Hot Commodities: Exploring Oven Selection

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For many chefs, one or two combi ovens or a convection oven are enough to fill their day-to-day needs. But when the scope goes beyond a smaller restaurant operation, oven choices get a lot more complicated.

At the Drake Commissary in Toronto, there’s a full contingent of ovens working their magic on everything from baking pastries to curing and smoking proteins. The location encompasses a wide range of operations, from catering prep and the main restaurant, to a bakery and café.

That requires a multitude of ovens for handling all the production needs, says chef de cuisine Jonas Grupiljonas. “We have so many different facets to our operations. So each oven is adapted to what those sections are for.”

For example, bakery output is handled by four Miwe Condo (Mississauga, Ont.) stone deck ovens for pizzas and baguettes, as well as two Miwe Econo convection ovens for croissants, burger buns and crackers. “The deck ovens are pretty good for generating a lot of steam to get that dark shiny colour on things such as our sourdoughs,” Grupiljonas says.

The Miwe stone ovens are also equipped with an Elevateur oven loader from ARIA Constructeur (Vieillevigne, France).

Two Garland (Toronto) convection ovens are used for baking fresh cookies, as well as reheating savory croissants and scones.

Then there are two RATIONAL (Mississauga, Ont.) ovens — one full size, one half size — for large day-to-day production needs, including roasting, smoking and steaming. “The RATIONALs are valuable because they save so much cleaning time and are easy to maintain,” Grupiljonas says. “The clean-down option is important.”

While he appreciates the programming features, Grupiljonas says he prefers to play it by ear. “Because our menu changes so often, we don’t want to go through the process of reprogramming the oven so many times.”

Three Garland deck ovens take care of café service needs and finishing and heating mains. There’s also a CVap cook-and-hold oven from Winston Foodservice (Louisville, Ky.) and two MerryChef (Cleveland, Ohio) rapid-cook ovens for quick heating of small to-go items such as sandwiches, muffins and pizza slices.

Grupiljonas estimates the total tab for Drake Commissary’s oven collection is about $160,000.

STICKING TO BASICS
At The Broadview Hotel in Toronto, Eric Hadley, Events and Catering chef, says he tends to stick with the basics on the oven front. His banquet event space can be set up for 150 seats or 300 standing guests.

His inventory list includes three gas ranges — two Garland and one Imperial (Corona, Calif.) — which he describes as tanks. “If you know how to use them properly, they work just fine.”

Additional items in the kitchen’s prep area include a Garland double-deck convection oven and a RATIONAL combi oven. “The convection is where we do most of our [cooking] and we use the RATIONAL for large batches,” he explains.

Like the ranges, it’s the simplicity of deck ovens that Hadley likes best. “You never have to worry about them breaking down and everyone has the parts for them. I’ve used them for years. They just go on forever. With a combi, if it goes down it can take a couple of weeks to service it. With only one, we don’t have that luxury.”

Hadley says he’s seeing more combi ovens being used for a variety of functions. “They’re great because of their versatility. They can do steaming and sous vide now. I’m seeing a lot more RATIONALs and Alto-Shaams being used for smoking. Even though they tend to be expensive, places are willing to make that investment because they can do so much more. The programmability is also great for consistency, regardless of who is working that day.”

MADE TO ORDER
The Stratford Chefs School in Stratford, Ont. was able to upgrade its oven inventory when the facility moved to a new location three years ago. “We have a whole range of equipment for single-use applications. It’s the same way you have different frying pans for different protein applications,” says Eli Silverthorne, open-kitchen manager and chef/instructor.

The newer facility is home to eight Garland gas ovens (four of which are French top), two Doyon (Menominee, Mo.) convection ovens and two Pavailler (Saint-Hubert, Que.) deck ovens primarily used for bread, pizza and high-heat applications such as Beef Wellington. “The deck ovens are great because they distribute heat from above and below,” Silverthorne says.

He says while a few of their ovens were able to be transferred from the old location, deck ovens can be more problematic. “They’re essentially built to fit the wall structure. In those cases, it’s better to simply replace them.”

Like some other seasoned chefs, Silverstone is not a huge fan of digital. That said, he’s trying to show students both classical and new-age approaches. “We do look at the different applications with combi ovens, such as steaming, poaching and sous vide. The reality is, if chefs move into an environment with combi ovens, they’ll be trained on it anyway.”

As for brand choices, Silverstone says chefs tend to be creatures of habit. “We stick with the brands we like.”

PLAYING WITH FIRE
When you have 22 restaurants under your banner, oven choices are often a central factor in creating a concept, whether it’s fine dining, pub style or ethnic fare. “We have every type of oven you can think of,” says Ben Heaton, corporate executive chef of ICONINK in Toronto. “We have wood-burning, gas-fired, deck, combi and basic ovens. Everything we use is for the specific restaurant’s purpose and intent.”

A recent addition to its repertoire is at Shook, a new Israeli concept where everything on the menu is wood fired — from bread and pastries to vegetables and proteins. The restaurant features a six-foot hearth/wide-open fireplace with different heights of grills. Steel poles run through the open fireplace for hanging vegetables for smoking. “It’s a real eye opener when people walk by. It’s amazing,” Heaton says.

Wood burning and charcoal-fuelled ovens and grills are on the rise, he notes. “There are two reasons for that. One, chefs love working with fire. The other is the way you can manipulate the smoke and flames to create different flavour variations. We like to make it difficult for ourselves.”

All of the wood ovens have been custom built to match specific use cases, he adds. “We might be looking for larger or smaller mouth, different capacities — whatever works for that concept.”

While traditional techniques may be de rigueur, Heaton says they also make sure they install RATIONALs in every kitchen. “We know how to use modern and old school to our advantage.”

In some cases, they’ll install two combis to facilitate dishes that require steaming and roasting, he adds. “They’re great because they allow us to remove the margin for error. And, they’re so intelligent now, you can press a few buttons and walk away to braise meats overnight and know you’re meeting HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points] temperature requirements. Nothing is over or under cooked. You can even boil eggs, steam vegetables or cook sous vide. It’s a requirement given the diversity of [items] on our menu.”

As with most chefs with multiple oven needs, there’s always room for traditional deck and regular ovens. “They are workhorses for a lot of kitchens,” Heaton says.

The only missing element for Heaton is a tandoori oven. “I’d like to get one down the road. I’ve never cooked with one but I think they’re pretty cool.”

Written by Denise Deveau

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