Hotel kitchens are some of the most challenging in the country due to demands placed upon them. From huge banquets to 24/7 room service, there is always plenty to consider when planning how a hotel kitchen will work. At this year’s Commercial Kitchen show, FEJ editor chaired a panel featuring a cast of top executive chefs to discover the driving forces behind their work.
ON THE PANEL
– Paul Taylor, Executive Chef, Hilton Birmingham Metropole
– Dean Crews, Group Executive Chef, Kew Green Hotels
– Alan White, Executive Head Chef, The Grand Brighton & Richmond Hill Hotel
Let’s start by talking a bit about the operations you look after. What sort of kitchen infrastructure do you have in place?
Alan White: There are three kitchens and they’re in very good nick actually. They’ve always been well-maintained from service contractors, but over the last 20 years the investment has started to come through into our kitchens as well. In a sense it’s very old school — there’s an old-fashioned larder there, for example. I’ve been there 14 years now and it’s now about how we use them in a more effective way that is going to be a lot more productive.
There’s been a certain amount of investment into the fridges, walls, ceiling, lighting and those key areas. We have relocated different areas for better workflow productivity through the kitchens as well, and we’re now at the point where our banqueting kitchen needs a complete overhaul so we’re about to invest £600,000 into that and literally strip it back out and start again. It is an opportunity to redesign it completely and make it a little bit future-proof at the same time, so it outlives me for the next generation.
Paul Taylor: The kitchen operation comprises seven operational kitchens. On a daily basis that involves managing the main kitchen, the pastries, the larder, the restaurants and room service. Then we have another three kitchens that we use as service kitchens for the large events that we move into as and when the events are on. We’ve got 790 bedrooms and 33 function rooms, so there tends to be a lot going on all of the time.
Dean Crews: Generally speaking, we have some standardised offers, because the business is quite predictable in a good two-thirds of the hotels, but a lot of the hotels are old and they need a lot of work, so we take the opportunity to make the operations as efficient as possible. Next week I’m going to finalise a project in Belfast, for instance, and they’ve got five or six different areas that we’ve got to think about, plus things like breakfast for 300. Front-of-house is a crucial thing for us, designing buffetware and tableware. But as a company we are upwards of £10m a year on that sort of stuff so we continue to invest.
With 70-plus hotels in the portfolio, I presume there is always a kitchen project or refurbishment going on somewhere?
Dean Crews: Yes, literally from about February to October every year. We’re planning in January and November and December is just too busy with the Christmas build-up and things like that, so we stay away from those months. Usually by the end of September we’ve finished everything that we’re going to do for that year and then we think about the following year.
But certainly when we’re doing projects we’re looking at, ‘can we use induction because the kitchen’s so small and we want to make it cooler?’ ‘Can we use undercounter refrigeration as opposed to the standard model? We look at speed as well. We own the hotel within Norwich City and obviously at half-time they want to do thousands of covers in half an hour so we’re looking at efficiency in dishes and things like that. We use every bit of technology that’s out there at the minute.
There’s £1.4m of kitchen spend over the next few months, already sat with our owners and signed off”
What tend to be the workhorse pieces of equipment for the kitchen? And what could you not do without?
Paul Taylor: Combination ovens. We use Rational — everything from breakfast all the way through to the preparation and the regeneration process for a thousand people in the evening. They are a very versatile piece of kit for us.
Dean Crews: Everything that we’ve done in the last two years when we’ve put ovens in has been Rational, purely because of the appeal in terms of regeneration and the efficiency piece around getting food out. But we’ve put a mixture of ranges in and different types of equipment because it will always be about what fits for the hotel. We found the Electrolux range to work quite well in terms of the induction piece so it tends to be what works best.
Alan White: It’s a bit of a cliché really, but it’s Rational all the way! I think with Rational what you get is confidence in the product. You get to learn the equipment and you know what you can get out of it and you know what boundaries you can push. And I think once you’ve learnt that and you’ve got the confidence in it, you can deliver really exceptional food on it.
We’ve talked about induction and technologies like that already. Do you think the traditional hotel kitchen is changing nowadays?
Dean Crews: I think it has to, it’s a no brainer. If you’re going into an environment where you’re turning over a lot of covers or an environment like Alan’s got, with his banqueting kitchen, you don’t want to be leaving things on all day just on the off chance that you might want to do something with it later. It just makes more sense and I think induction kitchens are nicer for the chefs.
