Refrigeration's move into the heart of the kitchen has forced manufacturers to come up with better and more efficient equipment - it has to be able to be placed close to heat sources, fit into smaller spaces and places it couldn't before. Diane Lane reports.
The increased focus on fresh food has brought many advantages, such as a growing public awareness of seasonality and more menus built around locally sourced produce. It has also brought with it some challenges, like increased demands on refrigeration as Jonathan Doughty, Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) UK and Ireland chairman and group managing director at food service consultancy Coverpoint, explains.
"Refrigeration is commonly split into two - items that can be stored remotely and items that need to be stored in the kitchen for easy access by the craft team. We have seen refrigeration move to the heart of the kitchen as craft teams require immediate access to their goods."
"The move towards having more refrigeration in the heart of the kitchen makes sense for a number of reasons. Labour is the biggest cost in the kitchen and if each chef is spending seven minutes out of every hour walking back and forth to a remote chiller, it's a lot of time away from the kitchen, and a lot of money wasted every year. Centralised refrigeration can keep costs down by keeping chefs in the kitchen. It also removes variations in product temperature, which can help with consistent cooking times and ensure well-cooked dishes are produced every time.
"This is now possible thanks to efficiencies in kitchen equipment and better design which allows for equipment to be fitted in places it couldn't go before - like under-counter.
It's a trend noticed by Kurran Gadhvi, marketing manager at Valera, whose recently launched G-line range of upright cabinets take a full 1/1Gastronorm container to maximise storage capacity in a small footprint. "Refrigeration used to be very much geared towards bulk storage but in recent years we have seen a steady increase in the number of counter units being sold," he says.
"Plain counters, with refrigerated storage under, and prep counter units with built-in containers for fresh ingredients, have grown in popularity, not so much because there has been any seismic shift in the way chefs operate, but more because they, along with kitchen designers and specifiers, are becoming more and more conscious of how best to use the available space in the kitchen.
"The variety of refrigerated equipment configurations available these days means that it is possible for each section within the kitchen to have its own dedicated, local, refrigerated storage, thereby keeping everything close at hand."
However, this means there is now a tendency to site refrigeration much closer to the cooking action and, therefore, closer to sources of heat.
"Siting refrigeration near to cooking can contain risks as constant access to the refrigerator during the high ambient cooking period can compromise safe storage temperatures," says John Savage, food service director at Foster Refrigerator. "A popular choice is to locate under-counter cabinets beneath prep tables near the cooking. However, it should be noted that many under-counter cabinets are not designed to work in high ambient conditions.
"This solution may work if they are being used for short periods as work out cabinets being fed from storage outside this area, but any products stored for longer can compromise the quality and the safety of the food. The best solution is to use counter refrigerators which have reinforced work tops, forced air refrigeration systems and are rated to work in high ambient conditions. Low-level counters are also available specifically designed and reinforced to take a heavy grill on top and fitted with drawers for ease of use - these, too, are rated to work in hot conditions. For larger storage capacity near this hot area, standard upright commercial refrigerators will work provided they are rated for high ambient."
Foster has developed the PROB600MW with larger fans and increased refrigeration to cope with extreme conditions of very high temperatures and frequent door opening.
In the kitchen at Jamie's Italian in Kingston, designed and installed by Advance Group, Adande single-drawer refrigeration units operate directly underneath the solid top and chargrill sections of the narrow cookline which faces the bar and is open to public view.
Given the busy nature of the kitchen - the record for one day's service by up to six chefs currently stands at about 800 covers served between noon and 11pm - having refrigerated storage handily placed underneath the solid top and grill is a real bonus, since chefs can reach ingredients without moving from their cooking station.
One unit holds seafood, prepped and ready to cook, while the other holds popular prepped chargrill items such as burgers, steaks and chops. Each unit can hold the equivalent of four 1/1 Gastronorm containers and the temperature on each drawer can be changed daily, for instance, to suit the meat or fish making up the daily specials. According to sous chef David Bryan, despite the fact they are located under the two hottest pieces of equipment in the kitchen, this has no effect on the temperature stability of the Adande units, and having all food items easily accessible with one hand speeds up cooking and service.
Developed as a space-saving solution for pubs and steakhouses, the Williams Under Broiler Counter is also designed to sit neatly under a chargrill or griddle to allow chefs to quickly and easily remove food from the large refrigerated drawers underneath and place them directly on to the hob.
The company says the fact that the kitchen has become ever more congested is something it considers very carefully in its product designs, ensuring that space saving is always seen as a priority. Its food prep solutions come in a variety of configurations including Saladette Counters, complete with under-counter refrigeration, chilled fresh food ingredient wells and worktop, and Thermowell units, which can be placed on a counter, wall mounted or used free-standing.
In dealing with increased quantities of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats on a daily basis, and with the strict health and safety legislations requiring caterers to store produce in safe and controlled environments, Glenn Roberts, managing director at Gram, says operators are finding they need extra, more efficient refrigeration space to cope with the increased demand.
With an outside width of only 60cm and a depth of 64 cm, Gram's Compact range is suited to kitchens where space is at a premium, freeing up precious floor space as they can either be built under counters, stacked on top of each other or wall-mounted.
Space was an issue when Yo! Sushi opened its flagship restaurant in Market Place, just off London's Oxford Street. Unlike other restaurants of the same brand, the kitchen is sited to one side of the conveyor from which diners select freshly prepared dishes, instead of being surrounded by it. Also, the galley-style shape of the kitchen area meant that the traditional refrigerated prep counters their chefs rely on elsewhere were too big to fit.
"If you put normal counter fridges in the Market Place site there would be no room for the chefs," says Steve Hammond, of design consultants PHCC. "That's why we decided to go with Precision's Counter 500 Series. Instead of being the usual 600 or 750mm deep, they're only 500mm, which was perfect."
For FCSI member Derek Horn, director of SeftonHornWinch, there have also been great advances in the use of refrigeration front-of-house guest side. He says: "Special refrigerated display construction has enabled operators to merchandise dramatic presentations of items such as salads, fish, sushi and wines which become culinary architecture contributing to the atmosphere of the restaurant. How often do you now see a colonnade wine entrance or a wine wall enhancing the eating experience?"
[Coverpoint ](http://www.coverpoint.co.uk) 0118 940 5266
[Foster Refrigerator](http://www.fosterrefrigerator.co.uk) 01553 691122
[Gram UK ](http://www.gramuk.co.uk)01322 616900
[Precision ](http://www.precision-refrigeration.co.uk)01842 753994
[SeftonHornWinch](www.shw-ckrc.com) 01322 420050
[Valera ](http://www.valera.co.uk) 0845 270 4321
[Williams Refrigeration 01553 817000