Ease and Efficiency are Driving Operators’ Equipment Choices

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As the nerve centre of any restaurant, when it comes to sourcing equipment for the kitchen, only the best will do. Budgets, available space and energy efficiency are only a few factors restaurateurs need to consider. From basic functionality to high-tech bells and whistles such as sensors and Wi-Fi capabilities, today’s operators are demanding more from their equipment.

Equipment suppliers are recognizing this need for constant innovation and bringing many great new products to market. Here’s a look at a few of the latest trends across popular equipment categories along with a few not-so-common items capturing the attention of chefs across the country.

The News on Induction
Innovation in ovens and ranges may have slowed but it hasn’t stopped entirely. Where heat and energy consumption are top-line issues, induction technology still reigns supreme, according to Patrick Watt, principal, A Day in Life Foodservice Development, a foodservice consultancy in Saint John, N.B. “The main thing about induction is that it’s very energy efficient and because the pot absorbs the heat, it doesn’t go into the air. The best part is suppliers are upgrading controls all the time. We’re looking at a constant refinement of a good thing. For example, Vollrath has a soup well (that uses induction technology). It sells for approximately $700 and can maintain even heat all day long.”

New induction equipment configurations, from griddle tops to holding wells and woks, can allow for more creative island suites, he says.

Adding small kettles for batch cooking is a great energy-efficient option for smaller restaurants, Watt adds. “A 60-seat restaurant can combine a 12-gallon kettle with induction burners on the line, for example.”

For Duff Lampard, executive chef of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), the one limitation to induction equipment is that it increases the need for electrical outlets. But there may be a solution to that, he says. “We’re looking at new military-grade battery pack systems that last up to six hours. If that comes to fruition in terms of cost and efficiency, a lot of operations will move that way.”
One of the biggest champions of induction is John Horne, district executive chef for Toronto-based Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants and executive chef at Canoe in Toronto. His restaurants use a wide array of portable and standalone Garland units, as well as a “monster setup” at Auberge du Pommier and Canoe.

“I’ve always loved it because 100 per cent of the energy goes straight into the pot. It’s safer and easier for cooks,” says Horne. He points to new enhancements that allow users to put the pot anywhere on the glass top so cooks can have a multitude of pots and pans running on the same board.

Ovens in Action
Interestingly, an area that is showing the fastest growing rate of adoption is quick-cooking ovens. During the last two or three years, Watt says he’s seen increased requests for rapid-cook ovens from truck stops to nursing homes.

“With an entry point of about $7,000, they’re not a light investment. But you can get ones with catalytic converters so you can cook without a hood, eliminating the need to pay extra for a dedicated ventilation system.”

The big news is what’s going on inside these ovens, Watt adds. “Manufacturers like TurboChef, Merrychef and Amana are coming up with accessories like Panini presses, grills and pizza stones to make them more versatile so smaller restaurants can expand their menu choices beyond just heating up sandwiches.”

Chef James Smith, chair, Culinary Programs and Operations for the Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts program at Centennial College in Toronto, has had plenty of time and budget ($750,000 to $1 million) to check out new technologies for its newly expanded kitchen facilities project.

When it comes to choosing ovens, he admits that super high tech isn’t his focus. “We’re looking at traditional Garland and Vulcan gas ranges. From a student learning point of view they make the most sense for learning basic techniques. The key thing is longevity and ease of maintenance and cleaning. For baking we’re looking at Blodgett and Cinelli-Esperia.”

Combi-ovens continue to increase in versatility as chefs expand their functionality, from steaming and sous vide to smoking. Aesthetics and size are also coming into play, Watt notes. “We’re seeing a growth in mini/countertop combis. Alto-Shaam is also getting into funky colours as operators think more about open kitchen and front-of-the-house apps.”

One of the fastest-growing trends on the combi-oven front is using them for sous vide. “A good combi with good controls can do it,” Watt says. “Sous vide allows food to cook in a sealed environment to intensify flavours. A combi can maintain a 1+/- cooking temperature with high humidity for constant heat transfer. The biggest benefit is that it allows operations to do higher volume sous vide items in a single unit.”

Rational offers combis with wireless communications that allow chefs to input data and upload recipes. “That’s a cool system for students to be able to use for the events space because they can search for events and recipes and upload information on weight and mass. One cloud-based service features up to 10,000 recipes you can access,” says Smith.

As the popularity of artisanal pizzas continues to grow, wood-burning ovens continue to capture attention from operators, especially with the advent of smaller models — although many operations are using a combination of gas/wood burning or just gas because of code and venting restrictions.

“We’ve done a lot of gas ovens lately,” says Danny Collis, president, Collis Group Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont. “Once people realize solid fuel or coal requires its own ventilation system and would add thousands of dollars to the costs, they tend to go with gas, which has a minimal impact on taste or cooking time.”

Coming in from the Cold
Given its longevity and size, refrigeration system innovation tends to focus on energy efficiency and food safety.

The most significant trend on the refrigeration front is the conversion to propane, Watt says. This year, True was the first supplier in North America to launch a commercial refrigeration product line that uses hydrocarbon/propane refrigerants. “Propane is the biggest news in refrigeration because of True’s work. Between propane and LED lighting, it all goes back to energy efficiency and the environment,” says Watt.

