Holiday Kitchen Calamities

‘Twas the night before Christmas
And the cook was so busy.
All the chopping and prepping
Could make you quite dizzy!
But when the big day dawned
And the oven didn’t light,
It was clear a ruined dinner
Would be this family’s plight.

Turkey Dinner

I’m sure we’ve all experienced our share of holiday culinary close calls and catastrophes. And our Bilotta designers were unanimous in stating that the most frequent cause of culinary chaos (yes, I love my alliteration!) revolves around appliances.

Senior designer Randy O’Kane had just completed a New York City kitchen for a celebrity client. The night before Thanksgiving, Randy got a panicked phone call from the client: her mother was coming into town for the holidays and she realized she didn’t know how to use her new Wolf ovens! (Hint: the client is NOT a celebrity chef!) In what can only be described as the ultimate in customer service, Randy and our appliance partner Rob Unger, from Royal Green Appliances, raced into the city to give her a personal tutorial. Emergency averted!

I have a holiday disaster of my own. Take, for instance, the Christmas when I was searing a whole beef tenderloin with rosemary sprigs tucked beneath the butcher’s twine. The rosemary caught fire, which I quickly put out with the (thankfully) nearby fire extinguisher. But as soon as that extinguisher foam hit the hot ceramic cooktop, the entire glass surface crackled as though I’d stepped onto thin ice. Christmas dinner that year was Chinese takeout.

Scene from "A Christmas Story"
Anyone remember “A Christmas Story”?

While these two stories only resulted in a ruined evening and a new cooktop, some holiday situations have contributed to full-blown kitchen renovations. It’s what I like to call the four most expensive words in home renovation: “we might as well”. As in “as long as we have to get a new dishwasher, we might as well redo the whole kitchen.”

Sometimes it’s a small “ah-ha” moment, like when a customer couldn’t find her turkey baster after she’d already put the bird in the oven. She rushed to the housewares store (thank goodness these stores are open on Thanksgiving!) to buy whatever model they had left in stock. The following day she found her original baster in the back of the drawer. Time for some serious kitchen organization!

Sometimes it’s utter frustration that leads to renovation. Aston Smith tells the tale of one of her favorite couples who came to her because of a holiday entertaining standoff: the husband loved to host their large extended family, and the wife had grown to hate it. They’d been struggling for years with their tiny, antiquated space. The wife lamented, “the holidays are too much work! There’s no room to move, dinner is always dry, the food odors linger for days and, the clean-up takes forever!” While the wife would have gladly turned the kitchen into a dressing room and ordered takeout for the rest of their lives, the husband luckily prevailed! They ended up with a brand-new kitchen! Aston opened up the room by removing a wall, and then further enhanced the feeling of spaciousness by adding glass fronts to some of the cabinetry. Goodbye, claustrophobia! Of course, the cabinets contain all the most desirable organizational bells and whistles: cutlery and utensil dividers, spice drawer inserts, knife blocks in the drawers, base cabinet pull outs and a double trash pullout. (No more tripping over the trash can!)

All your spices at a glance in a custom spice drawer.
All your spices at a glance!


But by far the couple’s favorite feature of their new kitchen is their state-of-the-art appliance suite: double convection wall ovens (one with steam), a powerful yet quiet exhaust hood, sleek refrigerator and freezer towers, and the most advanced dish-washing technology available on the market. Now they love to cook and entertain, and because Aston and the couple are Facebook friends, she gets the satisfaction of seeing the photos of them enjoying the holidays with friends and family – which now include grandchildren! The wife regularly proclaims, “I wish I’d done it sooner!”.

