Commercial kitchen spaces are getting smaller and operators need to do more with less. So what pressure is that putting on traditional cooking suites? And how can you achieve the same power and performance from a reduced footprint. FEJ investigates.
With operators looking to maximise revenue-generating space front-of-house, it is a reality of today’s market that kitchen space tends to be the area that gets sacrificed, leaving chefs seeking compact yet versatile cooking suites with multifunctional appliances that can perform more tasks from a smaller footprint.
Working in smaller kitchens inevitably puts extra pressure on the operational flow of a brigade and so cooking suites need to be carefully planned to optimise the available space, and to ensure an efficient and comfortable working environment.
“Even though kitchens are getting tighter on space, menus rarely reflect this,” claims Stuart Flint, training and demonstration manager at Electrolux.
“It is invariably the case that a kitchen half the size it would once have been is still expected to produce the same volume and variety of output as before. This puts a great amount of pressure on traditional cooking suites, which often have a large footprint.
“This can lead to cramped conditions, in an environment which is hot and frantic at the best of times. As a result, caterers are looking for options which allow them to complete a large volume of varied cooking applications in a compact space.”
The trend towards smaller kitchens continues to shape product design, with manufacturers investing considerable time and money developing multifunctional kit.
“We first saw this with the multi-functional ‘plaques’ in our Athanor ranges which, when combined with either a radiant or induction hob, can easily fulfil the functions traditionally performed by a combination of plancha or griddle, solid top and gas burners,” says Steve Hobbs, managing director of Grande Cuisine.
“We are now also seeing it as part of the newest Mareno equipment such as the ICP910E 4 zone cook plate which was first developed as part of its IChef portfolio but will soon be available within the Star 90 and Star 110 ranges.”
There is certainly a lot of traditional cooking equipment available in smaller footprints these days. From 600mm gas ranges to 300mm fryers and 400mm griddles and chargrills, there is ample opportunity for chefs to replicate a traditional cooking suite across less space.
It’s useful for operators to think about appliances that can be used to cook multiple menu items at different times throughout the service. This means it won’t be sitting idle for long periods, wasting valuable space, says Shaune Hall, product development chef at Falcon Foodservice Equipment.
“Combi ovens, or compact combi ovens, bratt pans and flexi pans, twin pan fryers, countertop units located on fridges, stacked ovens and so on — these are all great ways to utilise space more effectively in the cookline.”
Hall says it’s important to recognise that a lack of space can also lead to problems in accessing power supplies. This may mean the kitchen can’t have gas appliances, or that the electric loading has to be carefully monitored.
“That’s why we developed products like our electric chargrill. Similarly, our new high-speed oven can even run off a 13 amp supply,” he comments.
MKN brought out the SpaceCombi for operators that need to maximise space. “It is just 55cm wide yet still comparably equipped to larger models,” explains marketing manager Anja Halbauer. “It offers a professional solution for users who may not have sufficient room in their kitchen and who may need their equipment situated suitably for front cooking and at serving stations.”
Another manufacturer that has adapted its product portfolio to meet the needs of smaller kitchens is the respected French brand Rosinox.
Richard Norman, national sales manager at Jestic, its UK distributor, says: “Within smaller kitchens, appliances really need to earn their space as part of a cooking suite, and that’s where we believe innovative equipment, such as highly multifunctional bratt pans and kettle cooking appliances come into their own.
“The Rosinox Dual Chef is a multifunction electric double kettle cooker featuring two independently-controlled stainless steel rectangular kettles capable of frying, boiling, steaming, stewing and grilling. Operators can incorporate the new appliance into a suite to deliver outstanding versatility in a compact, space-saving unit.”
Ian Clow, sales director at Charvet, says his advice to operators considering the right set-up for a compact kitchen is to allow enough time to secure input from manufacturers and designers.
“Visit as many comparable sites as you can to see what works and what you like,” he urges. “Interview professional kitchen designers to find out if their special skills and experience are just what you need. A cleverly designed conventional cookline should provide menu flexibility and high output, utilising the best of what the manufacturer has to offer in terms of full and half width cooking modules on top and/or refrigeration and ovens underneath.”
