Restaurant chains are offering more eclectic menus and dishes than ever before, but their operational execution depends on support from the right blend of cooking platforms and techniques.
In many ways, the trends that have encapsulated the prime cooking market over the past 12 months mirror wider industry sentiments around the way in which F&B areas are developing.
At the forefront of this is the strengthening appetite for open plan kitchens, which is heavily influencing equipment decisions, particularly in establishments where cooking equipment needs to look good as well as be able to consistently sustain constant usage.
The squeeze on space is another factor that the industry has grown accustomed to dealing with and open kitchens are as vulnerable to that as traditional ‘out of sight’ environments.
Consequently, operators are increasingly hunting for versatile, multifunctional devices that offer more than one cooking function and allow them to make the most of the footprint at their disposal.
Additionally, experts note that the rise of world cuisine and oriental cooking is shaping the buying decisions that operators are making from a cooking perspective.
As cuisines from around the world increasingly dominate both the high street and food delivery landscape, mainstream foodservice operators need to be able to incorporate new food trends, innovative cooking methods and exceptional skill into their kitchens.
Prime cooking trends
Consumers are becoming evermore discerning and expect to be able to choose from a varied menu of freshly-cooked food when eating out. That’s an observation that chimes with Paul Hickman, culinary development manager at Lincat, whose equipment is used by a wide range of pub, hotel and restaurant chains.
He thinks few operators can afford to be without the full repertoire of prime cooking equipment if they want to provide customers with compelling choice and adapt their menus when required.
“While there are operators, with limited menus, who are able to produce what they need with just a couple of pieces of kit — a combi perhaps and a clam griddle — the majority still need a full line of prime cooking equipment. This is likely to be centred on a four- or six-burner cooking range and include a griddle or chargrill, fryers and perhaps a salamander. Only this is able to offer the flexibility required to produce a varied, freshly-cooked menu and accommodate future menu changes.”
Commercial kitchens are streamlining to become high performance hubs capable of enhancing productivity and ensuring energy efficiency through the use of equipment that is multifunctional, adaptable and reliable.
And this kind of strategic thinking is evident in the installations and projects that prime cooking equipment suppliers such as Grande Cuisine are now involved in.
Managing director, Steve Hobbs, explains: “One high profile client recently changed the format of his cooksuite from 30% electric to 95% electric, opting for a mixture of Plaque Athanor planchas along with induction, and only retaining one traditional-style gas solid top as part of the overall cooksuite design. Increasingly, we are seeing our clients opt for specialised solutions with fewer components, but greater performance and efficiency.”
Antony Ward, brand manager of Sous Vide Tools, suggests more chefs are inclined to combine prime cooking methods in order to achieve dishes of a consistently high quality.
“A perfect example of this would be cooking sous vide and then finishing on a charcoal or wood-fired oven for a consistent, authentic texture and flavour,” he notes. “Or, alternatively, reverse searing — in other words achieving caramelisation first and then cooking with sous vide to lock in all the flavours generated by the Maillard reaction when searing. Chefs appear to be increasing their arsenal of prime cooking equipment in order to keep up with current food trends and as a result chefs are now much more open to new ideas and concepts than they were a few years ago.”
Changing kitchen workspaces
Efficiency is a key aspect of modern day kitchen planning, with the R&D departments of prime cooking equipment suppliers focused on optimising production.
Steve Morris, sales director at Jestic, says the new Rosinox Dual Chef 800 double kettle cooker, which features two independently-controlled kettles capable of frying, boiling, steaming, stewing and grilling, is a clear example of a product created to meet the demand for compact, highly versatile appliances.
“We believe appliances such as this will become increasingly important to most kitchens in the years to come. Ultimately, the future of prime cooking equipment will continue to focus on certain key aspects — flexibility, reliability, ergonomic configuration, efficiency and attractive design. The constant advances in technology are enabling manufacturers to design smaller appliances with the same output and versatility of older, larger appliances, while investment in the latest induction cooking is achieving outstanding efficiency and ongoing sustainability.”
Multifunctional equipment is putting additional power and control into the hands of chefs, which is particularly useful given speed should never come at the expense of cooking quality.
Simon Lohse, managing director of Rational, points out that historically it would have taken 24 hours to cook a beef stock, but modern equipment has reduced that process to three hours.
“Operators increasingly understand that their kitchens need to be a pleasant working environment. For example, in kitchens cooking high volumes of food, we have seen that modern, attractive, easy-to-use equipment that generates minimal waste heat helps enhance the kitchen environment. It is clearly recognised that quality conditions will improve staff retention and recruitment.
“Younger chefs are demanding cooking equipment with more technology as styles of work evolve. Alongside that, and led primarily by large chains and key accounts, is the trend for kitchens to become more visible, for example with chefs tables and theatre-style kitchens. This means equipment needs to be attractive and easy to clean.”
Operators no longer worry about using the ‘traditional’ prime cooking equipment to achieve the desired results”
MKN has witnessed multifunctional equipment playing a starring role in the industry over the past 12 months and communications manager, Anja Halbauer, predicts this will only continue.
