ACCESS ALL AREAS: Inside Brakes’ innovation and menu development centre

Food and equipment supplier Brakes has opened a 1,000 square metre development kitchen facility in Reading that will give operators a unique platform to train chefs, devise menus and test equipment. FEJ was given a tour of the new hub and asked executive chef Mark Irish to pick out five things that will really make a difference to the way customers work.

1. Individual work stations

The latest investment from Brakes is a fully-equipped innovation centre dedicated to supporting, developing and growing the company’s products, staff and customers. The facility is a collection of communal spaces that includes a giant development kitchen and an adjacent presentation and theatre kitchen for smaller groups.

The primary kitchen features six individual workstations that are designed to ensure visitors get the hands-on experience they require. While Brakes’ existing and well-established training facility in Covent Garden features more of a traditional set-up, the creation of standalone work areas gives it a clear USP that will allow it to meet a wide range of culinary purposes.

“What we want to be able to do is host chef competitions, run workshops and master-classes, and help operators with recipe sign-off,” explains Irish. “In order to be able to do that chefs need somewhere to work, so it was important that we had these pods to be able to do that.”

Each station contains an Adventys induction hob, Unox convection oven, Blizzard refrigeration cabinet, storage drawers and ample prep space. “We couldn’t be too sophisticated with the kit because there is no extraction directly above, but it is good quality and functional and it allows the chef to have their own cooking environment.”

Irish says Brakes is increasingly seeing clients using induction in their own operations, so it made sense to make this technology available on each workstation, particularly as a gas hob would have brought complexities. “We know it is cleaner, potentially cheaper and more efficient, and certainly the younger chefs that are coming through are used to working with induction. It is really important that we had something that was future-proof,” he insists.

2. A cookline for all caterers

The cookline in the main development kitchen is packed with a raft of different cooking equipment to ensure that operators have access to the sort of applications likely to feature in their own kitchen environments.

“We have tried to replicate what you would expect from a standard commercial kitchen,” explains Irish. “Planchas, bar markers and equipment like that are commonplace in a lot of kitchens now, and it just delivers different results. Lincat has been very supportive in terms of kit and we really like their grills, which are very efficient.”

Combi work is done in a Unox Cheftop, with the supplier providing training on the system. “It is such a sophisticated piece of equipment. Obviously these guys are competing with Rational, they are a big brand in the market place, but I have used this a number of times now and I think it as good as a Rational, if not better. It’s very efficient and simple things like the cleaning system [which eliminates handling chemicals] are a nice touch.”

From a high-speed cooking point of view, Brakes has installed a Merrychef oven, which it says a lot of its clients use. “It’s a clever piece of kit,” says Irish.

3. Volume cooking with added versatility

Brakes doesn’t have a bratt pan at its existing development kitchen in Covent Garden so getting access to one was high on its list of priorities when it came to Reading.

“It is really vital for a lot of the work that we do with contract caterers,” says Irish. “We are often doing batch recipes and we need to test that in volume because that is the way they cook. With a bratt pan you can also use it as a deep fat fryer, you can poach, you can shallow fry in it, you can do just about anything in it, and it is something I have grown up with. If a fryer ever went down we could use it for that, so it is a versatile piece of kit.”

Although Brakes has a walk-in chiller and freezer, it doesn’t currently have a blast chiller. An impinger oven is another product that Irish would ideally like but can’t find room for at the moment.

However, he says that if there is a specific piece of kit that a client wants to work with that Brakes doesn’t have then it will attempt to bring it in or, for demonstrations, its chefs will travel to the client’s site.

4. Big screen recording capability

The main development kitchen and smaller theatre kitchen both have flat-screen TVs that provide visitors with live close-up footage of the dishes being built by either Brakes’ development chef team or the operators’ own chefs. Individual work stations can also be filmed, allowing progress to be monitored from outside the room if required.

“We have got the facility to record and capture stills, which is useful when demonstrating product and even kit. We have just had a hotel group in that we are supporting with menu changes and we did about 20 dishes, recorded them and captured stills. They will now use those as part of their training processes so they don’t have to replicate it. Things like the audio-visual facilities are about adding more value to the partnership with clients.”

5. Taking customers on a foodservice journey

The Brakes Innovation Centre, which covers an entire floor previously used by the company for hot-desking space, is located at the same site as one of its main UK food and logistics depots. That’s an important point as far as Irish is concerned as it means it can provide customers with a complete picture of its services, from providing individual ingredients and products to menu development and equipment services.

“If we want to take clients on a depot tour and show them that part of the business then we can do that, and then we’ll bring them here to the kitchen afterwards and bring the food to life. It works really well, particularly if we are courting new business as we can take them on a bit of a journey.”

The Innovation Centre also contains a fully decorated market stall and coffee shop area too, creating a visual experience for customers that reinforces its position as both a food and equipment supplier.

“If we want to do a big pitch then we can set it up with bakery, produce, meat and fish so that it feels like the client is walking into a market place on a Saturday morning to collect their groceries. They can grab a coffee and then come into the kitchen and start cooking. That is the experience that we want to create and we are really proud of it.”

Brakes Innovation Centre: Spec sheet

The investment that Brakes has made in its Innovation Centre totals more than £750,000. The value of the catering equipment alone is £175,000. It worked closely with its Brakes Catering Equipment division in the design and fit-out of the facility.

Adventys: Induction hobs
Blizzard: Refrigeration
Brakes Catering Equipment: Kitchen design and install
Bridge Extraction: Ventilation
CED: Fabrication
Lincat: Bratt pan, gas range, chargrill, salamander
Maidaid Halcyon: Dishwasher
Merrychef: High-speed ovens
Southcroft Engineering: Fabrication
Unox: Combination oven & convection ovens

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