Nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds, the £350,000 kitchen project at luxury boutique hotel Thyme was never going to be a simple affair for Lincolnshire-based distributor, KCM Catering Equipment.
The dealer was tasked with designing and outfitting a theatre kitchen and bar within the cavernous space of the widest single span beam barn in the UK, as well as a back of house prep kitchen in an adjoining space.
KCM was first put in touch with Thyme’s founder and creative director Caryn Hibbert via the project’s original architect, which the distributor had previously worked with on a pub near to the site in Southrop, Gloucestershire. But while another architect subsequently completed the project, the hotel owners were more than happy to keep KCM on.
The dealer liaised with both Caryn, who was responsible for the overall concept, and her son Charlie, who would take on the head chef role and who guided the kitchen design development from an operational point of view.
KCM director Alistair White and project specialist Steve Shepherd spearheaded the efforts from the distributor’s corner, with Shepherd recalling: “We were originally handed a basic layout on paper with square blocks of where they wanted the cookline, wash up and food preparation areas.
“It was a breath of fresh air to work with an operator who appreciated every individual aspect and how it all comes together, because it didn’t take as much back and forth as it would normally – we arrived at a general layout early on, after the second or third revision.”
It was still 18 months before the project came to full fruition, but during which time KCM only had to carry out minor tweaks to individual areas.
The showpiece of the project was a front of house finishing kitchen, adjacent to a circular bar area. As these were within the venue’s huge Ox Barn, aesthetics were a huge consideration, as well as ventilation. Shepherd detailed: “We used HVAC Ltd as a specialist to look at the whole ventilation for the room, including how it interfaced with all the other systems, and this company is very much used to working with bigger schemes that don’t just involve the kitchen.
“On a lot of projects the canopy does everything it needs to for airflow and compliance, but no consideration is taken regarding the noise, how it looks or how it affects the airflow in the rest of the room. At Thyme these were all so important.
“We wanted and open, boxy, commercial vibe for the extraction and ductwork, and it was in the client’s interests to keep it visual because it complemented the aesthetic of the building.”
The resulting solution incorporated floor heating grills that integrated with the ventilation system, and separate air handling units.
Another massive part of the project was the theatre kitchen’s cooking suite. Caryn and Charlie wanted something that reflected the high-end nature of the venue, so the KCM team presented them with several options, both modular and bespoke. It quickly became clear that the Hibberts would only be satisfied with a made-to-measure cookline with no visible joins, and so KCM took them to see some reference sites for leading high end cooking equipment brands, including Charvet.
Charvet Premier Ranges sales director Ian Clow revealed: “We visited a couple of London sites, the Lanesborough Hotel and Jamie Oliver’s head office, to give them a balance between the modular and bespoke looks, because at the time both were on the table as part of the scheme.”
Shepherd then reported: “When Caryn saw the suite at Jamie Oliver’s, there was nothing else she was going to buy – it looked absolutely stunning.”
The French manufacturer was then tasked with producing a sizeable 7.5metre-long suite, which Clow believes is “the longest continual one-piece bespoke suite that Charvet has created for the UK”.
However, the length is not overwhelming, as Charlie worked with Charvet to subdivide the suite to work in three chef station compartments. As the building couldn’t accommodate gas, induction was chosen as the power source for two four-zone hobs. “This gave the chefs the flexibility to cook a range of dishes without heating the surrounding area too much,” said Shepherd. “And a 6mm induction glass top looks much nicer than four traditional electric rings.”
The suite’s two steel planchas enable the chef team to cook directly, or with pots and pans, while the central chrome one is positioned for show cooking. Furthermore, the Charvet accommodated twin fryers, three general purpose ovens, an Adande refrigerated drawer and storage space. According to Shepherd: “The suite provides the chefs with a space to be creative and to have enough workspace to finish their dishes off.
“There was quite a lot we had to consider behind the scenes, with the suite needing water and waste connections, and trying to fit in all the electronics. Thyme has an inceptor tank as they are not connected to mains waste, so we had to fit EPAS GreaseShield grease removal systems everywhere and these also needed to be incorporated with the Charvet.”
The theatre kitchen was not the only front of house area KCM had to contend with though. The circular bar within the restaurant space had to complement the featured show cooking. With the idea being that diners could sit at the bar before or after their meal, aesthetics once again were at the fore, with one of the main appliance specifications being the high-end IMC Ventus bottle coolers.
Also on show was the technologically advanced Crem Expobar Onyx coffee machine, while the entire curved, tapered space was filled with bespoke Novameta fabrications.
An element added as the project progressed was a glasswash area around the back of the bar. KCM worked with the Hibberts to change the design, bringing the bar and front kitchen forward a little so that these were no longer against the wall, which also created a walkway for waiting staff to use. This enabled a Meiko FV to be discreetly tucked behind the bar area, and with a double skin construction, this ensured it is quiet in operation.
In the back of house prep kitchen the distributor again employed Novameta and Meiko to respectively supply fabrications and a DV80 passthrough dishwasher with reverse osmosis. Shepherd detailed: “We chose Meiko for all warewashing because it has a 95% 24-hour callout window. For a place like Thyme, if the dishwasher or glasswasher goes down, it costs them a lot of money. Waiting the normal 48 hours for an engineer to visit and then order a part and fit it the following week just wasn’t going to be good enough for them.”