Because refrigeration lines are increasingly monitored by health officials, Watt says refrigeration drawer units such as Randell’s FX Series from Unified Brands are gaining ground. There is also work being done by Norbec on the walk-in side with panel insulation to improve fire ratings.

Centennial’s Smith says the main technology advancement he’s looking for in walk-in refrigeration and freezing is “full-on certified zonal temperature control. If you go to the Food Terminal, they have refrigerators the size of football fields with 21 different temperature zones and no walls. That’s a wicked technology.”

Blast chilling is another cold product item that’s gaining momentum these days, says Collis. “We’re seeing more specs from consultants for blast-chilling systems because it’s the safest way to bring down food temperatures so bacteria won’t set in.”

Choice is dictated by what combi-ovens are in use since blast chillers use roll-in racks from the ovens and are sized specifically for the oven racks. Collis says he carries more than 60 models ranging from countertop units costing about $7,000 to large multi-room systems that run to more than $100,000. “It takes time to figure out what works.”

For Horne, the biggest trend for line fridges is the move to a smaller footprint and movability because it allows for flexibility and easier cleaning. He also likes to reconfigure his kitchen to accommodate menu changes. “Motor sizes are getting much smaller; so anything you can put on wheels makes things better.”

Airing Out
New code changes are driving a huge trend in terms of ventilation choices.

“The new ASHRAE [American Society of Refrigerating Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] 90.1 energy-efficiency baseline dictates that any facility with over 5,000 cubic feet per minute of supply air capacity requires a demand ventilation system. That’s sending a lot of restaurateurs into a bit of a frenzy, especially if they’re used to going cheap,” Collis says.

While on-demand systems cost more, “You never waste money if you go higher end with ventilation because of the energy savings,” explains Collis. “We’re installing a lot of infrared systems that can take the surface temperature of an appliance and ramp up the fans when needed.”

Mobile ventilation continues to gain attention as more systems come to market. While ovens with built-in ventilation cost more, one big advantage is that there is no need for a connection to the exhaust ductwork, so the capital costs travel with you, Watt explains. “If you’re in a leased short-term space, you’re not leaving behind your equipment investment. You can take the system with you. On the combi-oven side, Rational and Alto-Shaam have nice systems that don’t require an added hood. One vent cart from Halton is designed for induction cooking stations. Electrolux has self-contained filtering systems for mobile carts. We see a lot of those in sports stadiums.”

Cleaning for green
One equipment area that seems to have matured is warewashing. “Everyone is pretty much caught up on warewashing technology,” Collis says. “Warewashing’s biggest moment in the spotlight dates back a few years when the industry shifted to heat-recovery systems.” Today the focus on energy efficiency remains, albeit in a less dramatic fashion.

A recent area for improvement is ergonomics, says Watt. “There’s a ware-handling table from Aeroworks, for example, that allows you to lower the racking system for better body positioning. The idea has been around for a while, but is now at the point it could be transferred to smaller applications like nursing homes.”

Ventless systems are available, but Watt cautions they can add 20 to 30 seconds to a wash cycle. “If you’re a 60-seat restaurant you won’t notice the difference. But if you’re larger, it could become an issue.”
Waste-to-water systems are also a growing trend for foodservice operations in hotels, hospitals and nursing homes especially, Collis says. “They’re getting more traction with consultants for warewashing or prep areas. There are now all-natural systems like the one from Enviropure that use vitamins instead of enzymes to break down food waste within 24 hours, so you avoid the issue of grease congealing in drains.”

The cost savings are substantial, claims Collis. One larger site was paying $30,000 a month for organic waste disposal. With a waste-to-water system, its costs dropped to $6,000, while eliminating odours and the risk of vermin. A large nursing home reduced its monthly fees from $2,900 to $600 a month.

Out of the Ordinary
While the basics count, there are always specialty items that will attract a discerning chef’s attention. At Centennial College, Smith has his eye on a commercial-size sheeter from Cinelli-Asperia (cost is between $10,000 and $20,000) for the baking kitchen that will allow them to pre-roll pastry for flash freezing.

For MTCC’s Lampard, a major point of pride is two state-of-the-art dry aging meat cabinets from Stagianelli in Italy. “Today’s clients are much more knowledgeable about food and trends so expectations are much higher.” The cabinets (ranging in price from $20,000 to $35,000 a unit) feature the latest technology perks, including temperature, humidity and PH-monitoring systems and built-in recipe capabilities.

Oliver & Bonacini’s Horne says charcoal is quickly gaining ground in restaurants. “Last year it was [wood] smokers. This year it’s charcoal. Those little Japanese charcoal grills are cool. You can stick them anywhere, and they cost from $500 to $1,000.”

Wireless temperature monitoring is another area gaining traction with operators, Collis adds. “We’re having a lot of success with Cooper-Atkins. The devices are extremely inexpensive and can be retrofitted to everything from heating cabinets to refrigeration systems.”

Whether shelling out thousands for big-ticket items, or adding smaller fixtures to the kitchen repertoire, there are many areas where operators and chefs can invest to turn their kitchens into well-oiled machines.

Written By: Denise Deveau

Volume 48, Number 6

 

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