Sometimes it’s a full-blown appliance failure that prompts a kitchen renovation. Many years ago, Senior designer, Paula Greer had a client with one of the more humorous holiday disaster stories I’ve ever heard. In the middle of cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, her client’s oven stopped working. She remembered that her neighbors (and good friends) were out of town. Luckily, not only was she able to reach her friends, but they also kept a house key hidden outdoors. Yes, she was more than welcome to use their oven, but they warned her that the oven ran hot, so she should keep an eye on the turkey. The only problem was that she had a houseful of guests, so she kept running back and forth between houses to ensure that the bird didn’t overcook. But after a few round trips, this got very tiresome. Paula’s client apologized to her guests, grabbed a bottle of wine, and parked herself in front of her friend’s oven. When the thermometer told her it was time, she slipped the half empty bottle of wine under her arm and lugged the hot roasting pan back home with her two clumsy oven mitts. In a scene right out of a slapstick comedy, she tripped on the sidewalk and lost her grip on everything! No, she didn’t drop the turkey; she managed to grab the pan just in the nick of time. But the rest of the wine bit the dust, leaving the pavement looking like a crime scene. The turkey? It was delicious. Shortly thereafter, the couple visited Bilotta’s showroom to tackle what they’d long been putting off: a kitchen renovation. As they put it, “as long as we have to replace our stove, we might as well replace the cabinetry as well.” And one thing led to another.

Burnt Turkey

Now that we’ve heard the horror stories, what advice would our designers give to avert disaster? In a word: plan ahead. (Okay, so two words!)

Senior designer, Jeff Eakley and his wife Ellen remodeled their own kitchen quite a few years ago. They only installed a single oven, since they felt they’d only use a second one three or four times a year. Yet, inevitably, when a holiday rolls around and Ellen is working in the kitchen, she yells out to Jeff, “Why didn’t we do a double oven?” Jeff says he gets a lot of referrals around the holidays, not necessarily because of appliances have failed, but because preparing a holiday meal made them realize either their appliances or their layout (or both) were woefully inadequate.

Double wall ovens in a classic white kitchen.

Senior designer Randy O’Kane has some unique advice when designing a new kitchen: if you entertain a lot at the holidays and your space and budget allow it, build in some appliance redundancy for crisis contingency insurance. As Randy tells it, a former customer recently returned to her because her ovens had “finally surrendered to overuse over Thanksgiving”. While Randy didn’t think this was even possible, it proved fortuitous that the kitchen had originally been designed with both the double wall ovens and a 48” range, which saved the holiday for this avid cook. The moral of the story for Randy was how important it is to understand how a client uses – or in this case overuses – their kitchen!

Country kitchen with grey cabinets, double ovens and a 48" professional range.
Double ovens and a 48″ range?! What more could you ask for?!

Senior designer Rita Garces has a piece of advice that will resonate with every kitchen designer; plan WAY ahead if you’re hoping to have your new kitchen for a holiday. Rita had clients visit the showroom in September lamenting that they couldn’t cook another holiday meal in their current kitchen, so they needed a new one in time for Thanksgiving. “It has to be beautiful, functional and ….”. Hold it right there! If it’s almost October, we can definitely get you that fabulous, functional new kitchen in time for you to host all of next year’s holidays. Good design doesn’t just happen overnight and, in fact, always takes much more time than most people would ever imagine. You have to research and shop for appliances. You need to select countertop materials and backsplash tiles. And don’t forget about lighting, flooring, decorative hardware, door style, molding details, and cabinetry finishes. But the most time-consuming portion of the design process is nailing down the kitchen layout. There’s usually more than just a handful of revisions before all the design details are finalized and cabinetry is ordered. Then you’ve got eight plus weeks until cabinets are delivered, several weeks for fabrication of countertops, installing backsplash tiles, painting the walls, and on and on. So, the moral of Rita’s story is to never plan a holiday celebration around the completion of a new kitchen!

Planning a Kitchen Renovation

So, what have we learned here today, boys and girls? That if you experience a holiday disaster in the kitchen, Santa might just leave a brand new kitchen under your tree – for next year!  Merry Christmas from our kitchen to yours!

New refrigerator with a Christmas bow on top!

This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 23 years.

Holiday Kitchen Calamities

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