The equipment world is rapidly evolving, but it’s not all about the technology bells and whistles — although those play a prominent role. There are a number of trends afoot, from the newest induction- and laser-inspired applications to a revival of old-school practices such as fermenting and drying.
Kitchen design itself is taking on new dimensions, with modular and/or wall-mounted appliances doing their part to add flexibility and improve health and safety. As kitchen footprints shrink, restaurateurs are freeing up space with powerful, more versatile solutions.
Slow-cook and rapid-cook systems are being adopted in equal measure and there’s no shortage of nifty gadgets for the more experimental crowd, including molecular-gastronomy tools and specialized tech for pâtisserie.
Not surprisingly, much inspiration can be found in European and Asian markets, where technology such as combi-ovens, induction and sous vide have been a matter of course for years. “Europe is so far ahead with equipment,” says John Higgins, director and corporate chef at George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts. “They’ve been using combi-ovens for 20 to 30 years and they’re everywhere.”
During his travels, Toronto-based chef Susur Lee has seen restaurant designers incorporating smaller, more powerful and multi-functional equipment choices in order to accommodate smaller spaces. “I saw an appliance from Japan that can do deep frying, stewing, steaming, broiling, boiling and searing. Everything was computerized. I find that’s the direction the industry is going — having one [piece of] equipment you can do three different things on.”
There are a number of advancements happening on the equipment front — both large and small. Here’s a roundup of what some industry experts who have travelled the world have to say.
Combi-ovens may be a standard play in Europe, but Higgins says there have been some recent variations which are much smaller and more affordable for smaller operations. Garland and Rational are putting out ovens with a lot more variety and versatility, he notes. There are also a lot more ventless models, thanks to a big push for reducing environmental footprints.
Ron McKinlay, the recently appointed chef de cuisine at Canoe in Toronto, is all for appliances that are common household items in Europe and elsewhere. “One piece I love is the Thermomix super power blender. It cooks and blends to precise temperatures. You’ll find them everywhere in Europe.”
Another mainstay, he says, is induction. “Australia is changing a lot to induction because the carbon footprint is that much smaller. It’s not just that it’s cost effective, but pans last up to 10 years. And now there’s an entire range of induction equipment available, from cooktops to griddles to kettles.”
The biggest trends John Placko, chef/owner of the Modern Culinary Academy in Toronto, has seen are in sous vide, combi-ovens and induction cooktops. “I was just in Iceland earlier this year and they were using sous vide,” he says. “It’s pretty much standard in restaurants today, partly because the price [of equipment] has gone down and chefs can work with cheaper cuts, improve yields and get consistent results.”
Placko notes combi-ovens have evolved from the large-scale units with roll-in racks to units the size of a domestic wall oven for smaller restaurants. “They’re so versatile and energy efficient — and a lot smarter, so you can do things wirelessly. One of the reasons we’re seeing the growth is the availability of skilled staff is really, really tight.” On the induction side, Placko is a fan of panini grills that can turn out a grilled-cheese sandwich in 30 seconds. Another favourite gaining widespread popularity is The Control Freak induction system from U.S.-based PolyScience, which is loaded with smart features including digital displays, programmable settings and remote thermometer. “It’s an awesome machine for sous vide, deep frying and more; and it uses all sorts of sensors to constantly monitor temperatures.”
Rapid-cook ovens continue to grow in popularity, particularly in busy venues at airports and other high-traffic areas, Placko adds. Some newer models are adding eye-popping colours to the mix, such as the Turbochef Fire pizza oven that can cook a pizza in 90 seconds with a palette that includes yellow, green and bright-red units.
While McKinlay is now working in an all-induction environment at Canoe, he joins a number of chefs who also believe in preserving proper traditional cooking techniques. “Younger people need to learn to cook properly without a water bath,” he says.
One of the basic cooking trends influenced by Asian and Middle-Eastern cuisine is charcoal grilling, he says. “It’s becoming a big thing in Australia because they are so influenced by Asian cuisine. It’s as primitive a cooking method as you can get.”
Lee is also a proponent of traditional equipment and confesses he has yet to buy a combi-oven — although he hasn’t ruled out the possibility for the future. “I am old school. I always use a stove that I can turn on with fire. But I am starting to use a variety of newer things.” His latest investment is a Hobart Tilt machine for stews and sauces. “It’s really great and doesn’t burn things easily.”
Another tried-and-true traditional process making inroads in North America is fermentation.
“In Spain everyone is fermenting,” Higgins says. “You need good stainless-steel equipment and precision to do it right.”
Yan Garzon, corporate chef for Testek Inc. in Montreal, says the demand for fermenting, dehydration and charcuterie equipment is on the rise. “Tools such as sausage stuffers, meat grinders and big dehydrators are getting more popular.” A new addition still being tested at Testek is a cold-temperature dehydrator. “They used to cost $20,000; now there’s a unit that’s $7,000.”
Pressure cookers are also making a comeback, Garzon says. “Chefs are rediscovering old tools like grandma used to use.”
MAKE ROOM FOR WORKING
The need for more elbow room in smaller kitchens is leading to some interesting design innovations, notes Patrick Watt, principal with A Day in Life Foodservice Development in Saint John, N.B. “In Europe, it’s all about cleanliness, food safety and clean surfaces. I’m seeing a lot of pedestal and wall-mounted equipment to allow room underneath for cleaning. Most cooking equipment, tables and workstations are being mounted that way. Some even have hydraulic systems to adjust the height. The finishing details of equipment are also much more seamless with coved corners, which makes them easier to clean and prevents bacteria buildup.”
Another European trend is recycled content in appliances, he adds. “Europe has a big push on that. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in North America is not looking at that aspect yet.”
Vertical equipment configurations are another innovation that allow for bigger plating areas, he says. “There’s a shift to more modular and/or shallower pieces of equipment. If you’re cooking [with] induction, you can have a single-burner depth cooktop and the resting shelf above rather than on back burners.”
Perhaps some of the most “out-there” aspects of equipment design and innovation can be found in bars and pâtisseries around the world. Placko says liquid nitrogen dewars are appearing in more kitchens and cocktail bars.
Thomas Haas of Thomas Haas Chocolates in Vancouver says the pâtisserie world is seeing more industrial-grade tools making their way into the market. One entry from the food-processing world is micro-printing machines for macaroons and chocolates, which range from $8,000 to $16,000. Another is water-jet and laser cutters for cutting cakes and ganaches with absolute precision.
Haas is currently trying out a computerized truffle-filling machine developed by a German company specializing in metal parts for giant brake systems. “It’s a neat artisanal machine that’s very hygienic.”
One idea that still carries a lofty price tag is 3D printers for chocolate bars and mold making. “At this stage, it’s a novelty and not realistic for real production,” Haas says. Whether going ultra-high-tech or traditional with equipment choices, most experts will agree that a global perspective can keep you ahead of the game.
Volume 50, Number 5
Written by Denise Deveau