Where does hot holding equipment fit into a modern kitchen estate and what value can it add to a busy catering operation? FEJ investigates.
The challenge of achieving consistency and quality while still meeting volume demands at peak service times is one that operators from a whole gamut of sectors will be all too familiar with.
Fortunately, developments in hot-holding equipment mean you don’t have to look too far for a solution these days, with advances in humidity and precision temperature ensuring that kitchen operations can operate to an optimum level.
“The use of hot-holding equipment is more relevant in commercial kitchens today than it has ever been,” insists Mark Hogan, commercial director at FEM, the UK distributor of Alto-Shaam, which has developed the Halo Heat system, meaning gentle, radiant heat evenly surrounds food without the use of extremely hot elements or added humidity and fans.
“Modern equipment allows caterers in major food chains to track and log hot food holding times. This ensures that the food is held and served at safe temperatures, increasing the speed of service and food quality.
“Traditionally, the concern with hot holding food was that food could become dried out and overcooked. Caterers are now demanding equipment that maintains food quality, moistness and taste, as well as heat.”
The primary benefit of hot holding equipment is that operators can prep and cook food outside busy service times, increasing flexibility and reducing the waste they produce.
Mike O’Keeffe, managing director at Gamble Foodservice Solutions, the UK agent for Hatco, says its use is now widespread. “Given the nature of various sectors, be it QSR or hotels, entertainment, corporate and leisure, the way food is prepared and stored is becoming more relevant. From restaurant operators to self-service locations, the value of supply against demand continues to eschew heavily towards optimising supply.”
The use of induction technology within the hot holding sector has also increased in recent times due to benefits in terms of efficiency, safety and ease of cleaning. Paula Sherlock, managing director of Signature FSE, says this is most evident in front-of-house operations.
“We work with different manufacturers offering a variety of solutions for hot holding, all using induction technology. Our Swiss brand Gastros is a specialist in holding temperature equipment using induction technology and has developed three different solutions: invisible undercounter, inset and tabletop models, giving choice to operators based on their needs.
“The same invisible induction technology for hot holding is also available in the Venta modular buffet system, a range of buffet tables that are easy to move around, therefore offering vast operational flexibility to operators. One of the key features of the Venta buffet system is that, unlike other brands, its food holding tables use field induction instead of point induction, meaning that each induction zone can accept multiple dishes, optimising the buffet display.”
Hot holding can smooth out peaks and troughs in demand by allowing food to be cooked in advance and held at the perfect temperature for serving throughout the day. It is a particular advantage to fast food chains and food-on-the-go operations where the emphasis is on speedy of service.
Any equipment that decreases customer waiting times will improve a venue’s popularity, insists Nathan Jones, sales director at Gamble Foodservice Solutions.
It’s near impossible to have certain foods fully prepared in bulk without a drop in quality, taste and texture”
“Speed is still a fundamental factor in commercial kitchens and providing the ‘freshly cooked’ aesthetic is absolutely crucial. It’s near impossible to have certain foods fully prepared in bulk without a drop in quality, taste and texture.
The value hot holding brings to the table is in striking that perfect balance for operators whereby they can have food prepared to near completion, store it at a consistent temperature and, when an order is placed, their preparation process ends up faster and more optimised.”
Hot holding has evolved from just being about safety to now being crucial in its versatility, observes Jones: “Holding wraps, proteins and fried foods require separation, consistent heating usually at differing temperatures, preventing cross-contamination and much more.”
Jestic represents two of the industry’s leading hot holding equipment brands in the shape of Winston and Henny Penny. Both offer a range of equipment that works to maintain extremely precise temperature and humidity conditions in order to preserve the quality of the food items held within.
“Hot holding appliances can add real value to a wide variety of commercial kitchen operations,” says Richard Norman, national sales manager at Jestic. “In the fast food sector, hot holding enables restaurants to manage the busiest peak service times and improve yields. Food can be prepared in advance and held at the precise temperature and humidity conditions until it is ready to be served.”
As with any piece of kit in a kitchen, the relevance of hot holding comes down to the benefits and commercial advantages it can deliver.
