Whether you run a small kitchen and prepare your food by hand, or need automatic machines to deal with food on a larger scale, the equipment you use will impact on staff safety as well as the look of any dishes you create.
The proper and efficient preparation and assembly of raw ingredients is critical to the efficient operation of a professional kitchen. These repetitive yet exacting tasks also impact on employee safety, staff morale and the ultimate look and appeal of meals presented at table.
In smaller kitchens and fine-dining restaurants the prep process is done primarily with the chef's knife and a host of speciality prep tools. Although these kitchens will have food processors, blenders, small cutter mixers and hand mixers, most of the work is done by hand.
WASHERS, PEELERS AND SLICERS
There comes a point at which hand prep just can't keep up with demand and automatic machines are essential. Mechanical vegetable washers, vegetable dryers and automatic peelers get the process started, while automatic slicers with different blades for slicing, dicing, shredding, julienne and crinkle cuts speed the operation up further.
FOOD PROCESSORS AND FLOOR-STANDING CUTTER MIXERS
Food processors are fine for small amounts, but for larger quantities there are floor-standing cutter mixers with capacities up to 120 litres. In addition to chopping and blending, these cutter mixers can be fitted with different attachments to do all the standard food processor functions on a large scale.
Other high-speed food cutters have a vertical or horizontal cutting wheel. The feed plates are usually adjustable to change the thickness of the slice and the blades are changed to get different cuts.
CONTINUOUS PREP LINES
For really high-volume environments, such as prisons and centralised cook-chill operations, there is larger scale slicing equipment that comes with a small feed conveyor and the capability to continuously wash, peel and slice whole boxes of produce.
Nowadays few establishments have fully equipped meat preparation departments except military operations, prisons and some large steakhouses. But there is still some equipment in popular use, including meat tenderisers, cooked/deli meat slicers and ground patty-making machines.
Q At our conference hotel we buy in pre-prepped vegetables. We want to take the operation in-house but we're concerned about staff costs.
A Investing in automated veg prep equipment means that all vegetables can be prepped in-house. Control over quality of the raw product is in the hands of the manager. Fewer staff will be needed to perform the work and, as raw food is handled less, better safety standards are achieved. The vegetables can be prepared freshly each day, improving quality and giving you the ability to respond to seasonal varieties.
Q I am a chef at a small bistro and at present I am using a light-duty food processor to slice vegetables and make sauces. However, it is unable to keep up with the demand. What should I buy instead?
A You can buy continuous-feed food processors with different blades for slicing, dicing, shredding, julienne and crinkle cuts. These tabletop bowl-style food processors can be used for dicing and fine chopping, plus they can aerate, mix, blend and liquefy. Multiple speeds and pulse capability add to their versatility.
Lots of food prep equipment, such as cutters and slicers, involves potentially dangerous operations so regular servicing and maintenance is essential to avoid accidents. Careful checks for compliance with Health and Safety regulations might highlight issues that could easily be overlooked, such as siting and accessibility.