The Designer and The Chef

Yesterday evening we had a chance to see The Designer and The Chef, a great panel for the Architecture and the City Festival, hosted by the AIA San Francisco.

The designers and chefs in question were David Darling, of Aidlin Darling Design with Corey Lee the chef and owner of Benu, Olle Lundberg of Lundberg Design with Charles Phan (who you may know from The Slanted Door et al.), and Douglas Burnham from envelopeA+D with Craig Stoll (Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina, Locanda.)

Benu. Chef/Owner: Corey Lee. Design: Aidlin Darling Design
Benu. Chef/Owner: Corey Lee. Design: Aidlin Darling Design

David Darling did a great job as the moderator. Aidlin Darling Design first got into restaurants because the focus of their studio was designing for all senses in the 1990s, when design had swung heavily to the sense of sight. Restaurants provided a perfect platform for architecture more focused on taste, smell, touch and sound. 

Each architect/restauranteur pair explored the opportunities and restraints inherent in restaurant design — and also their own experiences with the close and inspiring relationships they have built through their collaborations.

“Charles and I really are best friends.”

— Olle Lundberg

None of the architects on the panel market themselves as restaurant designers, but they’ve stayed in the field because they find it so gratifying to work with these chef/owners. They find their passion and vision about their food inspiring and want that to drive the design.

Every architect agreed that when it comes to restaurants, it’s extremely important that the design is about the food rather than the architecture itself. The design is so important to the chefs that they include their architects on food tours.

Pizzeria Delfina. Owner/Chef: Craig Stoll. Design: envelopeA+D
Pizzeria Delfina. Owner/Chef: Craig Stoll. Design: envelopeA+D

Douglas Burnham and Craig Stoll took us through their food tour of Naples, not a gourmand feat for the faint of heart. (According to the team, you eat your way through the market in the morning, stop for lunch and if you can do it, you have two lunches, followed by an eight course dinner.) With all of that research, the best pizza they found was from a restaurant that was “like eating in an accessible bathroom” (Douglas Burnham), with white tile everywhere and a general boxiness. 

The duo started unpacking what made eating in that dining room feel so great (beyond the food), and they realized that it was the mater-of-a-factness. They reimagined and reworked the straight-forward, all-focus-on-the-food feeling for Pizzeria Delfina.

“Bags of flour are beautiful. They’re out, where you normally don’t get to see them.”

— Craig Stoll

Hard Water. Owner/Chef: Charles Phan Design: Lundberg Design 
Hard Water. Owner/Chef: Charles Phan Design: Lundberg Design 

Each pair focused on simplicity and clarity in their designs. During long and extensive architect search and looking at too many overuses of mahagony, Charles Phan heard Olle Lundberg say that great design was when “you take a simple thing and make it very beautiful” and he was sold on the spot. Together they've created many phenomenal projects since that time (field trip to Hard Water, anyone?) because they are able to build on each other's visions and ideas. 

The designers and the chefs see their own passion and laser-light focus mirrored in their counterpart, and they come together to create perfect experiences.

Thanks to the panel for taking time out of their busy schedules to share, and to Architecture and the City and the AIA for hosting this event!