An £11.5m project to renovate the banqueting facilities at the Lancaster London hotel, venue for the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Hotel Cateys, included a radical upgrade of the kitchens. Executive chef Eibhear Coyle took Diane Lane on a back-of-house tour
At around 20 years old, the kitchens at the Lancaster London hotel were at the end of their life-cycle. Designed when silver service was de rigueur, they were less than ideal for the hotel's planned switch to a cook-chill banqueting system.
The hotel caters for all sizes of events, from small meetings to receptions for up to 3,000 people, and has been voted Best UK Hotel in the Meetings category by the readers of Meetings and Incentive Travel magazine six times in 10 years.
Having returned to the UK from the Bahamas to take up the post of executive chef and director of catering at the Lancaster in 2010, Eibhear Coyle relished the challenge of upgrading the four-star hotel's banqueting operation. "The set-up was good but it was for silver service and did not serve the purpose for regeneration," he says.
For Coyle, the key to a successful banqueting space lies in making it versatile. "It needs to be an open, fluid space with kit that can be moved about so you can clean thoroughly and also move everything out of the way for trolleys to come through," he explains. "With a fixed kitchen and island range you can't change it."
The brief to Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) member Stephen Arnold of Humble Arnold Associates was to implement a change from a mixture of service systems - part silver service and part plated - to a fully plated banqueting system, offering regularised food production to ensure consistent product quality and presentation. Additionally, the facilities would need to meet HACCP requirements and ease the efficiency and recording of this process.
With the hotel already holding accolades such as AA Eco Hotel of the Year 2012 and the Gold Accreditation from Green Tourism for London, environmental considerations were also key and the refurbishment was an opportunity to introduce new efficient equipment to reduce carbon footprint and operational cost.
Coyle had very specific ideas about what he wanted. While the overall footprint of the space couldn't be changed, he was free to play around with the configuration to improve workflows and ergonomics. "We looked at the flows. They really needed to be right for us to achieve our goal of restaurant-quality meals from one to 3,000."
The aim was to create clearly defined workflows from raw product delivery through to service and to eliminate any congestion or cross-flows. The different areas are defined by colour-coded walls, doors and floors throughout, with goods-in grey, the main kitchen and storage in white, and the service and restaurant access in black.
A system of defined coldroom and freezer spaces by Foster Refrigerator sit adjacent to the loading bay to receive deliveries, which are made in returnable crates. The doors of chilled spaces are fitted with cold air blowers in preference to the standard strip curtains.
In line with the separation of production areas, fruit and veg prep has its own space next to the fruit and veg coldroom, with mobile workbenches, a pressure cooker and mixing kettle.
The hot and cold production kitchens were switched around from their original allotted areas to make better use of the available space, with the hot kitchen ending up in the smaller, narrower space. "It's a small hot area but why do you need a big one? It's a large holding and plating area you need with this method of cookery," Coyle says.
Even so, it holds some heavy-duty, large-scale production equipment in its modular cooking line, powered by electricity in preference to gas. All by Elro, the kit includes a solid- top range for boiling and searing, a bain-marie for holding sauces, a pressure cooker and two pressure bratt pans. There's also a mobile bratt pan that can be wheeled in and out as needed, and can also function as a fryer. Ventilation canopies are by Halton and feature a UV filtration odour reduction system.
A modular roll-through blast chiller and coldroom mark the divide between the hot and cold production kitchens.
Cold production is a chilled prep area for the plating and portioning of cooked meals and is home to seven mobile prep tables laid out in the centre. Around the outside are sink units, a vacuum-packing machine and a selection of cutters, slicers, mixers and blenders. The mobile equipment here and in the finishing kitchen gives the spaces flexibility of use.
Opening off the cold kitchen is the holding coldroom for plated meals ready for regeneration, with enough capacity for 3,000 plates. It can be switched to ambient storage at off-peak times, again providing flexibility and reducing energy usage.
The largest area is reserved for the regeneration and service end of the whole cook-chill process. A bank of five MKN 40-grid combi- ovens takes care of regeneration at a rate of 300 plates in 12 minutes. The trolleys used in the ovens were specially designed by MKN to accommodate the hotel's signature oversized mains bowl.
Nearby, Coyle has a screen that taps into the feed from four security cameras, on which he can see the speaker and tables in the banqueting room to judge when to send next course.
In front of the ovens, five passes and four mobile prep tables make up the distribution point where sauces and garnish are added and the finished plates dispatched to the diners.
The passes are mobile and can lock together as needed, with three chefs working each one. How many are used depends on the number of plates being served. "We serve up to 250 people from each pass, so if we're doing 500 plates we open another pass," Coyle says.
One pass is specially set up for vegetarian and special dietary needs. "Those plates go at the same time as the rest of the table," Coyle says. "I don't believe in them going separately."
A small finishing kitchen comprises a solid- top boiling table, bain-marie and salamander and will mainly be used for the "senses room" where guests not only sample the food but have a complete preview of their event from the colour scheme and decor to the lighting.
Beverage stations for high-volume tea and coffee production sit on the opposite side of the room to the combi-ovens. Four bulk-brew coffee machines produce 40 litres in four minutes and an Elro mixing kettle with integral cooling system keeps 70 litres of milk chilled and then warms it to 57°C for service.
Dishwashing for the whole building has been centralised for the purpose of monitoring and control and this has resulted in a big reduction in breakages. The two Meiko Mi-Q conveyor dishwashers have integral heat- exchanger pumps which reheat the water coming into the machines to save energy.
The project took 10 weeks to complete and achieved all its objectives. Coyle says: "I had a vision of what would be ideal and I'm happy with every single bit. I don't think it could have been done better."
CONTACTS Elro 01908 526444 www.elro-uk.ltd.uk FCSI www.fcsi.org Foster Refrigerator 0843 216 8800 www.fosterrefrigerator.co.uk Halton Foodservice 01634 666111 www.halton.co.uk Humble Arnold Associates 01438 821444 www.humblearnold.com Meiko 01753 215120 www.meiko-uk.co.uk MKN 07866 883655www.mkn.eu