Ovens are a culinary mainstay, whether it’s for cooking pizzas, roasting meats, preparing casseroles or baking pastries. Yet the oven landscape is as varied as the products that go into them. There’s the high-tech wizardry of combi- and rapid-cook ovens; large-batch baking ovens that cook bread and pastries to perfection; countertop toaster, multi-purpose and pizza-conveyor ovens; or specialty ovens for ethnic cuisine.
An operator’s comparison shopping could include a checklist of important features: wood-fired, gas-fired, electric or charcoal; small or large footprint; vented or ventless; portable or fixed; programmable or non-programmable — the list goes on.
THE RIGHT OVEN FOR THE RIGHT SPACE
Executive chef Alessandro Vianello of Gooseneck Hospitality in Vancouver, says oven choices for the various types of operations depend on various factors — from power supply to menu offerings. A mainstay in the Bufala pizza operations is a double-stack Baker’s Pride oven. “There are so many variables when picking a deck oven. [For example] when we opened that outlet, there was no hood, it only allowed for electrical.”
Vianello has worked with wood-burning ovens in the past and says he would love to work with them again, but notes the venting requirements would add to the costs exponentially. “It’s very different. Electric is very controlled and easier to work with for a variety of people. Woodburning takes a lot of management because temperatures can fluctuate.” For Wildebeest, Gooseneck’s upscale dining establishment, Vianello counts on two Alto-Shaam combi-ovens. “They’re nice to have because there isn’t a lot of space involved. I can use them for smoking, steaming, roasting and even baking bread.”
For that particular operation, he also appreciates the temperature accuracy and speed he can achieve compared to a traditional deck or convection oven. “With the new functions, you can have different probes and can set a program and get the same product every time.” “Combi-ovens have become increasingly technical,” says Paul Douglas, president of GBS Foodservice Equipment Inc. “The magic is making the most out of an appliance that can be a true benefit to any kitchen. Often, however, a combi is under underutilized as kitchen turnover makes continuity of execution difficult.”
A BAKER’S DOZEN, OR TWO
Large-batch cooking is something George Brown College’s culinary program has well in hand with its new large-quantity baking lab. At the heart of the operations are two large ovens: a rotating-shelf oven from Picard and a stone-deck model from Doyon. Both feature steam injection for baking breads, as well as custards and delicate cakes. Each can be programmed for specific products using variable temperatures and moisture levels throughout a baking cycle.
As Christine Walker, interim director of Hospitality and Culinary Programs explains, “We needed two different styles because of the type of baking. Pastry chefs prefer to bake bread on a stone deck, but like rotating shelf ovens when they need more even temperatures.”
The Doyon oven was chosen for its versatility and temperature control, she says. The Picard takes up to 30 trays at once, which is ideal when classes may have upwards of 20 students baking at a time. “[The capacity] allows for more repetition, which is important in developing core skills,” she says.
When designing the lab, she says the first priority was the footprint. “It’s a little smaller than other baking labs, so we had to be sure the ovens were suited to the space.” Given the parameters of the space and available power supply, it opted for electric ovens. One thing you won’t find in a baker’s lab is a convection oven, Walker says. “Most bakers avoid convection because it’s harsh on products. The air movement can collapse cakes and soufflés.”
SPEED IN SMALL PACKAGES
On the opposite end of the oven spectrum, countertop-size rapid-speed combination ovens are gaining ground in a number of QSR and institutional settings. The fastest types incorporate three technologies — microwave, convection and radiant heat — and are primarily used for individual items. A particular appeal for operators is that most have a catalytic converter, which makes them totally ventless.
“People want speed, but also want to maintain quality, whether it’s toasting sandwiches or preparing lobster tails. Almost anything can be done with them,” says Helen Roberts, food applications consultant and corporate chef at Celco Inc. in Mississauga. “As long as you have power and a countertop, you pretty much have a plug-and-play situation.” Beyond the ventilation challenges for operators, real estate inside kitchens is becoming limited, she adds. “A smaller footprint allows them to push food out quickly without it being fast food. Most are programmable for different items, so anyone can use them and get consistent results.”
Newer units are available in a stackable format, making them ideal for healthcare settings. They can even be built into cabinetry to create a home-like appearance in facilities such as nursing homes.
GETTING BACK TO BASICS
Sometimes it’s not about the technology bells and whistles at all, especially when it comes to specialized cooking such as Indian cuisine. Tandoor ovens, for example, are gaining popularity in a number of operations.
Naresh Sachdev, owner of Maharaja Catering Ltd. in Surrey, B.C., has 20 three-by-three-foot tandoor ovens. He uses fixed gas-fired units in his restaurant operations and portable charcoal-tandoor ovens for outside catering events. Sachdev imports his ovens from India — paying close attention to the quality of the workmanship. He opts for 16-gauge steel exterior and clay interior. Much of the success of a tandoor oven, he says, is the quality of the insulation. “If they are not insulated properly, they won’t heat properly.”
Vikram Vij, chef/owner of Vij’s and My Shanti, says the appeal of tandoor cooking is that it has its roots in Mother Nature. “Cooking for us, as Indians, has always been part of using nature. Food was always done in the earth.”
The origins of tandoor cooking can be traced to the practice of digging holes in the ground and putting the coal inside with a small lid to control the temperature, Vij explains. “You can cure and marinate everything beautifully inside that earth oven.” Since coming to North America, Vij has worked extensively with Washington-based Wood Stone Ovens to design the perfect gas-fired tandoor ovens for baking bread in his operations. He describes them as “a beautiful drum-shape wrapped in stainless, with a small opening and only five settings. If the opening is too big, your heat will dissipate too quickly. If it’s too small, however, your bread will get burnt. Wood Stone mastered this extremely well. “
Each oven measures four-by-four feet and stands 33-inches high. With costs ranging between $5,000 to $6,000. “Newer models are a bit more efficient and require less cleanup. Because the heat is contained, they’re also more environmentally friendly.”
Despite his love for tradition, Vij says he actually trained in classical French cooking and because of that, he also has a great deal of respect for new technology innovation. “When you look at things like Rational combi-ovens, they can cook everything from rice to naans to curries. Technology is brilliant.”
Written by Denise Deveau