What’s the holy catering equipment grail for a fast-paced Mexican restaurant chain facing huge peaks in demand at certain times of the day?
It’s a rice cooker that can keep up with the pace of a busy service and deliver high volumes when called upon, according to Martyn Clover, head of food at Tortilla, the 40-strong UK chain.
The company has introduced new high-speed cooking technology to some of its stores to speed up dishes such as quesadillas over the past year, but he admits the one thing he is constantly on the look-out for is a better rice cooker.
“They always seem to have similar technology but the performance varies greatly,” he explains. “The challenge is finding bigger rice cookers that still produce the quality that we need. They all seem to get to a certain capacity and don’t get any bigger, whereas some of our big stores do a serious amount of rice. Even if we could have a couple of rice cookers double the size, we would still get through it quickly!”
Tortilla uses combi ovens in all its stores but Mr Clover said that using those to produce rice would only be done as a “contingency” measure.
“The Mexican rice that we do has a tomato mix that we cook into the rice and from a flavour point of view that works better inside a rice cooker. The pressure forces the flavour into it and I find when I do it in the combi the flavour is not as intense. But it is there as an option if we need it to be,” he says.
Tortilla’s style of cooking means that the company spends a considerable time testing out new equipment before committing to any form of roll-out.
“Any equipment we use is going to take a beating because the nature of our food means that we are never going to be doing just one cook a day. Even in our quietest stores, it is a case of ‘cook little, cook often’. So before we move onto a new piece of equipment we need to really check it out.”