Choice Chillers: Exploring Refrigeration Trends

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Whether it’s the massive demands of a convention centre prepping meals for thousands or a local food truck serving up frozen delights, choosing refrigeration and freezing equipment is key.

For many chefs and operators, the basics are generally a matter of finding the most energy-efficient systems with the appropriate capacity. A few bells and whistles, such as Wi-Fi connectivity, automated temperature controls, built-in sensors and alarms, remote monitoring or eye-catching LED lighting on refrigerated display cases may also come into play.

Some operations go the extra mile to customize the perfect design for their business — from uniquely configured walk-in or special-purpose systems, to pint-sized freezer applications or portable units that can be assembled and disassembled at will.

Keeping it Efficient
At Centennial College School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts in Toronto, refrigeration has undergone a complete upgrade. “Everything is new across the board and from top to bottom,” says Rodney Bowers, professor of Culinary Arts.

The brand-new facility is home to all shapes and sizes of True (O’Fallon, Miss.) systems — from two-door reach-ins and single- and double-door freezers, to walk-in coolers and freezers, to under-the-counter refrigeration units. “That’s not even counting the grab-and-go refrigeration units in our cafe,” he says.

Centennial’s refrigeration choices speak to the school’s green agenda, Bowers notes. “The key was getting systems as efficient as they can make them, including being able to transition to low-energy mode when they’re not in use. Because we have so many units in our classrooms, they tend to be stocked daily. We don’t hold a lot of product overnight in our line fridges, which allows us to save energy by turning the compressors lower at night.”

It chose new-model True appliances for that very reason, he notes. “The insulation and compressors in the newest models increase the energy efficiency.”

Another key aspect of maintaining efficient operations is making sure there’s plenty of air flow around the units. “Regular maintenance is one of the biggest things you can do. It’s important to keep the systems clean and dust free to minimize the chance of failure,” he says. To that end, all systems (except for walk-ins) are on wheels so they can be rolled out for easy maintenance.

Protecting your Assets
At The International Centre in Mississauga, Ont., having reliable refrigeration systems in tip-top shape at all times is critical, says Tawfik Shehata, executive chef. The refrigeration system includes walk-in coolers and freezers, as well as reach-in and under-the-counter refrigeration units. Out on the convention floor, the team also has 60 mobile and fixed merchandising units.

Three of the four walk-in coolers are linked internally, allowing the space to bring in a plating conveyor system for large-scale events. There’s also a hand-wash sink installed so staff can work more efficiently within the temperature-controlled environment. The freezers feature movable racking systems to create more space when needed.

Unlike the college, where fridges are emptied at night, the International Centre’s Hussmann (Bridgeton, Miss.) refrigeration systems hold more than $80,000 worth of inventory at any given time. To prevent any potential failures, the Centre has a protocol temperature-control system with built in three-level alarm redundancy: at the individual fridge thermostats, the fire panel is monitored 24/7 by security guards and, more recently, every fridge and freezer has a dedicated IP probe. “The protocol unit can send one alarm and the probes will tell them exactly the fridge and the temperature,” Shehata explains.

He says he’s always on the lookout for flexible ways to manage the International Centre’s refrigeration needs and often rents temporary units when needed. “I’ve also been checking out portable, collapsible refrigerators such as the Versa-Cool system from Beverage-Air (Vernon Hills, Ill.). It’s like a piece of IKEA furniture, where you can roll out the compressor, clip together panels and fit in some shelving in about 15 minutes…as long as you have the right Allen keys.”

Something Special
For some operations, even a product as pedestrian as refrigeration can have its moment in the spotlight.

At West Restaurant + Bar in Vancouver, a point of pride is its wine wall. The floor-to-ceiling refrigerated open-bin system keeps up to 5,000 bottles chilled at exactly the right temperature. A constant stream of cool air runs over the bottles 24/7 and temperatures can be adjusted in each bin by simply sliding the built-in vents.

Unlike other refrigeration systems in the bar area that have their own compressors, the wine wall’s compressor is located on the roof, where it pumps the cold air down a three-inch gap in the wall.

According to Owen Knowlton, restaurant and wine director, even when the restaurant went through recent renovations, the wine wall remained intact. “That’s one thing we won’t change. That wine wall is the focal point of the entire room; it’s the first thing customers see.”

Calgary’s charbar restaurant boasts a humidity- and temperature-controlled ultra-dry-aging refrigeration unit at the host stand. There, short loins are aged 80 to 100 days.

When the system was installed four years ago, it was the only one of its kind in Canada, says Jessica Pelland, executive chef. “The owner, John [Jackson] was very passionate about showcasing Alberta beef and wanted to bring that amazing dry-aged experience to Calgary.”

Dry aging is typically very inefficient in terms of space, moisture loss and low yields compared to wet aging, Pelland explains. “John did an incredible amount of shopping and found this Maturmeat Arredo Inox unit from Italy. It was the only place he could find something like this.”

The eight-foot-tall glass-fronted unit is specifically designed to accelerate the dry-aging process. It makes it more efficient by controlling the temperature, humidity and PH balance to minimize moisture loss while promoting the bacteria growth needed to maximize the flavour. Because of the advanced technology, it can dry age meats in half the time of other systems.

“The nice thing about the machine is it tracks everything and generates reports. From a food-safety standpoint, that makes me feel good,” Pelland says.

Beyond the safety and speed, she adds, “It’s a showstopper for sure. The dry-aging chamber is the first thing people see when they walk into the building — even though the café directly on the left has a roaster. It’s a really great conversation piece.”

Not every innovation has to be a floor-to-ceiling display. The owners of Truckin’ Roll food truck in Charlottetown create their Asian-inspired rolled ice-cream treats on a small “ice fryer” they bought in Asia. The plate goes to -22˚C to instantly freeze the cream mixture.

Another addition in the tiny refurbished vintage postal truck is a mini fridge-sized Kegerator (Chico, Cali.) unit with a CO2 pressurized system. “It’s quite unique. Not many people keg their own ice-cream base,” co-owner Jalen Macleod says.

Whether frying up ice cream, or plating thousands of entrées on a walk-in conveyor setup, refrigeration technology can be many things to many operations — sight unseen or otherwise.

Written by Denise Deveau

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