SPECIAL REPORT: Combi oven suppliers show no signs of fatigue as the race to the top hots up

Combi ovens are one of the most advanced pieces of kit in a commercial kitchen thanks to the investments that manufacturers have made in recent years. But with so much choice in the market, it can be useful to understand more about the unique features that suppliers believe sets their offering apart from the rest.

Any commercial kitchen operator looking to bring new combi ovens into their estate can never complain of being short of choice. The market is packed with established brands offering some of the most advanced cooking technology around, while operators have benefitted from the investment that manufacturers have made in product R&D as they attempt to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive sector.

If you look beyond the primary functionality of a mainstream combi oven, you can quickly build a picture of how suppliers are seeking to differentiate and the particular areas they are focused on to provide operators with features they can’t necessarily get elsewhere.

At Convotherm, the last year has heralded some key developments in terms of a new generation of Mini combi ovens, which has seen the brand not only convert legacy technology into a smaller footprint but develop added extras, such as easyStart and Bake Pro cooking modes.

“The new units also include ‘clever cooking’ profiles, which provide operations with suggestions for mixed loads and thus ensures the perfect utilisation of the combi steamer so that the user is always getting the most from their combi, even at peak service times,” explains Steve Hemsil, sales director at Welbilt. “As one of our main focuses during the design process was to simplify and improve the operator’s experience, we have introduced an automatic ‘express clean’ function on our easyTouch models for cleaning lightly soiled ovens during service which not only minimises staff labour but also reduces possible downtime of the unit,” he adds.

Lainox, now distributed in the UK by Falcon, has launched fresh versions of both its combi oven ranges. Its Sapiens line has new controls to ensure simpler operation, and a variable fan speed with up to six settings, while its Naboo ovens have been the focus of several software upgrades this year.

“One key area is getting to the cooking mode — lots of chefs prefer to use their combination oven in one of its three ‘straight’ modes: convection, steaming and combination. All three can now be found on the control panel’s home page, so chefs can just tap the screen and go,” explains Shaune Hall, product development chef at Falcon. Additionally, Lainox has just launched the 171 — a seven-grid combi mounted on top of a ten- grid, contained in a single body. It is designed to deliver the flexibility of two separate units but, because it’s housed in one body, it’s shorter and therefore safer.

Connectivity gains momentum

As far as Rational is concerned, the networked kitchen is the future and that’s what its growth strategy is based around. It believes its ConnectedCooking offering, in which ovens are linked to a network and operations can be monitored remotely, is particularly beneficial to central production units and large-scale operations with multiple units.

“Caterers can check on overnight cooking processes from home, managers can check on the operational efficiency of multiple units and maintenance engineers can check a unit’s status,” says Simon Lohse, managing director of Rational. “Connectivity will make kitchens safer and more efficient, and make managing equipment simpler.”

Other suppliers such as Houno have also based their product strategy around internet-enabled platforms. Last year Houno introduced its ‘Let’s Cook’ cloud solution, which makes valuable services available in a user-friendly digital format. Let’s Cook offers several services, which support cost savings and raise productivity, such as a central recipe distribution feature and fleet manager function.

Connectivity will make kitchens safer and more efficient, and make managing equipment simpler”

“We know that in case of operational issues, reducing downtime is of utmost importance to a restaurant’s productivity and earnings,” says business development manager Vincent Van Delft. “Therefore, Let’s Cook gives you a quick and easy overview of your oven fleet with its fleet manager function. It will notify you before operational problems arise.”

Using Let’s Cook, a technician can see the oven’s service status and whether components need replacing. This allows for proactive prevention of operational issues and cuts downtime.

In addition to the Let’s Cook cloud solution, Houno has recently launched a new and improved gas system for its product range, which is implemented on all Visual Cooking SmartTouch ovens. Each unit is also certified with GASTEC QA mark for highest efficiency and lowest emission.

“We have improved the performance of the gas system and it is now possible to choose a Visual Cooking SmartTouch oven with gas boiler,” explains Van Delft. “It is our commitment that our gas combi ovens comply with the highest available standards with respect to safety, quality and functionality.”

Unox’s R&D team in Italy contains more than 40 staff. They have been hard at work improving its flagship range of combi ovens, with ‘SMART.Preheating’ technology among the new innovations. This automatically sets the best temperature and preheating time according to the parameters of the chosen cooking process and to what has occurred in the previous hours. “This helps to guarantee maximum repeatability of results at all times of the day, and has the advantage of energy savings of up to 20% compared to manual preheating,” says Unox managing director, Gary Nunn.

A further development is ‘SENSE.Klean’ technology, which estimates the level of dirt in the cooking chamber based on the cooking processes that have taken place and suggests the best automatic cleaning programme to guarantee maximum hygiene and avoid unnecessary waste of water.

Customisation in the kitchen

Retigo launched the new Blue Vision and Orange Vision combi ovens into the market last year following an extensive process to create cooking systems that are easy to use, energy efficient and deliver consistent results.

The Blue Vision model is the premium version in the series, featuring an eight-inch control panel with a customisable main screen offering quick and easy access to the oven’s main functions. “It can also deliver instant responses whether you are wanting to bring up previous recipes, or make use of the built-in multitasking tool to navigate through the combi oven menu while it cooks,” says non-executive director, Radford Chancellor.

