Say kitchen garden and you’d probably imagine neat rows of vegetables grown from seed, or perhaps a carefully-tended allotment. But today, such is the way of trends, a kitchen garden means an actual kitchen, in the garden! But is this a sensible idea? I say not especially…
From a cultural perspective, I feel we Brits do not really do outdoor cooking. Certainly not in the manner of our South African or Australian cousins, for whom a Braai or BBQ is practically a national institution. Admittedly we have a historical love of the great outdoors, but this tends to end in a Ploughman’s at the local pub, preferably in front of a roaring fire. Instead I’d posit that we merely flirt with the notion of al fresco grilling at special events like school fairs and parties for our summer-born friends. It’s more adventurous exception than rule. I blame it entirely on our unpredictable weather. After all, what’s the point of investing in all that kit to have it consigned to the shed for most of the year? Thus, it is with some surprise that I hear that sales of outdoor kitchens are on the rise in the UK. Then again, perhaps this exhibits another inherently British trait, namely the triumph of optimism over reality.
Come summertime, naturally we imagine how marvellous it might be if balmy evenings spent supping sophisticated drinks, snacking on tapas and chatting with friends until the sun goes down, were a regular part of life. However, Britain is no California with its eternally temperate climes, low-slung verandas and indoor/outdoor fireplaces tucked neatly under fragrant, bougainvillea-strewn canopies.
So, where is this alleged trend for garden cooking coming from?
On balance I feel it’s simply a continuation of the prevailing improve-don’t-move mentality. Today, in an increasingly desperate bid to avoid a costly move, homeowners contemplate anything that might make their homes feel larger, or more luxurious. Thus, with much English housing stock dating from the Victorian era, filling in and roofing over its characteristic rear side return has been the kitchen extension du jour for a while. The obvious next step then is to stretch that newly-expanded cookspace even further out into the garden. The concept being, no doubt, to make more use of it. All it takes is a switching up of the floor, counter and carcass materials as required to be weather-worthy and in one architectural master stroke, an existing run of units can appear to flow through glazing, thus dissolving the boundaries between inside and out, and making everything seem lighter, brighter and ergo bigger. Plus, when outdoor entertaining, no more nipping back indoors to check on the chipolatas!
But, if this seems a touch too labour intensive…
A frankly genius Dutch company called WWOO has designed an off the shelf, concrete outdoor kitchen that literally has everything you need to install a ready-made exterior room including the kitchen sink in one go. It’s fully customisable, comes in modular parts, and you basically configure it to suit your space and then hang it on an existing wall, or stand it up wherever you please! The only thing to add is a Kamado-style ceramic charcoal grill, the BBQ of the moment, which looks like a big green egg (see below) and is named after the Japanese word for a cooker, and you’re ready to grill, bake or smoke to your heart’s content.
Nevertheless, while the eggs are very much the ‘in’ thing right now, as far as I’m concerned, the look of a traditional brick Pizza oven will never date. And you can even build your own from an ever growing catalogue of kits, check out the reassuringly basic www.pizzaovensupplies.co.uk.
But what would I actually recommend…
On a purely cost per probable use basis, I’d suggest you give the whole permanent fitted exterior kitchen idea a massive miss. Instead, concentrate on upgrading your patio with a simple fire pit or clay chimenea: basically a fireplace on legs, most of which can be adapted to incorporate a grill. (I quite like the one I’ve linked to below, but I confess, not found one I absolutely love yet). Most importantly, they’re super handy because they’re incredibly easy to store when the weather inevitably turns.
Likewise, unless you have an extremely capacious shed or basement, I think most dedicated outdoor furniture is a bit of a waste of time too, unless it really can withstand the winter and stay outside all year round without the need for arduous springtime maintenance. I’d say you were always better off to build in some permanent brick seating which will patina beautifully over time. And I’d make it an extension of similarly brick-built periphery planters and there’s loads of good images on Pinterest to give you some inspiration. Add a bunch of your regular indoor cushions, throw down a few outdoor rugs (IKEA has some great inexpensive options) and some insect-repelling candles, and you might just be on your way to creating a low-maintenance, easily enjoyable Californian-esque idyll right here in Blighty after all.
A version of this piece was first published online in the Neptune.com Journal