In his five and a half years in New Zealand, Sammy Karlin has certainly racked up the airpoints miles. As National Design and Projects Manager for Burns & Ferrall, it often falls to him to travel the country and check up on the various projects running around the country – sometimes as far afield as Fiji.
“The Marriott Hotel in Fiji has probably been my most memorable project,” he told Restaurant & Café. “I had the highest and lowest points of my career on that one.”
A quick trip to Fiji was small-fry, however, compared to his previous role in his native South Africa. He held a similar position at Vulcan Catering, South Africa’s largest manufacturer and marketer of catering equipment, except this time he wasn’t looking after a whole country – he was managing an entire continent.
“I went everywhere,” he said. “We did a hotel in Uganda. The chefs were using a tree stump as a cutting block, and there were lots of nasty things hiding in the cracks of the wood. They offered me lunch, and I politely declined.”
In Zanzibar, he was called in to help refurbish a hotel which had burnt down. “There had been a power cut, so the chefs had gone and built a fire inside their combi oven. We had a look around and the chefs were all standing there innocently and saying they didn’t know what had happened. So we opened up the oven and there were the remains of this fire that they’d started to cook food. I don’t think they quite understood the limits of the equipment.”
Karlin has been involved in the hospitality industry in every way. He washed dishes, waited tables and eventually rose up the ranks to ownership. The transition from worker to designer came when Johannesburg’s Lanseria International Airport, where Karlin co-owned a restaurant, underwent a total renovation to accommodate larger planes. Part of the upgrades included extending Karlin’s establishment over two floors. Karlin helped with the plans, and his career took another turn.
Other than a few courses in South Africa, Karlin is mainly self-trained. He keeps up with trends by attending design seminars but has found that the seminars offer design solutions which are years ahead of what restaurant owners actually want. When food delivery apps like UberEats were taking off overseas, Karlin was recommending to restaurant owners in New Zealand that they should be setting aside kitchen space exclusively for UberEats. “People didn’t want it then, but now it has become such a big part of some businesses.”
The most significant change Karlin has seen is the shift to smaller kitchens as technology evolves. “Back when I first started, you’d need five pieces of equipment and five staff to do five different jobs. Now we have one piece of equipment to do those jobs, so everything is much smaller.”
Close consultation is vital when it comes to kitchen design. Karlin has team members based all around the country who can keep an eye on ongoing projects and make sure that the client is getting what is best for them.
“It’s not always easy,” Karlin said. “We need to balance the clients wants with their needs, which are not always the same thing. Then we have to factor in legislation, so that adds another layer.”
Karlin’s most recent challenge has been taking the Burns & Ferrall Great Container Kitchen from idea to reality. He designed, project-managed and helped install the components at every stage of construction. The initial idea came in around February, with the intention of launching it at the Fine Foods Show in Auckland at the end of June.
“I’ve done a number of container kitchens in my time, but this one was different,” he explained. “They were all production kitchens but this one had to be both a kitchen and a café, so what was already a tight space became even tighter. It also had to have enough grunt to feed 100 people without any issues. Therein lay my dilemma – I had to find my way around a smaller area and also leave enough space for service.”
The initial design process was collaborative, with input from Karlin’s team and others within Burns & Ferrall. First and foremost, the space had to be functional. “It couldn’t just look good,” said Karlin. “Whoever wins the container could be doing Mexican food, Italian food, Asian food; we had to make a kitchen that could accommodate any cooking style.”
Unsurprisingly, construction was the hardest part. Most projects have a twelve-week lead time, but this one was a lot shorter. Equipment had to be air-freighted in from around the world. The construction took place on-site at CSL Containers and wasn’t without its dramas.
The launch was a success, with Karlin getting more requests to design container kitchens. Now the container is complete and waiting to be won, with the winner to be announced at the Foodfirst Gala Dinner on 11 March 2019. So where would Karlin choose to put it, if he had the chance?
“I live in Gulf Harbour, so when we were making it I was picturing it at Orewa Beach. It’s a beautiful area and has lots of foot traffic. I think it would be perfect.”