The Orange Vision models feature the essential basic functions and were created to satisfy customers with fewer demands. “Both models have a built-in automatic cleaning system, allowing the user to save time, money and energy. The displays on the ovens are easily adaptable, so the user can change the settings to suit their personal preferences,” he says.

We know that in case of operational issues, reducing downtime is of utmost importance to a restaurant’s productivity and earnings”

All manufacturers claim to offer something that operators won’t find elsewhere. Rational argues that its SelfCookingCenter’s intelligent cooking functions are the most advanced on the market, pointing out they cover a huge range of recipes and cooking processes — from sous vide to pan frying — and make it simple for even inexperienced staff to achieve consistent results at the touch of a button.

Its training and resources smartphone app is also a USP, giving chefs instant access to the information they need without having to step outside the kitchen. “The app is smartphone-friendly and can be used in the kitchen, enabling staff to find out how to cook a recipe or tackle day to day cleaning or maintenance tasks instantly,” explains Simon Lohse. “It’s an ideal tool both for new starter training and to learn about more advanced techniques. It also helps ensure safe operation of the units.”

MKN offers a broad range of combi steamers in different sizes and configurations for various requirements in professional kitchens. This includes the FlexiCombi in the established sizes of 6 to 20 grids and in the FlexiCombi Team version, which is a single appliance equipped with two cooking chambers for a very flexible way of working as two cooking modes can run simultaneously. It also offers the SpaceCombi, which is only 55cm wide for those that don’t have sufficient room for a regular combi steamer.

Marketing manager, Anja Halbauer, cites its EasyLoad and FlexiRack as unique features. “EasyLoad means that you can lift the trays and GN containers easily and safely. It is very practical. Without having to keep changing the position of their hands, the user also has a full view of the products at all times. And the smart cooking chamber concept FlexiRack utilises the whole cooking chamber optimally.”

Eloma rolled out its MULTIMAX series last year and added to that launch recently by unveiling the GENIUS Backmaster Edition. It is a logical development of its flagship product, GENIUS MT, with highlights including an electric door opening — which ensures that the baking process stops once the baking programme has finished — an adapted graphical user interface with baking mode and a hanging rack for both GN and BN trays.

Claudia Bußmann, marketing manager at Eloma, says: “The MULTIMAX operating concept and its touch display performance in combination with the push-dial are based on the pace in a kitchen. Time is crucial, so the equipment needs to keep up with the team and support it with an uncomplicated and clearly structured operating concept.”

She adds that the GENIUS MT Backmaster Edition is designed to be a highly flexible solution. “If today you wish to bake only, you get an appliance with focus on baking which does not distract from what you intend to do. However, if tomorrow you decide to enlarge your food offer, this can be covered by the GENIUS MT Backmaster Edition by simply switching to the cooking mode with the touch of a button.”

Productivity drives performance

Italian supplier Unox’s ‘CHEFTOP and BAKERTOP MIND.Maps combi ovens benefit from the totally unique ‘MIND.Maps’ technology. It gives chefs the ability to draw the curves of temperature, humidity and air speed on the oven control panel.

“It is an advanced method of setting a cooking programme, with second by second precise control as you create the curves that regulate the temperature, humidity and fan speed within the cooking chamber,” says Gary Nunn. “This allows you to carry out even the most elaborate of cooking processes with a few simple hand-drawn gestures on the screen.”

When it comes to productivity, Lainox claims that the Just-in-Time (JiT) cooking feature on its Naboo ovens is a huge hit with customers.

“It’s for when you are cooking different products at the same time, using the oven’s intelligence to identify which recipes can be cooked together,” says Shaune Hall. “The JiT software monitors each shelf individually, alerting the user when it’s time to put an item into the oven, so that everything is ready at the same time. The new Naboo’s software can monitor two different recipes on each shelf, effectively doubling the different types of foods that can be cooked simultaneously,” he adds.

Houno, meanwhile, claims to be the only combi oven manufacturer offering a 16-grid (1/1 GN) oven in its product range, while its PassThrough ovens mean that operators can load raw food from the rear of the unit and unload cooked food from the front, thereby minimising the risk of product cross-contamination. “It is ideal for cooking front-of-house,” insists Vincent Van Delft. “The ovens can be positioned in a wall, separating the food production in the back from the kitchen theatre in the front, which attracts attention and promotes purchases.”

Convotherm offers a unique proposition for caterers tight on space in the form of its ‘disappearing door’ function. Operators can open the door and slide it along the side of the combi oven. “It was initially designed to suit the requirements within marine catering operations, where the galleys were narrow and having a large door opening outwards was impractical,” explains Steve Hemsil. “We soon realised that actually this feature could be put to good use within commercial catering kitchens, especially within kitchens with limited space.”

Another feature which is unique to its Convotherm combis is the patented Advanced Closed System+. The system works like a lid on a saucepan, keeping heat and moisture in and enabling the temperature to rise rapidly. As more of the heat is kept in the unit, it uses less power and water consumption than is usually required thus improving energy efficiency while also reducing operating costs.

Hemsil adds: “It also enables a multitude of different food items to be cooked in the same unit, simultaneously, with no flavour transfer. For example, salmon can be cooked at the same time as roast potatoes without the potatoes tasting of fish, and vice versa. It also reduces the need for multiple different pieces of equipment, thus saving space and further minimising operating costs without compromising on quality.”

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2 Comments

  1. Graham Veal said:

    Well done FEJ. Most comprehensive article I’ve seen this year to date on combi-oven selection.

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