Restaurant chains on verge of slow cooking breakthrough

Sous vide cooking equipment will become a more common sight in the kitchens of multi-site restaurant chains within the next 12 months as mainstream adoption of the technique grows, one of the industry’s  top suppliers has predicted. 

Sous Vide Tools has been at the forefront of the UK sous vide revolution in recent years, providing an array of specialist training and equipment to restaurants and professional chefs.

As barriers to entry have reduced, and operators have gained more knowledge of its benefits, the use of sous vide among the industry has risen, especially among independent food businesses.

But now there are signs of chain businesses taking a keen interest in its merits, with casual dining operators such as Wagamama examining how it can enhance its menu and kitchen processes.

“We are seeing a change,” Chris Holland, Sous Vide Tools’ chef director told FEJ at Hotelympia yesterday. “Obviously seven years ago sous vide was just at the very top level and it is starting to taper down quite quickly now into independent pubs and gastro pubs because they are using it for the quality and consistency. The big chains are looking at it, but I think to make it more accessible to them you really need to be offering the food as well – as in pre-cooked sous vide food so they can just use the sous vide device to regenerate it. That is something that we get asked.”

Quizzed on whether the current range of sous vide equipment on the might need to be adjusted for the daily rigours of a multi-site operator, Mr Holland replied: “I think for the chains you would need to probably add the drop-in baths into the cooking suites, but anything is possible. One of the best things about sous vide is that you do everything in advance so we are seeing people like Wagamama, for instance, looking into using it for a few of their proteins. We are definitely seeing a shift. I think it’s going to take maybe another 12 months for it to happen and we’ll help with that as much as we can.”

The sous vide technique involves vacuum sealing food before immersing it in a water bath at a precisely-controlled temperature for up to 72 hours, which helps eliminate the risk of human error and guarantees precise cooking each time. It is widely used for fish, vegetables and steak.

“From what we see now, a lot of people are using sous vide for what sous vide is good for, which is the slow cooking cuts, the lesser cuts if you like,” said Mr Holland, who was formerly the head chef at 3AA Rosette Alderley Edge Hotel in Cheshire.

When it comes to the UK market, demand is strongest for thermal circulators among Sous Vide Tools’ customer nase. These typically outsell static baths at a ratio of 10 to one due to their durability and ease of storage, Mr Holland said.

He noted that the company was increasingly seeing example of end-user operators making sous vide a core component of their kitchen strategy.

“In fact yesterday a guy that we trained 18 months ago came onto the stand and said, ‘I just want to say thank you’. When we asked what for, he said, ‘I have shaped my whole business around what you taught us’.  That is really nice to hear and he’s using sous vide to make infused vinegars and things like that. In most kitchens sous vide is being used in tandem with all the other pieces of cooking equipment, but there people using it to shape their whole business.”

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