Blast chilling technology has seen rapid uptake in the commercial kitchen environment over the past few years, fuelled by a number of key trends that are having a significant impact on operators throughout the sector.
One of the biggest factors is the requirement to deliver efficiencies across a foodservice business, says Roz Scourfield, national sales manager at Hoshizaki, whose company has seen the growth in this market firsthand.
She notes that as the cost of running a restaurant continues to rise — with above-inflation increases on ingredients, utilities and staffing — implementing technology that can help deliver savings is a must.
“Blast chilling is able to do just that,” she says. “Operators can pre-prepare parts of a menu or even entire dishes, before chilling them to maintain the perfect look and taste ready to simply be regenerated just before being served. This helps to not only significantly reduce food wastage, but creates substantial labour savings in a kitchen. What’s more, the now common usage of combi ovens within the commercial environment allows the chef to regenerate pre-chilled dishes much more quickly and to an exacting standard, delivering the expected look, taste and quality to even the most delicate of ingredients.”
Most blast chillers typically now come with hard and soft chill / freeze and holding functions as standard. Manufacturers have responded to the trend for smaller kitchens by devising compact models that deliver the same specs when it comes to chilling and freezing. Units can also be wall-mounted or incorporated to sit under a combi oven, to save floor space.
Users have become more aware of the need and use of the technology, creating demand for models that can accommodate programmable chill and freeze cycles with pictorial images of food types and downloadable HACCP temperature logs.
“There has also been a trend towards combined blast chillers that have a rapid thaw function, which increases the productivity time in the kitchen,” says Suwen He, marketing manager at Pentland Wholesale.
Tim Charlton, owner of Euro Catering, says that when blast chillers are incorporated into a kitchen regime and workflow, they can improve every aspect of service, optimising the preparation stage and cooking period and reducing cooking times, while also having a major impact on the amount of food waste generated.
“We have just introduced the Sagi range of blast chillers and other refrigeration equipment to the UK, because we see this as being a big growth area, with demand for top quality refrigeration and blast chilling being at the heart of many kitchens, their environmental policies and their compliance,” he says.
Benefiting from blast chillers
So what sort of operators stand to benefit most from blast chillers, and in what circumstances should operators be utilising them?
According to Mark Hogan, commercial director of FEM, which distributes the Sirman range of blast chillers, any operator that wishes to store chilled pre-cooked food prior to re-heating and serving can benefit from the technology, particularly given their role in helping caterers comply with food hygiene legislation.
“Allowing foods to cool naturally and without blast chilling is dangerous as it will allow harmful bacteria to develop during the long cooling process. Blast chillers use fiercely-driven cold air to rapidly pull down the temperature of hot food so it can be safely stored either in chilled or frozen form for future re-heating,” he says.
With kitchen footprints continuing to shrink across the board, FEM has released a series of smaller countertop blast chillers. This includes the Dolomiti 2/3, which offers all the advantages of blast chilling, such as less wastage, improved food safety, quality, appearance and taste, but in a compact format.
Nick Williams, managing director of Precision Refrigeration, agrees that blast chilling is no longer restricted to certain segments of the catering market. He says it’s ideal for operators that cook fresh food which then needs to be refrigerated or frozen, or food that forms part of a speciality dish designed to be served cold.
Cooking in advance and blast chilling individual servings speeds up service while maintaining the quality of the food”
“All sizes of commercial kitchens from very small intimate settings to large restaurants and hotels can benefit from using blast chillers,” says Williams. “When used as part of a well-planned food production process, blast chillers significantly improve service, reduce overall production times and cut food waste — and hence costs — as well as ensuring compliance with food safety standards,” he adds.
That said, there are parts of the market more synonymous with using blast chillers in their operations.
Food production, bakery, banqueting, fine dining, care homes and hospitals — where blast chillers tend to be used in conjunction with sous vide — spring to mind.
Says Roz Scourfield at Hoshizaki: “The other benefit of using a blast chiller is that sites can ensure a greater element of consistency across a menu. This feature makes them particularly relevant to the likes of pub and restaurant chains that require all sites to deliver the same exacting standard across their estate.”
Manufacturers report that a growing variety of customers are now specifying blast chillers due to the cost savings and benefits involved, with most major kitchen schemes featuring them as part of the specification.
Pentland Wholesale’s Suwen He says there has been a definite shift in perception towards the value of the technology. “Blast chillers in the past were often dismissed as a necessity in a kitchen due to the high initial cost and relatively low amount of use.
However, with increased competition, models are now available to suit everyone’s budget. Most modern caterers will have used blast chillers as part of their training and have witnessed the benefits of using them including the time saved in food preparation, which makes purchasing a blast chiller a viable option.”
“Smaller operators are using blast chilling as a way of managing menu options. Cooking in advance and blast chilling individual servings speeds up service while maintaining the quality of the food. It also helps operations deal with the unpredictable nature of the restaurant industry by having extra back-up stock ready to reheat and serve if they receive a sudden influx of customers,” he adds.
In addition to driving efficiencies across a business, cost of ownership and the push for labour saving in the kitchen are cited as the primary drivers among operators that are installing blast chillers in their kitchens. And with customers placing importance on food quality, sustainability and provenance, using a blast chiller to minimise food wastage and generate labour savings is viewed as a sensible move by many operators.
“In general, we are seeing operator understanding of blast chilling develop and, in turn, an increase in the number of enquires we are receiving,” comments Hoshizaki’s Scourfield. “This is something that we expect to continue to rise as the pressure to reduce costs across a business grows.”
If suppliers are to be believed then the next 12 months are likely to bring further price pressure and additional focus on sustainability in the blast chilling sector. Ease of use and energy consumption will drive the enhancements that the R&D departments of the leading brands make and lead to the availability of more functional machines.
Precision Refrigeration has focused on creating blast chillers that are easy to use, with an intuitive microprocessor-controlled digital control panel that requires minimal training and offers the choice of soft chill, hard chill and blast freeze modes.
The other benefit of using a blast chiller is that sites can ensure a greater element of consistency across a menu”
“Blast cycles can be controlled by time or food temperature, via the internal food probe, and chill or freeze storage functions can be chosen when the unit is not blast chilling. The appropriate storage mode starts automatically at the end of each cycle.”
Euro Catering, meanwhile, expects to see the introduction of compact cryo freezers using liquid nitrogen and also equipment that has multifunctional control systems and multilingual programmes. “This should make the equipment easier to use and also overcome any language barriers within multicultural kitchens,” he says.
As an accepted and valuable addition to modern kitchens, the next generation of blast chilling equipment will be viewed with considerable interest by those that now regard them as part of the furniture.