KITCHEN TALK: How specifying the right kit has made Heston’s Heathrow cafe fly

The Perfectionists’ Cafe at Heathrow Airport has flourished since it was opened by TV chef Heston Blumenthal and his team. Chef manager Julian O’Neill explains why the choice of equipment is so integral to achieving the speed, consistency and service that a fast-moving travel location demands.

For an operation associated with Heston Heston Blumenthal and his internationally-renowned The Fat Duck Group, it is little surprise that The Perfectionists’ Cafe at Heathrow Airport prides itself on creating memorable dishes using the finest, freshest ingredients.

What might raise a few eyebrows, however, is the fact that it seeks to achieve a maximum service time of just 11 minutes.

It is no mean feat, but in a fast-paced airport environment, where guests are limited on time as they wait to board their flight, speed is the name of the game for almost every foodservice business.

While most Michelin starred chefs would probably baulk at the thought of having to turn around dishes so quickly, Blumenthal and his executive chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts, and chef manager, Julian O’Neill, were inspired by the opportunity to create a unique concept in such a demanding setting.

The Perfectionists’ Café is open from 05:00 until the last flight leaves the terminal around 23:00, serving around 1,100 customers every day of the week.

This considerable demand for speed and turnaround not only puts pressure on the experienced team, but the kitchen equipment too.

“We can’t afford to have equipment that cannot take the strain of such a high number of covers, seven days a week,” explains O’Neill. “It’s not just the equipment that needs to deliver though. Situated in the heart of Terminal 2 at Heathrow, we must abide by stringent regulation around servicing and maintenance, so working with distributors who we know we can rely on is crucial.”

One of the companies it has relied upon most heavily is Jestic, which it previously worked with on a number of projects, including sourcing a Josper charcoal oven for Dinner By Heston, in Knightsbridge. O’Neill travelled with Ashley Palmer-Watts to Jestic’s state-of-the-art development kitchen when planning The Perfectionists’ Café in order to understand more about the latest equipment.

We are required by Heathrow regulation to undertake a service on our equipment and replace key components on the fryer every six months”

“While on site, we were shown the Evolution Elite fryers from Henny Penny and almost immediately, I knew we could benefit from them at the café,” he says.

“By including the technology in our kitchen, we could effortlessly cook the quantity of food we would require, to the same exacting standard. What’s more, the equipment would be backed by the outstanding service offered by Jestic.”

One of the most popular dishes on the menu at The Perfectionists’ Café is the ‘Extraordinary Fish & Chips’ made using freshly caught fish, delivered to the restaurant from Cornwall each morning, coated in a secret batter, made using sparkling water and beer, before being cooked to perfection in the Henny Penny Fryer.

“The fish from our Extraordinary Fish & Chips dish is one example of the focus we put on ingredients and recipe development. Using a unique method, the best ingredients and the quality equipment, we’re able to create a wonderfully light batter, with an incredible taste and texture.

“The great thing about the Henny Penny fryers is the programmable settings which help us deliver precision and consistency, not just on the fish, but chips, burgers or even our homemade black pudding scotch eggs. It is so easy to use, allowing me to have confidence in my brigade and ensure our customers receive the quality they would expect, day in, day out.”

Located in one of the most tightly-controlled settings in the country, regular service and maintenance is not only essential, but also somewhat of a logistical challenge. But O’Neill says that in four years it has never had any issues with the fryers.

“Being at the airport, we are required by Heathrow regulation to undertake a service on our equipment and replace key components on the fryer every six months — significantly more than would be needed in a traditional kitchen. Despite this fixed requirement, Jestic has always gone above and beyond.”

With barely 10 minutes to turn around each dish, The Perfectionists’ Cafe kitchen is as dependent on reliable equipment as its customers are for good food served up in plenty of time before they take to the skies.

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