Gary Nunn, managing director of Unox UK, argues that the best way to add value to hot holding is to increase the potential time between cooking and serving. Its Evereo system can safely preserve food at serving temperature for days or even weeks. “Evereo has redefined hot-holding, giving chefs the ability to decide when and where to cook the menu, producing meals with no waiting time straight from the Evereo.
“It reduces food wastage, uses less energy than blast chilling and freezing, and can even create new opportunities to serve high quality meals where kitchen space is limited or non-existent. By delivering these benefits, it simply has to be relevant for the modern kitchen.”
Nunn agrees that such developments have stretched the definition of hot holding. “This is no longer just about keeping food at a safe temperature throughout service periods and preventing ‘drying out’; manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of how far hot holding can extend and therefore what benefits it can deliver.
“Evereo acts as a ‘hot refrigerator’, using patented technology to preserve food safely at the temperature at which it is served and eaten, and above the danger zone for bacterial growth. It has a more conventional ‘holding mode’, for holding food up to eight hours, but with ‘preserving mode’, chefs can use custom or pre-set programmes to preserve dishes in sealed containers for days or weeks.”
Craig McNerlin, director of Kitchen & Restaurant Projects, which represents Thermodyne in the UK, says that in today’s modern kitchens, the traditional ‘hot holding’ unit has to be transformed into a multi-functional piece of equipment.
“It has to become more part of the cooking process, and this includes hot-prep, pre-staging and cooking,” he says. “Because the Thermodyne transfers a hot fluid through a manifold to all of the shelves at the same time, you can introduce different foods, at different temperatures, without affecting each other. The Thermodyne can pre-stage, re-therm, poach, braise, sous vide cook, slow cook, set proteins and dehydrate — all in the same unit, at the same time.”
Manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of how far hot holding can extend and therefore what benefits it can deliver”
The latest innovation from Jestic’s portfolio is the CVap 7-Series Cook & Hold cabinet from Winston, which gives chefs precise control over a food’s temperature, moisture and texture while preserving quality.
“CVap, stands for ‘Controlled Vapour Technology’ which produces a vapour laden environment with the exact amount of moisture needed to prevent even the most delicate of ingredients from drying out or overcooking,” says Norman.
“Once the food reaches the desired state of cooking, the CVap technology automatically switches to a ‘hold cycle’ meaning ingredients can be held at the perfect conditions until they are ready to be served. The CVap 7-Series has the versatility to roast, braise, poach, or low temperature steam and can also be used in sous vide mode for increased precision.”
At the induction end of the market, Swiss brand Gastros has just launched the InductWarm Battery Module designed to fit in OEM mobile catering solutions. “Venues wishing to serve a hot buffet to their guests in areas that don’t have power supply, such as a terrace, will have the option to do so thanks to the new Gastros battery module,” says Sherlock at Signature.
The aim for operators is to deliver even better-tasting food that can be held for even longer periods. Manufacturers specialising in this sector are relishing the chance to set the bar even higher.
Fried chicken to fine dining
Operators from both ends of the foodservice spectrum use hot holding equipment to support their business models. Khalid Al-Qaqa, owner of Riot Chicken in Battersea, regards it as a vital part of its kitchen armoury.
“Before busy periods in the day, we cook the chicken and the Henny Penny holding cabinet keeps it perfectly tender, meaning that it doesn’t lose freshness, touch or taste. Our commitment to our customers is that they will get the same quality of chicken no matter when they visit us — this would be an impossible mission without the Henny Penny holding cabinets.”
Meanwhile, in the fine dining sector, chefs are harnessing the creative potential and efficiencies of cooking ‘low and slow’ in cook and hold appliances such as those offered by Winston CVap. Tam Storrar, chef-director at Blanchette in London, says the equipment helps it to work smarter.
“We no longer need to rush the cooking of ingredients to meet time constraints, as we used to when using the combi and sous vide method. We’re able to leave the CVap on for days at a time, cooking and holding the joints for our duck and lamb dishes to perfection and still having space to hold other ingredients, too.
For a small brigade like ours, it is like having another member of the team.”