You could say that fast casual restaurant outfit That’s Vapore took a leap of faith when it opened in the busy Piazza Duomo district of Milan four years ago. After all, launching a steamed food concept — and the first of its kind at that — in a country renowned for its love of classically-cooked pizzas and pasta posed a risk that most operators wouldn’t have dared take.
But the concept proved an instant hit with Milan’s designers, fashionistas and tourist crowds, who flocked to its door as word spread that it is possible for a healthy lunch to taste good as well. With a second site now established in the city, the group has turned its attention to the UK market, and in particular London, where it believes its ‘good food fast’ mantra is an ideal fit with the capital’s increasingly eclectic foodservice scene.
The company recently opened its maiden UK site in Marylebone, but it is already seeking a second location as it looks to expand the brand further. The whole concept of cooking an entire menu with steam is one that will no doubt leave many food lovers curious, but the answer to why it’s a compelling method of production lies in its many health benefits.
Steam cooking is considered to be gentle and uniform as it slowly defuses through the food and lets the food cook in its own juice, minimising the loss of valuable nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and retaining its moisture and freshness, vibrant colours and flavour.
That’s Vapore currently offers more than 20 different dishes including pasta, fish, meat, rice and vegetables. All ingredients are freshly prepared and presented in bamboo baskets before being steam cooked to order in less than three minutes. It even offers steamed scrambled eggs for breakfast.
With steam at the heart of absolutely everything, That’s Vapore requires specialist prime cooking equipment that meets its needs for power, precision and speed. Its core estate therefore includes three Bonnet high speed steamers from Hobart Cooking Solutions, which take pride of place behind the main restaurant servery. By using steam to cook, the ingredients retain their colour, flavour, shape, nutrients and vitamins, resulting in an improved dish in terms of both taste and appearance. In addition, all this is achieved in just a fraction of the time it would take to boil, grill or oven cook the same ingredients.
“There’s a clear appetite for fast food that is nutritious and healthy, so the biggest challenge for us was finding a way that we could serve our food as quickly as possible and as healthily as possible,” he explains. “The Bonnet high speed steamers are perfect because they are incredibly easy for our staff to use, they cook the food to perfection, holding in the moisture, freshness and vibrant colours — which ensures our food tastes delicious and is of the highest quality and consistency every time. I don’t think we could provide such a nutritious menu as easily using any other piece of cooking equipment.”
The design and appearance of the steamers were a key factor for us, as steam cooking is still a relatively new concept here in the UK”
The steamers enable That’s Vapore to cook an array of food simultaneously, without taking up the kitchen space associated with a more traditional oven, hob and grill. There are also financial benefits, says Read. “The steamers reduce running costs and energy consumption while maintaining a more workable environment as there is no excessive heat released into the cooking area. I’m pretty sure we’re saving a lot on energy costs as we don’t need to run a full kitchen,” he says.
It is an asset that other operators who are using the steamer are benefitting from, as Simon Merrick, director of Hobart Cooking Solutions, tells FEJ. “It is great for minimising wastage and increasing availability of products. Our biggest customer for this is a large restaurant chain that uses it for several of their carvery operations. It saves them a huge amount of money and waste because it is so fast that you never really have to cook huge amounts and hold it.”
As the steamers retain a sleek stainless steel design and a profile that sets them apart from mainstream items of commercial cooking equipment, That’s Vapore has made the deliberate decision to site them front-of-house. Read believes the kit adds to the appeal of the venture, commenting: “The design and appearance of the steamers were a key factor for us, as steam cooking is still a relatively new concept here in the UK. We wanted to be able to add to the experience by allowing customers to see their food being freshly steamed.”
That’s Vapore is currently serving more than 1,200 customers a week, but as the queues at its counter grow longer by the day, the company anticipates doubling footfall by the end of the year.
What can the high speed steamer cook?
There are two models of the high speed steamer available, the 205GB and the 305GB. They can cook the following:
– 12 portions of supreme of salmon in 1 minute
– 20 portions of tender stem broccoli in 30 seconds
– 10 portions of poached chicken supreme in 6 minutes
– 42 portions of supreme of salmon in 1 minute
– 66 portions of tender stem broccoli in 30 seconds
– 36 portions of poached supreme of chicken in 6 minutes