Rational has unleashed a new generation of combi ovens that take kitchen intelligence to a whole new level. FEJ spoke with UK managing director, Simon Lohse, about the secrets behind the design, the role of technology in thermal cooking equipment and the quest to raise the benchmark for productivity.
Rational is famous for essentially having two core products, so clearly any major product announcement from you is pretty significant news. What sort of R&D investment went into the iCombi Pro and iCombi Classic, and how long has the company been working on it?
The extensive customer-backed research and development has taken more than five years. It represents a significant investment from Rational in order to address, meet and surpass our customers’ expectations in delivering a radical improvement to commercial kitchen operations.
Can you give us any insight to any trialling that has gone on in the UK and what that has taught you?
The new product has been extensively stress-tested, including accelerated life component testing, and successfully tested in real-life customer kitchen operations in a number of different market segments in Europe and other global markets.
How should Rational users view the iCombi Pro in terms of where it sits in your portfolio? Is it a direct replacement for the SelfCookingCenter and, if so, what sort of phase-out programme is in place?
The iCombi Pro replaces the SelfCookingCenter and the iCombi Classic replaces the CombiMasterPlus. The new iCombi range is already available immediately from stock held in the UK. We retained some stock of the old models in order to fulfil orders already placed with us for delivery later on in the year.
Rational’s cooking technology was already pretty advanced, but it feels like there is a lot more focus on the connectivity and intelligence aspect now. How much technological difference is there between the iCombi Pro and its predecessor?
The iCombi range is the new standard in intelligence, flexibility and efficiency. 95% of the componentry and design for the range is completely new. It really does represent a massive step forward in innovative technology for thermal cooking applications.
One of the big statements that caught our eye was a 50% improvement in productivity versus its predecessor. Clearly you’ve tested that to the max to be able to declare such an impressive gain — but how is that achieved?
The design of the cabinet, the addition of extra fans and the sensors to monitor and control airflow, humidity, temperature and time in addition to the Maillard reaction innovation developing it into an algorithm means that we can achieve such an impressive productivity improvement.
There is some incredible intelligence built into the system, particularly in terms of the way the oven can adjust settings and regulate the cooking path. What new feature do you think will be most noticeable to existing users?
The iProductionManager enabling cooking parameters to be adjusted or amended during the cooking path as well as optimising time, energy efficiency or process even when using different cooking climates — i.e. grilling or steaming — will bring a massive benefit to customers.
Will existing users of Rational equipment be able to operate it intuitively? Or are you expecting that a significant level of operator training and education will be needed to ensure kitchens are getting the most benefit from the technology?
We continue to offer free introduction training and further support for customers via Rational Academy to ensure all Rational users get the maximum benefit for our full range of products. There is also Chefline, where customers with questions on preparation methods, settings and cooking paths can speak to a Rational chef who can advise on the cooking systems.
In addition, the Rational UK training app combines a vast array of training resources, such as videos showing how to cook specific recipes, videos showing how to carry out various day-to-day maintenance tasks and a searchable database so that operators can find their nearest dealer or service provider.
The iCombi Pro appears to have more technological complexity built into it than previous Rational systems — but on the other hand it is intelligent enough to run a cooking operation with minimal chef input. Does that paradox tell a story of where modern cooking equipment is going?
The technology is there to support the chef to deliver consistently high quality results. However, it does mean that the chef can delegate some tasks and processes to less skilled operators. It’s rather like a sat-nav in a car, a very useful aid but you still need to drive it.
Rational has spent the last few years talking about ConnectedCooking. Where does ConnectedCooking fit into this strategy? Will you still be talking about that going forward or is there a new message now?
ConnectedCooking remains a central pillar to Rational’s offering. The secure networking solution for commercial kitchens means that operators can control their connected units centrally, including recipe transfer, unit control, accessing and saving HACCP data, software updates and service remote access.
The product was obviously created in advance of the market conditions that we are now seeing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Kitchen priorities are likely to be very different moving forward — at least in the short term. How does the iCombi Pro and iCombi Classic fit into the new climate that we are heading towards?
Clearly it is likely that post-virus our industry — particularly restaurant and hotel businesses — will potentially have to operate slightly differently. The ability to produce a variety of foods in an efficient, environmentally-friendly and hygienic way to a consistently high quality level will be vitally important to such operations. In the commercial catering sector, the need for quality while maintaining efficient cost control will be paramount and our products will support all these goals.
Last but not least, how many models or sizes are there within the new combi oven range and what can you tell us about product availability in the UK market specifically?
In the iCombi range there are 26 models available, from the smallest model — the XS 6-2/3 — right the way to the 20-2/1 model, plus variations including the integrated fat drain option, SecurityLine, MobilityLine, MarineLine and the new HeavyDutyLine. The product is immediately available. We have stock in the UK for overnight delivery.