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Fitting out the Ritz

While in many hotels the restaurant and banqueting meals are prepared in separate areas, head chef Giles Thompson decided there would be no such segregation in the design of the new kitchen at the Ritz in London.

So, apart from private-dining dishes being finished on one Rorgue range and à la carte restaurant dishes on another – to prevent any interruption of service to the 60-cover Marie Antoinette private dining room – there is no separation of the two functions.

Over the past 18 months, £1.15m has been spent on the kitchens of the five-star hotel in London’s Piccadilly. Throughout the project, designed and installed by CDS Associates, the kitchen has remained fully operational, serving an average of 800 meals a day.

Although the kitchen had been given new equipment over the years, it had not had a complete refit for a long time, which made it difficult to use contemporary techniques. “We were living with the past,” says Thompson, who has a brigade of 40 chefs.

There was a shortage of raw preparation space, the kitchen tended to be very hot, there was only one walk-in fridge close to the main cooking area – the rest were at the other end of the kitchen – and there were lots of exposed pipes more in keeping with 1906 when the hotel was built than with 2000.

But all of these deficiencies have been remedied in the new kitchen. Raw prep now has a generous space that can be used for both butchery and fish, and acts as an overflow from the main kitchen prep.

The working environment is now much more pleasant, thanks to better extraction and air conditioning. And the potwash area has been moved further away from the hot kitchen, thus removing a lot of unwanted heat, spills and noise. Noise has been further reduced by the installation of an intercom system.

Visual break

A suspended ceiling now conceals all the services, so giving a cleaner and more attractive finish. And to complete the decor, there is a course of blue tiles to give a visual break in the otherwise white-tiled walls.

In the old kitchen one particular bugbear for Thompson was that the ranges, installed about 15 years ago, did not have ovens underneath and, while he recognises the value of combination ovens, he feels they are no substitute for static ovens under a range.

“When it comes to game birds or finishing a tournedos or rack of lamb, it’s more workable to have an under-counter oven rather than having to walk off to a combi-oven,” he explains.

Despite this, Thompson decided to keep one of the two existing Rorgue ranges because it was still in good condition. It was rejuvenated and some changes were made to it, such as removing a bratt pan and adding some fryers.

Thompson decided against adding ovens to it, because one side is used for breakfast, staff meals and finishing private dining meals, while the other side is the vegetable section, none of which need ovens.

Hotelympia display

However, ovens were specified in the new Rorgue range, which was displayed at Hotelympia prior to its installation at the Ritz. It accommodates the fish section on one side and the sauce section on the other.

Another major change is that the bakery and pâtisserie has doubled in size. It is a more significant kitchen area than it would be in many hotels because it is responsible for the famous Ritz afternoon tea, 250 of which are served every day. This requires about 600 pieces of confectionery to be made a day, as well as 300 desserts and 300 portions of petits fours.

In addition to the Rorgue range, Thompson has kept a number of existing appliances, including a pressure steamer, a baking oven and steaming oven.

“It wasn’t to do with minimising costs, but to do the best job we possibly could without being extravagant,” he explains. “It would have been wasteful to disregard some of the existing appliances, because they were still very usable. We’ve moved forward, but kept the best of the old.”

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