A lot of the feedback we get is that they’re just generally a nicer environment to work in. Obviously for us we have considerations about power supply and whether we can put it in but I would always push that forward as being the right way to go. And things like the multi-surface are a benefit —you can stick a pan on to warm some sauce but also cook scallops on it. Why would you not do that? It saves space, saves time, saves pans.
If there are ways that we can use technology to automate processes, streamline them and make things easier for chefs then I’m a big supporter of that”
What proportion of your estate is using induction now?
Dean Crews: I’d probably say only about 20% at the moment, but that’s only really because when we’ve done big investments it’s tended to be around banqueting, so it probably wouldn’t apply. But we are moving forward. We’re just about to start a project with a block of 18 hotels and they will all benefit from that because they’re enclosed spaces and are in old buildings, where it’s usually easier to put induction in.
There is a lot of data-driven kitchen technology now available in the market, providing operators with the ability to track and monitor the way equipment performs. Are you looking for more intelligence from the equipment that you buy?
Alan White: Yes, there is a certain amount of that and there’s a certain amount of needing a good old-fashioned stove, lighting it and that’s it. But I think the modern technology needs to come forward because it helps change the techniques of how you cook going forward and it brings another learning curve for the staff. It means there is a better engagement with what you’re trying to do, there’s better delivery and it’s a better product as well.
Dean Crews: I was somewhere the other day and they had some Rational equipment that was connected to a central system so that they can look at any problems that were going on anywhere. From an operator point of view, that really appeals. But you need to do it on scale to get the true advantage — I don’t think you can do it with one or two ovens because I don’t think you’d feel the benefit. I agree with Alan, if you embrace the technology, even if you look at something relatively small equipment-wise such as a Thermomix, you can guarantee the products while just adapting your recipe to the technology. Consistency is what we all want, speed is what we all want and quality is what we all want, so all of those things can help.
Paul Taylor: If you can download your core temperatures, your hazard analysis, your critical control points and stuff like that on a daily basis then every time you’re cooking it really helps the systems work. If you look at refrigeration, for example, everything now is monitored remotely and all the data from the handheld terminals comes through the PC, so it takes away all the paperwork that needs to be generated. It also means that if the system is foolproof you can’t override it by creating paperwork, so it makes you use the systems that are in place.
If you had to choose a piece of equipment to make life easier for your kitchen team, what would be top of your wish list?
Alan White: I don’t really know actually because I think there’s so much on the market that it is almost like there is something for everything out there. I’d just give every chef a table spoon, to keep them tasting!
Paul Taylor: I agree with you. If I walked around my kitchen, my pastry chef would tell me what he wants, and then I’d walk into the restaurant and they would want something else. So there is no one piece of kit that would solve everything. You’ve got to base it on the area and the team, where they’re working and what is best for them at the time.
Dean Crews: If there are ways that we can use technology to automate processes, streamline them and make things easier for chefs then I’m a big supporter of that. Chefs do spend a lot of time on that sort of stuff so if it is going to save the chef a lot of concern and worry at breakfast, lunch and dinner that’s a good thing. If we could automate a blast chilling process that would save a lot of hassle and probably improve the process as well.
We use combi ovens for everything from breakfast all the way through to the preparation and the regeneration process for a thousand people in the evening. They are a very versatile piece of kit for us
What’s your main kitchen priority for the remainder of the year?
Paul Taylor: We’re potentially looking at a refurbishment of the food and beverage operation within the hotel. We’re waiting for the green light from our ownership, so once that goes ahead then it will be full steam ahead to try and redevelop the kitchen areas, the front-of-house and everything else.
Dean Crews: We’ve got three more projects planned this year, and that will probably be it for this year. My focus will now be on quarter one for next year and the 19 [Holiday Inn] hotels that we’ve just absorbed, what we’re going to do with them and how we’re going to change the kitchens because every single one of them has got multiple kitchens. That’s the big focus for the remainder of the year.
Alan White: We’ve just launched a new restaurant at Richmond Hill, so that’s a £1.2m investment — a brand new restaurant and kitchen built in existing walls and ceilings. Down at the Grand, we want to close GB1 [restaurant] and put a brand new restaurant in there, a brand new food concept as well, so we’ve just signed off on a £250,000 investment on that. Attached to that is the kitchen and we will have a new £150,000 suite put in there. Then there is the banqueting kitchen, which is a £600,000 strip-out and refit. I think we’ve got a 12-month window but there’s £1.4m of kitchen spend over the next few months, already sat with our owners and signed off.