A South Yorkshire foodservice chain is looking at how it can further optimise the cooking equipment it uses after an investment in clam griddles led to significant gains in output and quality. FEJ examines how the new kit has reshaped its thinking.
Forum Café Bars is an eclectic chain of food outlets based across South Yorkshire, but if there is one common factor that unites the group’s individual sites it is the need to produce consistently good food on a daily basis.
The company has been re-equipping its kitchens over the past year in an effort to improve its offering and make life easier for those working back of house. And it claims to have made some notable progress since specifying Lincat’s Opus 700 clam griddles as part of an investment in its cooking estate.
The kit is used across the group’s eight sites, which include café bars, gastro pubs and American-style diners and smokehouses, due to its speed and ability to produce better-tasting burgers and steaks.
The Opus 700 single and double clam griddles specialise in cooking meat products and, according to Lincat’s sales pitch, can cook food up to three times quicker than standard griddles by cooking both sides of the food simultaneously.
Forum Café Bars’ group executive chef, Andy Burns, is certainly happy to testify that the appliances can cope with the demands of a busy kitchen. “We cook around 2,000 burgers a week, so high volume and fast speed is of the essence,” he explains. “The first Opus 700 clam griddle was introduced into our group last year and we have been delighted with the results.
“Depending on size, we can have a burger ready in one-and-a-half minutes — a 6oz in two minutes. On a chargrill, it would have taken eight to 10 minutes. Chicken and steaks are also cooked a lot quicker. This speed gives the meat that crucial resting time, which makes it tender and brings it to perfect serving temperature.”
The clam griddles now play an important role in our kitchens, so much so that we are planning to move away from traditional chargrills”
The clam plates automatically adjust to the thickness of the meat to provide even heat distribution, reduce shrinkage and seal in flavour. Burns says that the group finds them quick and easy to clean, which also affords it the benefit of being able to cook a wide variety of items in a short space of time.
It uses the units for flatbreads and gourmet toasted sandwiches, and its chefs have been using silicone mats with the clam griddles to cook fish. The impact that the new equipment has had on Forum Café Bars’ activities has been so pronounced that it has forced the group to consider what items of cooking equipment it actually needs in its kitchens.
“The clam griddles now play an important role in our kitchens, so much so that we are planning to move away from traditional chargrills,” reveals Burns. “With a grill, you would lose meat juices into the flames. However, when cooking a burger on a clam griddle, the patty is cooked on both sides, with juices caramelising onto the patty to keep it succulent.”
The technology behind the clam griddles has enabled the group to improve the efficiency of its kitchens in more ways than one. Digital timers allow its chefs to get on with other tasks, such as creating garnishes, without having to watch the clock all the time. The griddles also cook the food exactly the way the chain wants.
Now that the group has become accustomed to what it can do with the units, it has begun exploring new menu options. It has introduced Korean food to some of its outlets, for instance. “Some of the dishes we cook on the clam griddle include kimchi pork belly and bulgogi beef,” comments Burns. “The most popular are our vegetable and chicken gochujang skewers. These can be cooked in as little as two minutes, so time is vastly reduced. Before, the chicken would have been sealed on a chargrill and then moved into an oven to finish, with a risk of being overcooked. Often, the meat could be dry, tight and tough. Now, it’s incredibly succulent.”
Due to the popularity of clam griddles with customers such as Forum Café Bars, Lincat has added three new models with various ribbed plate options to its line-up, enabling customers to create an attractive branded finish to food. This includes a single head model with a ribbed plate, a twin model with one smooth and one ribbed plate, and a twin model with both ribbed plates.
Lincat’s national account manager, Sev Uzar, is confident the speed at which the clam griddles can cook food, along with the taste quality that’s achieved, will make them a popular option for any kitchen.
“That’s why we suggested they were introduced into the kitchens at Forum,” he comments. “The new ribbed plate variation will give our customers even more choice and enable them to achieve that characteristic branding on meat, which diners desire.”
Forum Café Bars’ sites
- Crown & Anchor (Barnsley)
- Forum Café Bar (Sheffield)
- The British Oak (Sheffield)
- The Broadfield (Sheffield)
- The Common Room (Sheffield)
- The Old House (Sheffield)
- The Picture House (Huddersfield)
- The York (Sheffield)