Prime cooking equipment lies at the heart of every commercial kitchen, but as food trends change operators need to make sure they are making the most of the new technology available in the market. FEJ reports.
Value for money on prime cooking equipment is highly important for foodservice chains these days, especially when you are talking about extending purchases to dozens, if not hundreds, of sites. Quality and reliability are a given, as operators know only too well that a piece of kit out of service can be hugely detrimental to an establishment’s standard of service, reputation and bottom line.
But there is a whole host of other factors that big chains need to weigh up too as they seek to ensure every key operational box is ticked. Ian Harbinson, head of marketing at Burco Commercial, says there are some clear trends where buying criteria is concerned. “When it comes to prime cooking equipment the main factors for consideration are the ease of cleaning, the durability and, in more recent times, thanks in part to the ever increasing overheads and energy prices, the cost of running the appliance over its expected lifetime.”
It’s an issue that Steve Hobbs, director of Grande Cuisine, supplier of Athanor and Capic suites, recognises as well. Its clients are showing a strong interest in the full lifetime cost of equipment, including energy costs, consumption rates and usage: “Depending on the operator’s brief, the life expectancy of the product may be 2-3, 5-7 or 10 years-plus. Every product at every level is built with a fundamental life expectancy based on its component materials, its size and performance. The worst situation is where a client does not fully understand these differences and just sees a price tag. It is just not possible to pay little in price and get lots in terms of specification — price and specification go hand in hand.”
To emphasise the focus being placed on energy saving, Hobbs says Grande Cuisine recently supplied a well-known pub group with a Capic cookline with Eco Flame burners specifically to control the consumption of energy on appliances that are notoriously used for ‘warming up the kitchen’.
Foodservice operators are spoilt for choice when it comes to the prime cooking options available to them, with everything from modular standardised suites to purpose-built ranges ensuring every budget is catered for.
On the customised side, Ambach is seeing operators make very deliberate choices about what they want from their purchase. “We have noticed that a lot of clients are now looking for bespoke finishing such as coloured panels, stainless steel control knobs and one-piece tops, built-in refrigeration and the flexibility to add third party products to our ranges,” reveals UK country manager Alistair Farquhar.
There are some tremendously innovative products in the prime cooking equipment market today. French manufacturer Charvet now boasts a modular induction multizone unit that offers four induction hobs capable of working independently or operating as one unit.
“It effectively replicates the good, old-fashioned solid top — hot enough to fry in the middle, cooler on the outside to simmer,” explains Ian Clow, sales director at Charvet Premier Ranges. Induction has certainly been one of the defining trends of the prime cooking sector in recent years, with chains increasingly championing its energy-saving properties and ease of application. “Induction is quick and easy to install, easy to use, clean and maintain and is less demanding of the ventilation system,” says Clow.
“We have noticed that a lot of clients are now looking for bespoke finishing such as coloured panels, stainless steel coloured knobs and the flexibility to add third party products to our cooking ranges”
Elsewhere, the market is packed with examples of manufacturers building new innovation into their offerings. Nayati, for instance, points to its SSS heating feature, which was invented to deliver a continuous top grilling performance, allowing every square centimetre of the surface to be heated without a difference in performance.
Operations director, Mark Reid, says the Nayati Stabilus door is also proving popular with operators that have embraced front-of-house cooking. “The door is designed to reduce noise levels when the metal door comes into contact with the cabinet,” he explains. “The scratch-resistant finish offered by Nayati is also ideal for operators trying to achieve an aesthetically-pleasing kitchen, with a rough outer finish on the surface that makes it more resistant to scratches, and can be applied across the Nayati product ranges.”
Stuart Flint, training and demonstration manager at Electrolux Professional, thinks versatility counts for everything. Equipment that makes optimal use of footprint and allows chefs to produce more than one thing from the same appliance is hugely valuable. “We have a wide range of versatile prime equipment designed to make the most of kitchen space — from free cooking tops which allow operators to cook both directly and indirectly, through to aqua cookers which can be used for anything from boiling pasta to sous vide or even as a bain-marie.”
