Pasture and Plenty’s kitchen does it all

It was built for demonstrations, lunch seating, wine dinners, meal kit testing and drag brunches, too.
Pasture and Plenty kitchen
Photo by Sunny Frantz
Pasture and Plenty Owner Christy McKenzie designed a commercial kitchen to feel like “a space of action and activity.”

It’s almost surprising to learn Pasture and Plenty’s kitchen is a commercial build, because it has all the comfort and style of a dream home kitchen.

“I call it the ‘kitchen of requirement’ because it can be the island that serves a beautiful feast, it can become a pop-up bar, it can be a cooking classroom, it can be a chef’s table. It can be a lot of different things,” says Pasture and Plenty Owner Christy McKenzie. The kitchen mimics the chameleon quality of the University Avenue shop, which offers meal kits, deli and bakery items, pantry goods, breakfast and lunch service, special dinners and catering.

McKenzie used to work for allrecipes.com in Seattle, where a kitchen was the heart of the office. She also remodeled her own home while in Seattle. “I have had a lot of experience in working in kitchens and in demo space and my own home kitchen, so it was fun to bring together all of those elements into what we designed for this,” McKenzie says.

Rather than being tucked away, the Pasture and Plenty kitchen is a focal point. “I wanted people who walked in to immediately feel like this was a space of action and activity,” she says.

It features a full-sized residential fridge, a two-zone wine chilling cooler, deep cabinets for lots of catering supplies and appliance storage, a pullout pantry, an induction stovetop and a three-part oven (a convection microwave, a convection oven and a warming drawer). An oversized island allows cooking class students to gather around comfortably. What you won’t see are cleverly disguised spots and shelving to hide a half speed rack and tubs that keep things tidy. In addition to a hand-washing sink (a commercial requirement), the space’s main sink is one of McKenzie’s favorite elements of the kitchen. “You can fit a whole bus tub inside if you need to catch things,” she says. “You could put a whole salmon in here and butcher it. But you can also hide all of the dirty dishes if you need to.”

McKenzie worked with Ed Linville of Linville Architects for architecture, Forbair Construction for contracting, Capital Joinery for the floating shelves, Specialized Electric for the lighting and Nonn’s for the appliances, cabinets and final finishes.

Christy McKenzie

Christy McKenzie (Photo by Sunny Frantz)

But one key design element was there all along and required a clean and simple overall look for the space. “The floor — it’s such a strong pattern that if we would have tried to impose any greater design on top of it, it would have fought with it,” says McKenzie, who uncovered tile from the 1920s original build as a Rennebohm Drug Store. Years of vinyl and indoor-outdoor carpeting covered the hexagonal tile.

“It was quite a process to peel back those layers, remove the adhesive; it was a labor of love for sure. But it creates such an impact when people come in,” McKenzie says. “I feel like for us, it evokes a level of quality and craftsmanship and connection to history and connection to place that would be hard to replicate.”

The space’s history lives on at Pasture and Plenty, where the list of events and experiences (both in-person and virtual, since COVID-19) continues to grow.

Staff often tests Pasture and Plenty meal kits in the University Avenue shop kitchen

Staff often tests Pasture and Plenty meal kits in the University Avenue shop kitchen. Photo by Sunny Frantz

Past events include cooking tutorials with area chefs, Valentine’s Day craft parties, drag brunches, pizza bingo nights, rehearsal dinners, friendsgivings, business team appreciation events and fundraisers.

“What haven’t we done in this kitchen?” McKenzie says. They also use the kitchen (as well as a larger commercial kitchen) to make sure the weekly meal kits they send out to close to 300 households are easy to assemble or reheat at home.

McKenzie also installed a basic A/V setup in the kitchen to better host virtual classes.

“There’s nothing like being able to be right next to the teacher and poke the dough, being able to feel the consistency of the sauce as you’re stirring it, to smell the ingredients, to hear the sizzle, but I feel like the virtual experience is really intimate,” McKenzie says. “[It’s nice] having someone who is cooking at home with the ingredients and has that direct support of a cooking class instructor who is also cooking at the same time, so that they can see right into the pot of the instructor and also compare it right into their own pot. I think there’s something really lovely and very intimate about this virtual experience that’s been very surprising to me.”

food from Pasture and Plenty

Photo by Sunny Frantz

But she’s also excited to welcome guests back into the kitchen, which has turned into more of a production space since the pandemic began.

“It’s one of my favorite parts of the design of the restaurant because it has become such a community center for what we do. And it’s been really surprising and humbling to see how people react to it and the ideas that they come up with for using it,” McKenzie says. “It’s community groups hoping to get together to connect around food.”

An Induction Stovetop? Really?

Yes, really. Owner Christy McKenzie was reluctant to try an induction cooktop in Pasture and Plenty’s commercial kitchen, but it made it a lot easier to meet fire code requirements. Induction cooktops have not been popular in the U.S. until recently. It seems the benefits — affordability and superior performance over gas and electric burners — are finally being recognized. McKenzie has even grown to love hers. “They’re really fast to use, which is great for cooking demonstrations,” she says.

Instead of passing indirect heat from a coil or flame through the pan to the food, an induction cooktop uses electromagnetic energy to heat pots and pans directly. This results in many advantages — you can control the heat better, cook food more quickly, it’s more energy efficient than gas or electric and because the surface stays cool, it’s much safer.

“Induction has become very available, popular, accepted if you will,” says Jerry Schmidt, the Sales Director at Dream House Dream Kitchens, a Madison area home remodeling company. Schmidt says it’s about 50/50 between clients who opt for induction vs. gas stovetops. But if you would have asked him that 10 years ago, he says maybe one in every 10 clients chose induction. It seems induction cooking is finally heating up. (Sorry.)

Andrea Behling is the editor of Madison Magazine.