Plus the choice of cooking and food preparation equipment in the back of house kitchen was geared towards catering for Thyme’s farm to fork and sustainability ethos. The venue tries to grow as many ingredients as possible in its onsite garden and farm, therefore Shepherd revealed: “The appliances needed to be flexible to be able to manage the food Thyme is currently offering as well as different options the restaurant wants to try in the future.”
Multifunctional kit was the order of the day, with the prep kitchen housing a Retigo Blue Vision automatic combi oven, twin deck Zanolli refractory stone ovens (currently set up for bread, but able to be adapted to pizza or lasagne), a Falcon F900 induction oven and twin stacked Turbofan convection ovens which include humidification and so can be used for overnight roasting, bake-off or any general purpose oven cooking. “That provided enough equipment to facilitate anything they wanted to add from their gardens,” commented Shepherd.
KCM provided a number of accessories with the Retigo for further versatility, including a smoker, combi fry baskets, and ribbed and smooth griddle plates for an extra chargrill option.
However, accommodating all these appliances generated further challenges in the prep kitchen. “They took up a lot of room, so there was not much space for lay-off benches, so we had to be a bit creative with the positions of central islands,” Shepherd added. “The centre benches are directly behind the key pieces of equipment that chefs would need to put pots and pans down on for.”
He described other layout challenges as including: “Keeping the varied amount of foods segregated for storage and preparation was initially quite difficult with the space we were given. But we managed with the help of Novameta to incorporate elements such as a wooden butcher’s block, a granite top counter and a Precision freezer underneath for the pastry section. Other fridges are split for vegetables, meat and fish, while the kitchen has separate prep sinks for each area too.”
Precision was reportedly chosen for general refrigeration provision as the manufacturer uses stainless steel inside and out as standard, and CoolSmart technology for precise temperature control. Plus the kit came in at a suitable price point. Gram Compact cabinet refrigeration completed the specification.
Robustness was key as well, according to Shepherd: “It was all built with a long service life in mind. Everything is built to a slightly higher standard than a normal commercial kitchen – for instance there are 3mm tops on the Charvet, which is double the industry standard.”
The logistics of the entire installation were vastly simplified by using specialist company Harrison Carr, which consolidated equipment deliveries in its warehouse, delivered everything to site and positioned it in its final location. This meant that KCM’s trusted installation team partners could complete the majority of the outfit in just 4 days at the beginning of last October. The distributor completed the final tweaks a couple of weeks later, ready for the restaurant to open in November.
Prior to that, the Charvet suite was delivered in three pieces and seamlessly welded in mid-July before the front counter went in, due to its size, while the complex ventilation installation took place across the summer for a mid-October finish.
There were still a few small hiccups with the main contractor, come installation time, but Shepherd reported that: “When the final drawings were done for the fabrication we had to work very closely with them to make sure that things like the pipe and cable drops were all in the right places. Some weren’t and when we came to install we’ve thankfully got very flexible engineers who are willing to do more than they should, so we were able to put things right.”
He believes that this high-end project demonstrates that KCM is “able to take on everything as a complete package, liaise directly with the main contractor, the ventilation contractor, HVAC and tie everything in together within a 4 day window”.
Shepherd summed up: “Alistair and I carried out all of the legwork, the drawings, the quotations and site visits. Individual projects get managed by one or two people from start to finish, from the initial design consultation to training and handover. That’s what Caryn and Charlie really liked about us as a company – there was a single point of contact throughout the whole process.”
Charlie Hibbert, the head chef at Thyme, has nothing but praise for KCM’s work to design and outfit his kitchen. “I am really happy with the relationship, they were really supportive from the start.
“My mother Caryn has got a lot of experience designing the overall layout of a hotel, but when it came to putting in a brand new kitchen that was a whole other challenge. I’ve worked in kitchens and I know what I like, but KCM helped us lay it out in a way that works.”
Hibbert was very involved with developing the equipment specification and for the main cookline in the theatre kitchen and was more than satisfied by the Charvet suite. He reported: “I like cooking on planchas and we are expecting to be busy, so we wanted versatile appliances. The four-zone planchas that double as hotplates in the Charvet suite are extremely useful.
“I worked with KCM and Charvet to put the specification together, taking their advice. I gave them what I wanted and they drew it up and took me through everything, tweaking the design as we went along.”
Changes included adding an Adande refrigerated drawer within the Charvet suite. “That has been extremely useful and it left more space on the front line. We also added a grill upon Charvet’s recommendation, and they even managed to work in storage spaces, which is the one thing you’re always looking for as a chef.”
The cooking suite design is divided into three chef stations, which was aimed at making operations efficient. “The layout has worked really well – it’s doing what it was intended to do,” Hibbert detailed. “It’s a big kitchen but it’s amazing how fast you use the space up.”
He even got to see his suite in production at the Charvet factory in Charavines, France. “When we designed the kitchen I thought it was the perfect amount of space, but seeing the suite in the factory I thought I may have slightly over-egged it. When it actually went in it was fine though.”
Hibbert chose green panelling for the suite, which was particularly apt for Thyme. “It’s on brand as we grow as many ingredients as we can in our own garden and we have our onsite farm too.”
As the barn the restaurant is situated in is so large, Hibbert emphasised: “Having the kitchen and bar as a showpiece helps to break the room up. The design of the kitchen and the efficiency of installation was amazing, especially with the Charvet as it was a logistical challenge – it had to be brought in in three pieces. But these were welded together immaculately.”
Regarding after care from the dealer and the manufacturer, he reported: “It’s been perfect – nothing’s gone wrong. You can feel everything is robust, so it’s not going to break easily, which is what you need when you’re dealing with chefs.”