Technology is advancing kitchen equipment, allowing consumers more options when it comes to size, speed, cleanability, appearance, temperature control and efficiency. Anne Bruce reports
The world of catering is changing and, to paraphrase Charles Darwin, it is not the strongest business that survives, but the one that is most adaptable to change.
New kitchen equipment such as laser thermometers, water baths and vacuum machines can help chefs up their game, while the latest models of ovens, mixers and self-cleaning equipment help improve efficiency, reduce energy costs and environmental impact, deliver healthier food and improve service levels.
Glenn Roberts, chair of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA), says a stream of new product development reflects six key trends in prime cooking equipment: size, speed, cleanability, looks, temperature control, and energy/running costs.
As kitchen space gets squeezed, operators are looking for smaller appliances that can still produce more food than older models, Roberts says. Several manufacturers have developed 900mm-deep cooklines featuring appliances such as convection ovens.
Another way to increase production is to buy prime cooking equipment that cooks faster. For example, gas chargrills have been developed that speed up cooking times by focusing the heat on the cook zone.
Kitchens are huge consumers of power, and energy saving is another major trend in equipment. The introduction of eco-design and energy labelling directives have driven R&D into energy-saving technologies. Modern pan-sensitive equipment, including induction, means equipment turns on only when it senses a pan in the cooking area.
Chefs want precise temperature control, and modern technology is delivering accuracy as never before, Roberts says. Any inaccuracy in temperature control will also lead to significant energy wastage over time.
Modern manufacturers are also making appliances easier to handle and quicker to clean. Salamanders with removable parts, such as drip trays and splash guards, make cleaning more effective.
Crucially, the rise in theatre-style kitchens and front of house cooking has seen more emphasis placed on the appearance of equipment. Some manufacturers have developed modular cooklines with linking systems that can look like island suites, Roberts says.
The most vital piece of prime cooking equipment in any kitchen is likely to be the oven. Steve Hobbs, director at Grande Cuisine, says that electric-based solutions are becoming more and more popular as energy efficiency climbs the list of priorities.
“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%+ electric, sometimes even 100%, once they have compared the relevant benefits.”
In addition, solutions that optimise workflow, heat management and maintenance are prioritised. Kitchens are streamlining to become high-performance hubs capable of enhancing productivity, he says.
Increasingly, clients opt for specialised solutions with fewer components, but greater performance and efficiency, Hobbs says, not just in relation to cooking suites but also in the range of other equipment the company offers.
The iChef range of equipment from Mareno is a touch-controlled selection of commercial cooking equipment without mechanical knobs and buttons, which makes cleaning easier, simplifies the cooking process across multiple appliances and saves energy. The range includes electric hotplates, ceramic glass and induction ranges, fryers, fry tops and multi-cooking units, pasta cookers and bratt pans, boiling pans and bains-marie, Hobbs says.
There’s no doubt that digital technology and smart kitchen devices are changing the way operators work and think, says Simon Lohse, managing director at Rational UK. With Rational’s latest ConnectedCooking innovation, caterers can monitor cooking processes from home and managers can check on operational efficiency of multiple units in different sites via smartphone or a computer. Its SelfCooking Centers and VarioCookingCenters can be linked to a network and monitored over the internet. For servicing or if there are any issues, the manager can authorise Rational’s accredited service engineers to check a unit’s status remotely.
All key HACCP data can be captured, documented and exported completely automatically.
Rational has also launched a free training and resources app for the SelfCooking Center and the VarioCookingCenter, including videos of specific recipes and how to carry out various day-to-day maintenance tasks.
With an ever growing range of food choices being offered to suit the varying dietary requirements of customers, the need for a multifunctional appliance is vital to maximise space and efficiency, says Steve Hemsil, sales director UK and Ireland at Welbilt.
A crucial appliance for caterers, the combi oven can steam, grill, fry, bake or roast a wide variety of foods while also being able to quickly regenerate chilled and pre-prepared food cooked earlier on in the day, he says.
Welbilt has incorporated the easyTouch touchscreen interface across several brands, including Convotherm. It’s designed to be simple for any member of staff to use, and because different brands use the same system kitchen staff will be familiar with the operating system on multiple pieces of equipment.
Combi ovens with a complex operating system allow a larger opportunity for operator error. If too complex, it is more than likely that the oven will not be used to its full potential.
The Convotherm 4’s easyTouch interface has a 9in touchscreen, with USB port and up to 399 cooking profiles. This interface also offers a tray timer function, cooking different products at the same time, using the entire capacity of the oven efficiently.
A Crisp & Tasty mode turns the Convotherm 4 into a fryer. Lack of oxygen in the cavity on this mode means that there is no cross-contamination of flavours, so roast potatoes can be cooked alongside cod fillets without the potatoes tasting of the fish.
For Paul Siouville, Buffalo brand manager for Nisbets, induction cooking is the way forward as it provides a faster heat-up time and more precise heat. This also reduces residual heat in the kitchen, making for a more comfortable working environment.
He adds that in recent years, energy costs have soared, making induction a far more attractive prospect than traditional electric and gas cookers.
Keeping up appearances
The trend for theatre-style kitchens is driving much of the innovation in cooking equipment.
Steve Morris, sales director at Jestic, says: “Operators are increasingly putting kitchens on display to allow the customer to connect with the chefs and see their meal being prepared. In turn, this is putting a greater emphasis on the design and quality of the prime cooking equipment.”
With many businesses now running street food-style grab-and-go operations, and more traditional seated restaurants increasing the dining area, often at the expense of the kitchen size, cooking suites need to be compact yet versatile to meet demand, Morris says.
“That’s where we believe innovation in equipment, such as the highly multifunctional bratt pans and kettle cooking appliances, come into their own,” he adds.
Gareth Newton, managing director at BGL Rieber, says that chefs need to constantly innovate. One way to do this is to break with convention and get up in front of customers using mobile equipment to prepare their food.
BGL Rieber’s mobile self-ventilating, Varithek ACS (Air Cleaning System) front cooking station has multiple griddle and cooking options, in one footprint. Options range from steaks and burgers on the traditional griddle plate, to tuna on the induction teppanyaki griddle.
One problem with going mobile can be the wrong smells in the wrong place, so the latest Varithek ACS units come with self-ventilation functionality, eliminating cooking smells altogether and the need for overhead canopies or other extraction.
The trend of restaurants featuring more open kitchens, with more cooking in sight of the customer, has seen chefs choosing equipment that is more stylish, visually appealing enough to feature front of house, easier to keep clean and generating minimal residual heat, says Trevor Burke, managing director at Exclusive Ranges.
He says that the salamander, a key item of equipment in most kitchens for many years, and the plancha grill, tie in with the needs of the modern kitchen for flexible and multifunctional solutions.
A theatrical innovation from Sous Vide Tools is the PolyScience Anti-Griddle, which can freeze sauces and purées, crèmes and foams in seconds, before the eyes of the diner.
The stainless steel unit measures 358mm x 95mm x 187mm and can be wheeled to table on a trolley or add drama to a buffet.
It can develop solid or semi-frozen creations with crunchy surfaces and cool, creamy centres. Examples of frozen combinations include a salmon mousse appetiser and a rhubarb jasmine meringue and well as lollipops with liquid centres.
Prime cooking equipment is evolving rapidly as advances in technology allow manufacturers to develop smaller, smarter and more energy-efficient appliances and as operators seek out digital age solutions that will wow the new millennial customer.
Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA)
Sous Vide Tools