“One of the main issues caterers find is that they often have limited space to have several, large appliances in their kitchens,” she says. “Most recently, the introduction of multifunctional equipment and small versions of equipment has proved popular among caterers, as this kind of equipment allows staff and chefs to move around the kitchen quickly with the equipment not taking up large amounts of space, and in turn deliver an efficient service.”
MKN’s SpaceCombi is doing particularly well from this trend as it combines both multifunctionality and a small design.
“Being only 55cm wide and able to pack so much into such little space, this appliance has a range of technologically-advanced features and functions. Despite its slim width, the SpaceCombi Compact offers an incredible 6 x 1/1GN in capacity with the SpaceCombi Junior offering an outstanding 6 x 2/3 GN in capacity.”
Induction is another area that has gained momentum right the way through the culinary market. Cooking suite brand Charvet backs this up, citing strong demand for its new multizone heavy duty range and oven in particular. It appeals to chain operators seeking a reliable solution that will help to reduce ventilation loads and reduce costs.
“The induction multizone features pan-detectors to sense when the cooking pan or pans are placed on top,” says sales director Ian Clow. “It is ideally suited to using a mix of various-sized pans for service but is also equally suited to heating up large stockpots for making stocks overnight or boiling up big pans in the morning.”
The need for smaller, compact equipment cannot be ignored either. Gary Nunn, managing director of Unox, highlights it as a prominent trend.
He says operators are looking to work effectively from extremely compact spaces. “In this case the choice of prime cooking equipment is key and factors such as footprint and multifunctionality are hugely important. With the Unox Cheftop Mind.Maps combi ovens there is a compact version that takes five full-size gastronorm pans but is only 535mm wide, allowing chefs to roast, grill, steam, bake, slow cook and so much more, all within the same piece of equipment and a small footprint.”
One of the biggest priorities for most operators assessing new prime cooking equipment is flexibility, which is largely due to the rate at which both food trends are evolving and consumer eating habits are changing.
Welbilt’s sales director Steve Hemsil suggests equipment doesn’t just need to be able to cater for many different types of food being cooked in order to allow establishments to adapt and future-proof their menus, but be able to deliver high quality, cooked food quickly.
“Operators no longer worry about using the ‘traditional’ prime cooking equipment to achieve the desired results, as the important factor is now utilising the wide range of technology available to them to produce great quality food for the customer every time, even if that means using ‘unconventional’ cooking methods such as compact, high-speed ovens,” he says. “The focus is now more on the food, the current trends and speed of delivery to the customer as opposed to having lots of traditional kit in the kitchen.”
Younger chefs are demanding cooking equipment that features more technology as styles of work evolve”
Steve Hobbs at Grande Cuisine has also observed some developments that suggest kitchen profiles are changing.
“Electric-based solutions are becoming more and more popular as energy efficiency continues to climb the list of priorities and even though we are still approached by clients looking for a solution that balances gas and electric components, more often than not they will opt for 70%-plus electric, sometimes even 100%, once they have compared the relevant benefits,” he reveals. “In addition, gleaming environments packed with as many components as possible are slowly giving way to carefully-balanced solutions that optimise workflow, heat management and maintenance.”
Rival cooking suite supplier Charvet agrees. Operators are demanding equipment that ticks the heavy duty and high power boxes and meets their lifecycle expectations. The company has created product ranges to suit different categories of the market, but each one is underpinned by its reputation for reliability and longevity.
“Even under punishing, consistent use, Charvet equipment will last 10 years or more and there is a host of reference sites around the country which can prove that,” remarks Ian Clow. “Admittedly, some chain operators want a short payback — five to seven years — before they change format. That’s why we introduced the stripped-down, modular and quick-to-install Charvet ONE Series.”
Rational’s Simon Lohse suggests that operators should consider future-proofing their kitchens when purchasing new kit, making it easier to plan for any anticipated changes in menu and capacity well into the future.
“Purchase price is always a key factor in the decision-making process. However by spending a little more this may well improve the longer terms costs and savings. Reductions in food, labour and energy costs make a huge difference to the lifetime cost of equipment.”
For Morris at Jestic, it’s all about the full package. “Aside from quality, reliability and versatility, operators looking to select prime cooking equipment for their kitchen should consider the lifetime costs and the ongoing technical support,” he advises.
The acquisition of new prime cooking equipment is not an area that operators can afford to take lightly. Those that make considered, long-term decisions will find that their investment proves to be worth every penny.
Marston’s focuses on total life cost
Performance and energy efficiency are routinely cited as top priorities for operators choosing prime cooking equipment, with many prepared to pay more for energy efficient appliances, having looked at whole life costs.
This is certainly the case for pub chain Marston’s, which has specified Lincat Vortech fryers for use in its estate.
Colin Mackenzie, head of corporate services procurement at Marston’s, says: “The stand-out point on the cookline was the Opus Vortech fryer, which is a very energy efficient piece of equipment that produces less exhaust gas heat in the kitchen and faster recovery times. Added to that was an option for automatic filtration of oil which, when combined with energy savings, provided payback in nine months.
“None of these changes resulted in a cost saving on the purchase price — quite the opposite in fact. For example, the fryers we specify cost over three times more than the previous unit, but the key to it is total life cost.”