Five Equipment Trends to Watch in 2020


Change is a given in the foodservice industry. From high to low tech, operators are constantly finding unique ways to incorporate new — and sometimes old — ideas into their business. Here are five trends that will drive equipment-purchasing decisions in the coming year.

There’s always a healthy demand for high-tech innovation in a kitchen. But, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s an equally compelling movement afoot in the centuries-old practice of open-fire cooking.

From custom barbecues and grills to pizza ovens, bonfires and hearths, the attraction of open-fire cooking continues to grow.

Executive chef Andrew Richardson from Vancouver’s Elisa and CinCin, has long been a champion of open-fire equipment. The appeal for chefs lies in its traditional roots, he says. “It’s a starting point for most cultures.”

He sees the growing appeal as part of a trend away from the use of advanced equipment. “It’s more authentic and primal and delivers powerful flavours. Cooking with fire is a very romantic thing that captures the imagination. Once people experience it, it’s hard to leave
it behind.”

A true showpiece at Elisa is his Grillworks Infierno, a 6-by-3-ft. wood-fired grill he uses to experiment with multiple methods of cooking with fire, embers and ash.

“It’s not just about grilling now. Once you get going you can throw all sorts of [food] in the embers and ash. It also has an oven-box feature that’s ideal for slow cooking.”

Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality features open-fire cooking in a number of its locations. But the latest iteration is open-hearth cooking at its recently opened Babel Mediterranean restaurant in Toronto.

“It’s more primitive compared to an open grill because it’s all wood based and you’re cooking with embers,” says Anthony Walsh, corporate executive chef. “It’s one of the most remarkable ways of cooking because you can’t achieve the nuances and textures any other way.”

Hearth cooking also packs a visual and sensory punch for diners, he adds. “It captures their imagination before they even sit down. Ten or 15 years ago you wouldn’t have seen these things. Now they’re turning up everywhere.”

Sustainability will continue to be a top priority for operators in all sectors. From energy and water efficiency and recycling programs, to compostable packaging and food-waste disposal, organizations are constantly looking for better ways to conserve resources and address the concerns of today’s socially conscious customers.

It will no longer be enough to set up recycling stations and eliminate plastic straws. Restaurateurs in all sectors will be digging deep into their energy-, water- and food-waste-management practices to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint and gain efficiencies.

On-demand ventilation, warewashers with built-in heat-recovery systems, ventless appliances, green-energy alternatives and biodegradable packaging will all play a part in pushing the sustainability envelope.

CN Tower’s recent LEAF certification is testament to its ongoing efforts in the areas of water conservation, recycling and food-waste reduction.

One key equipment investment on that front has been an Orca machine — a system that uses microorganisms to break down food waste, leaving only grey water that can be safely returned to the municipal wastewater system. The system can consume 100 lbs. of food waste an hour, says John Morris, executive chef. “The beauty of it is, it gets rid of the food waste without having to truck it to a composting facility and adding to your carbon footprint. Moving forward, we would love to close the loop and capture that grey water for use on gardens.”

Tacofino Restaurants in Vancouver is focusing part of its recycling and waste-reduction efforts on fryer oil. Not only does it send its used fryer oil for conversion to biofuel, it’s also invested in self-filtering fryers to reduce overall oil consumption and disposal.

As for packaging, operators are increasingly moving to compostable takeout containers on all fronts. Chris Zielinski, culinary director at MLSE says for three years the company has focused on compostable packaging, which now accounts for 80 per cent of its packaging.

With real estate at a premium, operators are learning to squeeze more functionality into smaller footprints.

“I’ve seen restaurants getting innovative in how they can execute incredible food in a small space, such as smaller menus, using equipment like combi-ovens without hoods or going the commissary route,” says Jenny Companion, Eastern VP at The Fifteen Group in Toronto.

Items increasingly being used to fit the bill include combi-ovens, ventless equipment, rapid-cook ovens and anything that fits a countertop or can be wheeled in and out when needed.

“When you’re in small spaces, stackability is important,” says Morgan Hunter, executive chef at Hôtel Monville in Montreal. “And any [equipment] that can perform multiple tasks is a must. The RATIONAL we have helps us out tremendously, even for sous vide. We’re also lucky to have a Merrychef for quick cooking.”

Hemant Bhagwani, owner/chef of Toronto-based restaurant PŌPA, has a long history of working in food courts and setting up kitchens in spaces less than 500 sq. ft. He refined his equipment choices to the point where he can function with a ventless counter size RATIONAL combi-oven, electric pressure cooker and air fryer. “I can do almost everything I need to do with just those three items.”

While Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) has plenty of kitchen space for its main food production, Chris Zielinski, the company’s culinary director, says combi-ovens play an important role in smaller areas. “You can potentially replace four pieces of equipment with one in areas like the training facilities, where there are smaller kitchens feeding fewer people. Another game changer for us has been ventless fryers — they pay for themselves in less than a year.”

If anyone knows about managing small spaces, it’s Gino Di Domenico, managing partner with Tacofino Restaurants. “Having started as a food-truck business, we learned quickly how to work in a small space and do the most with the least space possible.”

Commissary kitchens have also been a resource from the outset and continue to play a role in its expansion into restaurant locations. “We’re able to use a single space to make fresh food for all our outlets without taking up space in prime real estate,” says Di Domenico. “I’d say we save about two-thirds the space in our prep area that way.”

The rise in delivery service is pushing some operations to forego a storefront, he adds. “You can open up a commissary kitchen and run five businesses out of it. That’s attractive for people who just want to pump food out.”

The open-concept kitchen continues to move to the forefront as restaurants and food markets strive to play up the visual element of food production. From sleek hot and cold grab-and-go displays and reach-in refrigerators and hot tables, to curing cabinets and live chef stations, more consumers are gravitating to the experiential aspect of watching food preparation on full display.

Display cooking is a concept that’s proven to be wildly successful in the rapidly growing chef-led food-hall space. At McEwan Yonge and Bloor in Toronto, for example, shoppers can watch almost every aspect of food preparation as they shop.

Beyond the essential RATIONAL and Merrychef ovens and grills, the location added some show stoppers of note, including an Alto-Shaam rotisserie, a custom-built brick deck pizza oven and a see-through dry-aging cabinet.

“Nothing is hidden,” says executive chef Kris Topping. “Anyone coming in can see the chefs using all the equipment as they prepare the food onsite. They like to see what’s happening and interact with the chefs.”

Oliver & Bonacini’s Bannock is one of several sites featuring display cases that speak to the inner workings of the kitchen operations. “What we’re doing is taking the processes we take for granted in the kitchen, such as salumi, various mustards and meat curing, and putting them on display,” says Anthony Walsh, corporate executive chef. “We’re not selling them so much as showing off a bit of the culture and artistry behind what goes on in our kitchens.”

For chocolatier Thierry Busset from Thierry Chocolates, displays are more than just window dressing to showcase chocolates and macarons. For his second location, he decided to pull out all the stops and order a custom display cabinet from OCF in France.

“It’s a beautiful cabinet with sliding doors and digital temperature controls and air conditioning that can be zoned for different offerings. It’s all digital and automatically controlled. I don’t have to do a thing.”

The cocktail world is gaining a celebrity status of its own. Today’s customers are looking for unique spins on old classics and Instagrammable offerings to share with others.

Bars are an interesting world of polar opposites. There are those that push for high-tech wizardry, while others make a point of moving back to traditional methods. “Many are spending more time mixing and infusing, where you only need simple equipment to do that,” says the Fifteen Group’s Companion.

Robin Goodfellow of Bar Raval and PrettyUgly bar, and founder of Little Bones Beverage Company, sees three areas of focus that are becoming increasingly common in bars: the care and use of ice, dehydration and fermentation to reduce waste.

For anyone wanting to make a statement, ice can become a conversation piece for guests. The variations are endless, ranging from clear ice cubes to custom molds. Some bartenders have even gone old school, using the traditional method of insulating water and freezing it for sawing, chiseling or blow torching.

For operations that don’t have dollars to invest in high-end ice machines for signature ice offerings, there are third-party suppliers that can help, Goodfellow says. “If you want custom-size cubes or spheres, Iceman Toronto is an amazing company to work with. They can do pretty much anything.”

Instagrammers also love the eye appeal of fruits and garnishes. “Fruits and garnishes look good in photos,” Goodfellow says. “All you need is a dehydrator and a bit of labour and you’re off to the races.”

Fermentation not only adds a distinctive signature to drinks, it’s also a great way to repurpose surplus juice or syrup, he says. “Operations are becoming way more environmentally conscious about waste. However, house fermentation does take a bit more skill. I expect we’ll start seeing more bartenders becoming skilled in pasteurization and fermentation programs to create really cool and unique drinks.”

For high-volume venues such as MLSE’s Real Sports Bar & Grill, Nic Chajoglou, beverage manager says it’s all about speed of service. But that doesn’t mean they can’t add an eye-catching twist. One of his favourite tools is the Ripple Maker that can recreate any photo, logo or message in foam. “It’s a great way to personalize a cocktail.”

Written by Denise Deveau

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