EXCLUSIVE: Las Iguanas goes in search of innovation without adding complexity to its kitchens

Las Iguanas will bid to further its market position with new menu and equipment innovation this year – but it won’t come at the expense of adding complexity to its kitchen processes, its group executive chef has stressed.

The chain believes there is a big opportunity to enhance its Mexican offer as well as tapping into food trends from lesser known territories such as Venezuela and Colombia.

Last year members of its food team flew to Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon to gather ideas and experience authentic cooking techniques up close, and this month their fact-finding mission is taking them to Mexico.

With at least two significant menu changes every year, head of food Glenn Evans is always looking to embrace new ingredients and flavours that he thinks will go down a storm with customers – but ultimately any menu changes must be commercially and operationally feasible.

“You can create the most delicious, authentic South American dish in the world, but if it is too complicated for the kitchen to construct it is only going to create problems,” he explained. “I work with a great F&B team to make sure we are covering all of those fundamental factors. Our objective is not to add any more complexity to our kitchen and to make sure that any made-from-scratch recipes are consistently delivered.

“Manufacturers can’t replicate fresh coriander, fresh onions, fresh lemon juice, fresh lime juice, they buy concentrates or IQF products that just don’t have the same flavour or visual as fresh and these are generally the ingredients that make ours stand out from the rest of them.”

While added value items such as bread and tortillas are readymade, Las Iguanas has chefs working on the majority of products that it offers and all its sauces and salsas are made in-house.

Mr Evans said the challenge was to strike a balance between producing the best dish possible and “being able to take complexity out of a kitchen where it makes sense” because its set-up is typically quite different to other casual dining operators.

“I am really lucky because our CEO Mos [Shamel] is so passionate about the food and drink offer. It would be easy for him to outsource from a commercial or labour point of view but because he is a chef and he appreciates the food offer, he knows that our customers understand that. We have focused a lot on our messaging through our menus this year and the made-from-scratch ethos is really resonating with our customers now. It would be ridiculous for us to go back against that because we have actually out-performed our target since we introduced the new menu last April, which bucks the trend of what is happening out there at the moment.”

Las Iguanas’ main platforms for regen include a stove, chargrill, fryers and then microwaves for specific product reheating. It will hold sauces in a bain-marie, but currently doesn’t use any salamanders.

Sites do have ovens but not a lot of them have them within their kitchen lines, so although they come in useful for prep and cooking it isn’t able to use them throughout peak service points.

“That whole regeneration thing is still something that we want to look at. It is something that is on our list to improve the finish of certain dishes without slowing the operation down,” he said.

With up to 10 chefs per site, and double that at its Royal Festival Hall restaurant, Las Iguanas boasts a pool of culinary talent that now numbers more than 500.

The company employs two regional development chefs that recruit, train and mentor internally, and below those it has a number of area support chefs which each have a remit for a specific geography. “We have now got a really good structure from me all the way down, making sure we are delivering consistently,” concluded Mr Evans.

RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Las Iguanas receptive to kit that will take business to the ‘next level’

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