If the last two years taught us anything, it's that the way we participate in outdoor dining has changed, big time. An experience that was usually reserved for summer months has now become a year-long endeavor, and nowadays, we don't bat an eyelash when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, with folks getting creative in their methods for extending al fresco hang times.
And not only has this change been rippling through the restaurant world, it's been coming home with us, too — which has served as evidence of a broader culture shift. "Social-culture changes in the most incredible ways," says Douglass Williams, chef and owner of MIDA Restaurants/APIZZA. "It forces us as a culture (especially one around dining/food) to reevaluate how we spend time with our homes, families, and activities that feed our need for entertainment, our self learning, and our soul."
In this case, that shift has led to a reimagining not only of the dining experience, but of the kitchen itself — and Williams thinks beautiful outdoor kitchens are set to become classic staples in homes everywhere. (Think about it: Who wants to be stuck inside cooking, while your loved ones — who we value more than ever these days — are gathered outside?)
"Outdoor kitchens and the accessories that we build into them allow for a directly beneficial activity that we will continue to value for years, even decades," he says. "Think of troops returning from World War II: a culture of entertaining at home, the family image, backyard around the grill and the pool, a neighborhood. These culture changes are effects of strenuous times, and this time is an example of that. But good does come out of challenging times, and what better way than to celebrate with family, friends, and a feeling of self-gratification and continued learning… and really, really, really yummy pizza."
Speaking of pizza, it's no surprise that outdoor-specific cooking appliances — like Ooni Pizza Ovens — are gaining steam, especially when they balance form and function in a way that makes them a logical centerpiece of any open-air dining space.
With sleek, innovative designs (case in point: the Ooni Koda 16 Gas Powered Pizza Oven), and the technology that enables the home chef to make delicious pizza every time, appliances like these are the latest example of how dining is heading outside.
If you've been considering adapting trend to your own space, keep reading for Williams' three pieces of advice to keep in mind when creating a stylishly savvy outdoor kitchen.
1. Choose appliances that complement the experience
Microwaves are handy and all, but there's something about heading outdoors to cook your food with your hands that taps into a more creative, fulfilling part of the brain — which is part of why Williams is such a huge fan of the gas-powered pizza ovens like the Ooni Koda 16.
"The analog feel is what makes the product so appealing and relatable," he says. "I can feel the life in the oven. I can feel the gentle vibration of the gas running through the pipes.... Fired ovens tend to have a natural 'feel' to them, as fire is as elemental as humans get to their ancestors and history/culture."
After all, dining outdoors is a way to feel more connected to nature, and adding in elements that offer a more sensory experience — like smells, visuals, and sounds — creates a more connected feel among the party. "'The 'feel' is irreplaceable," Williams says.
2. Center the space around meals
Think for a minute: What type of foods do you always cook when entertaining? "What do your friends and family love to eat? What do you love to cook the most?" Williams invites you to ask yourself. (So if you're always rounding up the crew for a Friday pizza-and-wine night, the Ooni Koda 16 would make perfect sense in your space.)
Once you've answered that question, the design of the rest of the area can follow. By optimizing the flow for prep, cooking, and serving to coincide with socializing (think: a prep space that faces toward the primary gathering spot instead of away from it), you can continue to feel connected to your loved ones while you cook.
3. Blend aesthetic with efficiency
While you can add flair with paint, plants, and lighting, optimizing for efficiency will take your outdoor hang-out zone to the next level (and make it a space you really enjoy using). "Functionality and efficiency always takes the cake," Williams says. "Build a functional kitchen that is powerful and pleasurable to work in."
That means prioritizing the elements that will effect the way you experience cooking (and the way your food tastes) first, and decor elements second. "A kitchen is a lot like a comfortable bed: You will be the one who has to sleep in it night after night, so buy the bed that is right for you and how you feel," Williams says.
Setting up a seamless al fresco space is an investment that you'll want to enjoy season and after season. So spacious or cozy, that means building out features and nooks that will intuitively work alongside your lifestyle.