Our research tells us that 55% of tenders now include the requirement for a multifunctional pan”
There is certainly evidence to suggest that modular, multifunctional equipment specifically created to work in kitchens with smaller footprints is gaining popularity with operators desperate to extract the most from the space they have.
“Our research tells us that 55% of tenders now include the requirement for a multifunctional pan; this is something we predict will rise as kitchen space diminishes and doing more with less becomes ever more desirable,” reveals Tim Bender, sales director at Hobart.
Hobart has seen interest in its Bonnet Precipan grow. It has all the functionality of a bratt pan, offers nine methods of cooking and can be incorporated into a compact cookline. From January 2020 there will be four Precipan options for kitchens to choose from, depending on space and size of operation.
Due to the investment size and life expectancy when choosing prime cooking equipment, operators are increasingly looking at what the latest technology has to offer. That is manifesting itself within smaller kitchens too, insists Trevor Burke, MD of Exclusive Ranges.
“More operators are choosing to build specialist performance equipment, such as robata grills, into suites to have the most up-to-date capabilities. As well as maximising space in the kitchen, it allows operators to optimise the kitchen flow and, in the case of display and demonstration kitchens, keep clean lines and an uncluttered design.”
An aspect of kitchen design that is often overlooked is the utilisation of space underneath a cooking suite. If the kitchen is small then it is imperative that the area below the cooking surface is used to its full potential. This could include the integration of ovens, refrigeration or additional storage — all of which must be chosen based upon whether they are actually required for that site.
Operators need to work from the menu backwards, avoiding unnecessary appliances that waste valuable space in a crowded kitchen. For example, some suppliers suggest a pasta boiler could double as a water bath, or an extra place to cook, hold, and store garnishes before plating.
Kitchens can be hot, loud and chaotic places. Smaller kitchens are likely to get even hotter, and this should be a factor in equipment choices, says Electrolux’s Flint.
“Induction surfaces are better than gas for maintaining an ambient temperature in a kitchen, making working conditions much easier for chefs. Alongside a host of other reasons, such as energy efficiency, control, cleanability and quicker cooking times, this highlights the benefit of incorporating induction tops in compact cooking suites.”
The key is always to opt for a product that offers flexibility and functionality within its set-up, even if the actual footprint remains small.
Charvet has already adapted its portfolio by introducing the Pro700 series several years ago. This is reduced in depth by 200mm compared to a conventional range but still packs Charvet’s power, rugged build quality and durability.
“We will also continue to evolve multipurpose products such as the Induction Multizone, which provide the power needed for service and flexibility for early morning prep and mise en place,” says Ian Clow. “One final point is that the cookline will always be a people business. Whatever the size of kit involved, chefs must feel that it is comfortable and safe to work on, provides controllable power when it is need and is relatively easy to clean down at the end of shift.”
Looking ahead, many suppliers expect more operators to embrace induction and to choose multifunction appliances which offer exceptional performance from a smaller footprint.
“The energy-saving abilities, precise control and safety benefits of induction cooking are well-established — and in compact kitchen set-ups, with chefs often working in close proximity, induction is an ideal choice to help create a more comfortable working environment,” says Norman at Jestic.
“With induction, energy is focused directly to the base of the pan, so less heat is transferred into the atmosphere in comparison to traditional gas and electric heating, plus there is also less need for ventilation and extraction to control the temperature.”
One thing’s for sure: a smaller cooking suite no longer means a trade-off against power and performance.
The Oyster Club: Overcoming space constraints
At The Oyster Club in Birmingham, Michelin starred chef Adam Stokes would have loved to have had an island suite but due to the constraints of the kitchen he had to opt for a wall suite instead.
He chose a Mareno suite, the first one in the UK to incorporate the brand’s IChef and Power Guardian systems, and carefully selected what elements would go where in order to maximise the space and ensure that the layout was best suited to his style of cooking.
For example, the plaque/plancha has four zones, so in the morning he can use the entire surface for large pans and then in the evening he turns the rear zones down and uses them for simmering sauces while keeping the front nice and hot for roasting.