FEJ asked Seamus O’Donnell, culinary director at The Alchemist, to pick out five essential items of equipment during a tour of the chain’s kitchen at its site in Canary Wharf, prior to lockdown. Here is his stainless steel hit-list:
1. Atosa saladettes
“One of the biggest challenges that we faced as we got larger was the increased demand from environmental health to keep food cold at a safe temperature in the saladettes. That has proven a bit of an issue with some fridges due to their design. I approached Atosa and they have got saladettes that allow you to put the lids down.
“The three-door version also contains separate compartments and the ventilation and cold air comes out at the top and floats along, creating a vaccum. This means the unit gets cold from underneath as well as on top.
“The fridge motors are along the back in one straight line and they don’t intrude into the fridge space, so the cavities are an awful lot bigger. I started introducing them around eight months ago and they are doing really well.”
2. Adande drawers
“I couldn’t live without these. I think they are great because you can work on top of them and one part can be a fridge and the other part a freezer, so you can segregate product easily.
“We have different sections of the kitchen and they work well with the fryer section, where you can store frozen chips, hash browns, churros, and our Moving Mountains burgers for plant-based diets.
“We work with some other good brands as well. Precision also supplies us with fridges because it is not a ‘one cap fits all’ situation in the fridge world; it is all about where in the kitchen you need a fridge and how it fits in.
“We use Precision for underneath the chargrill and the flat-top because it has got four drawers and it is easy to segregate for allergens, meat, fish and veg.”
3. Synergy Grill chargrills
“Our staff are probably just as socially worried about the environment as our customers, so we have started operating Synergy chargrills, which are more gas efficient.
“We have seen our gas bills come down through using them and you can cook a well-done steak on them from start to finish without it having to go in the oven. Cleaning it is easy — you just Hoover around it every morning. And lighting it is just a flick of a switch.
“The one thing that I try to do if I am going to ask staff to cook in our kitchens is give them the tools to do the job. Even with the light equipment, we give them good rice cookers, bar blenders, KitchenAids, Robot Coupes — top brands because you get what you pay for.
“I would rather spend a little bit of extra money on good equipment because then you don’t have the problems of it breaking down and kitchens going without. And if something isn’t repairable, we just buy a new one. The kitchens need to have the tools to do the job.”
4. Atosa blast chillers
“I mix between Atosa and Foster for blast chillers, depending on the footprint and how much space I have got it. If you walk into some kitchens, they will say they have cooled off foods within 90 minutes by using ice packs or by doing this or that. But where is the space for them to do that? And where is the trust that they are doing that?
We are very much a fresh food kitchen; we are cooking a lot of food and a lot of bulk batches every day, all day. So to stand by our fresh food drive we have made sure we have blast chillers available for the chefs to use to cool the food within the time allocated. It gives everyone confidence when the environmental health comes or when chefs are talking to customers.
5. Samsung commercial microwaves
“I’m not going to hide, we use microwaves! The Samsung microwaves are very good and we have them dotted around the kitchens. We don’t cook in them, they are only for reheating sauces or things that take only 20 or 30 seconds.
Not everything can go through an oven because obviously we are cooking all the main courses through them, but you can warm things like katsu sauce or sticky toffee pudding through a microwave.
“When they are not there in the kitchens, it becomes a struggle. Our chefs follow a procedure and cook things in a certain way, so if you’ve suddenly got to warm up the sticky toffee pudding in the oven it elongates the time it takes for it to be ready, which leads onto ticket times, which then obviously affects the customer journey.
“Some people have a bad outlook on microwaves, but used in the right way for the right reasons, for reheating rather than cooking, they are very good, and Samsung microwaves hit the spot.”