On a recent spring evening, a mix of some 20 New York architects, interior designers, and magazine editors chat over Champagne and hors d’oeuvres in Manhattan’s SoHo district. They are about to sit down to an elegant six-course dinner being prepared by guest chef David Lawson of Aubergine, a country restaurant in the Berkshires.
The location of this gathering, however, is not at one of the neighborhood’s hot new restaurants, or even in a loft. The guests are assembled within the cool environs of a state-of-the-art working kitchen in the New York showroom and U.S. headquarters of bulthaup—the Porsche of kitchen architecture for the design-savvy. The occasion is one of the monthly “intimate evenings” that communications manager Ute Mack hosts so that potential clients and design professionals can experience firsthand the superb handling of these cutting-edge cabinets and myriad accessories.
“It’s important to see the kitchen in action, especially because it is so minimalist and clean,” explains Mack. “We want people to enjoy the product along with good food in a homelike setting so they can imagine what it would be like to live with a bulthaup kitchen. I’m hoping to have a wine tasting next.”
The New York showroom took its lead from Chris Tosdevin, North American vice president of design, who spearheaded these hospitable events. When he opened the first U.S. showroom in Los Angeles 11 years ago, bulthaup was unknown in the design world, even though the 53-year-old German company had 500 showrooms worldwide. “I really needed to establish brand recognition, so we turned the studio into an education and demonstration center,” Tosdevin recalls. “We are passionate about the function and ergonomics of our kitchens. But we found that talking about these concepts must be backed up by proving it.”
What has evolved is a unique offering of monthly programs to which he invites select members of the design community. For those who cook, the Master Chef Cooking School features full-participation classes taught by German-born chef Michael Baumgart, former executive chef of the Los Angeles Culinary Institute. “The classes are informal and a lot of fun,” says Tosdevin. “We even have competitions where we split the participants up, and they work at three or four workstations—a great way to show off the versatility of the kitchens—preparing everything from lobster bisque and ethnic foods to bread and fresh pasta.” For the more hedonistic, Chef’s Table dinners offer an evening of cocktails with a showroom tour, an abridged exhibition cooking class, and a three-course sit-down dinner.
“These programs have a very powerful message and have been very successful,” says Tosdevin. This is apparent in the near-cult following bulthaup has attained over the past decade. Proponents include such architects and interior designers as L.A.-based Michael Palladino of Richard Meier & Partners and Jim Jennings and Orlando Diaz-Azcuy in San Francisco. Chef Emeril Lagasse has bulthaup in both his New Orleans home and his corporate headquarters. And its star power has seduced the likes of Brad Pitt and Eric Clapton. Demand is such that corporate showrooms have opened in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Miami, with dealers in Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
What is the ultimate draw? Hansgeorg Derks, worldwide marketing manager, believes that bulthaup symbolizes the best of both worlds. The Bauhaus-inspired designs are aesthetically pleasing, pure, and sensual, and they are well thought out and functional. “Good design,” he says, “is more than just a pretty face.”
bulthaup, 800.808.2923, www.bulthaup.com