It’s impossible to talk about innovation without acknowledging the impact that technology is having on kitchens. Shaune Hall, product development chef at Falcon Foodservice Equipment, says the intelligent functionality built into prime cooking equipment now is enabling operators to have more control over their kit than ever before.
“Programmability and interactivity has improved, with many pieces of prime cooking equipment benefiting from WiFi compatibility and remote access. Typical of the advanced functionality of the technologies are smart touchscreen combi ovens with control panels using similar technology to that found in smartphones or tablets.”
It is a topic that chimes with Rational and its sister company Frima, which now offer ConnectedCooking. “This allows users to link their Rational and Frima units to a network, and monitor operation over the internet,” explains UK MD Simon Lohse. “Chefs can check on overnight cooking processes from home, managers can check on operational efficiency of multiple units and maintenance engineers can check a unit’s status. Connectivity will make kitchens safer and more efficient, and make managing equipment simpler.”
The benefits of technology can be seen in more ways than one. Take the issue of skills shortages in kitchens, says Stuart Long, sales and marketing director at MKN. Chains and multi-site operators have to work with agency workers or even untrained personal, but they still want the same good food quality at all times, no matter who is working with the equipment. “Automatic cooking programmes and the help of some innovative equipment features are the solution,” he says. “For example, our ChefsHelp function in the MKN combi steamer that gives information steps and shows exactly what to do.”
“More cooklines will be about horizontal cooking medium, with space below for storage or back-up refrigeration”
So to what extent are the cooklines of multi-site operators changing? “I have found the end-users now know what they want — they have a clearer idea of what piece of equipment they need to cook that product on their menu,” answers Farquhar at Ambach. “Price is still a big factor, however clients are prepared to pay more for a cook suite if they are going to get the life out of it — typically between eight and 10 years.”
Nayati has observed a growing popularity in bespoke island cooking suites, which it says are now becoming requested more regularly. “These are ideal as they save room in the kitchen, are easy to clean and also look great,” says Mark Reid. “The Nayati Kitchen Block is fantastic because it suits all styles of cooking, and fits well with all varieties of appliances and kitchen sizes, as well as front-of-house kitchens.”
Others argue that modular suites are also doing well. Charvet’s ONE series was developed specifically for chain customers who requested cooking power and flexibility from a minimal footprint. “Modules that can effectively slot in and out of the cookline, and which can be quickly connected to the relevant services, provide huge flexibility but only provided they have sufficient firepower and durability to tolerate working in what are very busy kitchens,” says Ian Clow.
Looking to the future
It remains to be seen how prime cooking equipment in kitchens will come to look in the future, but certainly the emphasis on energy efficiency, ease of use and durability isn’t going to go away.
“If you look over the years, the format of cooking equipment hasn’t changed,” says Farquhar at Ambach. “It may have rounder-looking profiles but in essence the size of the kit — 400, 800, 900 modules — still exists. It’s all about what’s changed internally — better components, better manufacturing process, easier availability of parts and if manufactures are prepared to think out of the box.”
Even if the principles of prime cooking equipment stay unchanged, the demands that are placed upon modern kitchens will shape the decisions that are made. “I think in time we will see less and less use of ‘traditional style’ base ovens and more use of smaller compact convection and combination ovens,” predicts Steve Hobbs at Grande Cuisine. “More cooklines will be about horizontal cooking mediums, with space below being utilised for storage or back-up refrigeration.”
Operators can certainly expect new additions in the near term. As Electrolux’s Stuart Flint notes, suppliers are innovating all the time. “At the moment, that innovation can be seen largely through induction as far as prime cooking equipment is concerned, but it’s too early to say whether that’s the limit to the change that we’ll see in future. We’re already seeing products being made with different materials, such as ceramics, aiming to provide that added speed, efficiency and reliability — so it may well be that another technology comes along and revolutionises the market.