the kitchen design will continue to emphasize efficiency, productivity and cleanliness while reinventing the brasserie concept for the twenty-first century.