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The Caterer

The dream kitchen – how can you best achieve it?

02 November 2012
The dream kitchen – how can you best achieve it?

What does a perfectly functioning kitchen look like and how can you best achieve it? To find out we assembled industry experts at Brakes' head office and development kitchen, to consider the question. Lisa Jenkins reports

What are the first considerations for creating a smooth-running kitchen?

Andrew Turner, chefSpace! If you're lucky, you can design it yourself with a designer or you might inherit one that you have to work around. Menus have to work with the sections and a badly designed kitchen could cost you money.

Alyn Williams, chef-patron, Alyn Williams at the Westbury Space is essential and ideally you need room for a flow in the kitchen, and the flow required will depend on the type of restaurant. You need to survey what you have and see if you can make it more efficient. When I moved into the Westbury there was no flow. You need somewhere you don't want to struggle to get around.

AT Within every big kitchen it's essential to have the correct communication and flow. You need visual eye contact or easy verbal communication and no distance should be bigger than it has to be. If a dish corresponds with two sections you must make sure they can communicate.

Oisin Rogers, general manager, the Ship, Wandsworth

Stephen Terry, chef-proprietor, the Hardwick There must be common sense and logic from the chef's point of view. Don't sacrifice form over function.

AW Brett Graham at the Ledbury has designed his pass to work like a utility belt, he has everything in there. He has a little place for his trays, boards, a hotplate, carving board, microwave underneath and other useful items built into it. It's very clever. He designed it as his main function in the kitchen.

What about equipment and technology - what's essential for a kitchen?

OR Technology is important in the kitchen but it has to be relevant for the customer. Menu standards should dictate the equipment required.

ST We've recently refurbished and bought some great new equipment, including two TV screens in the kitchen to watch the sport - the team pay for the subscription themselves. You need to have a comfortable environment with all the right equipment to ensure your team is as productive as possible.

AWThe latest piece of kit I have is a Thermodine, which is essentially a slow cooker. It's space-saving and you can cook everything in it. It retains the moisture, heat and juices and sets the proteins beautifully.

We prove in them, do slow braises and make a fantastic French onion soup. Roasted onions, roast beef bones, 24 hours in the Thermodine at 80°C from Saturday evening until Monday morning - it produces a beautiful clear soup. During service I cook fish in there that is perfectly set and looks translucent but its beautiful to eat.

AT I predict there is going to be a massive swing in the next 20 years which will revolutionise how we work in our kitchens. Technology will continue to develop.

OR Technology makes my life easier, the modern systems record the costs behind the items on the menu, so I get a theoretical gross profit (GP), then I do a weekly stock and I can work out how much GP I've actually got. I may have a gap to manage - but managing that gap is much easier.

AW Induction is the process that has saved me time and money. It costs us less for extraction, our chefs don't get so hot, our pans last longer and the technology keeps getting better.

How is it possible to keep the accountants happy and balance gross profit (GP) while producing dishes chef would like to prepare?

OR It's hard at our end of the market at the moment - we can't put a main course on for more than £20. We've had to look at costings and weights, adding more veg and making the meat a bit smaller. We have to maintain gross profit.

AW It's important to use every part of everything. It's about control. Watch what is going in the bin. For example, I'll use every part of a cauliflower in our cauliflower panna cotta - the leaf, stem and florets. It's a good way to save money. You can include off-cuts in terrines, and left-over vegetables and fish for soups and fishcakes.

ST You need to eat in your own restaurant and judge the portion sizes yourself. I hadn't done this for a while until recently and the portions were huge. You have to listen to feedback from your team, too: it doesn't matter if it's a dish you love, if your team tell you it's not selling you have to put your opinions to one side and take it off the menu.

AT It's about product or skill. You need to understand by-products and cheap cuts to make money with low cost.If your sales team are on it they can help you sell these cheaper items. Front-of-house teams have always helped me achieve GP and we have always worked as a team. You have to listen to feedback from them, it's crucial to develop your menu and your bottom line. You need to talk to them to learn what is going well in the dining room and what isn't.You always know whether you've got the portion size right by the amount of desserts you sell.

Tim Bilton, chef-proprietor, the Butchers Arms We have two great managers out front at the Butchers Arms and I listen to their feedback - their personalities help sales for sure.

ST Menu descriptions are crucial, too. Think about how you describe your dishes - it will affect your customer's choice.

AW In the past I've worked where the menus were full of superlatives, so we work on people knowing the flavours they like to make their decision.OR Every time we get a new dish on we e-mail a description of it out to all staff and train them when they come in so that they know what each dish is.

How about keeping the guests coming back?

Mark Irish, head development chef, Brakes Keeping on top of seasonal trends and changing customer demand with a well thought-through menu is crucial, as is using quality ingredients to ensure consistently great tasting meals. Inconsistent quality is a sure-fire turn off and a real barrier to retaining regular custom so make sure you have absolute confidence in your suppliers.

AT Remember people's names and if they have asked for something specific and you aren't able to deliver it ask them to e-mail you the next time they are coming in and tell them you will do it for them as a special.

ST I keep a book to write down the kids names and birthdays of my regulars, or anything else the guests mentioned.

AT You should log preferences on your computer, but you have to be careful it doesn't backfire on you - people change their minds.

What's it like working with the EHO - do the processes hinder restaurants?

AW Inadvertently the EHO help us to improve efficiency in the kitchen. Operators have to stay on top of their paperwork, processes and health and safety.

AT Maybe we should look at slow cooking licences to work alongside the EHO? We used to keep a sample of everything we cooked this way to show the EHO. It cost us money but it showed due diligence and it helped with the nervousness around water baths.

ST It ensures we have morning briefings and remind ourselves about logging the results, probing when chilling, etc. You have to remember if you don't comply the worst-case scenario means someone could die.

Is nutritional data important? Do you monitor salt, fat and calories?

MI Brakes customers are asking for nutritional information on most of our product range.TB We've taken table salt off the tables and replaced it with Cornish Sea Salt - the taste and naturalness of the product is better.

AW No one has ever asked me for calorie information at my restaurant.

AT I've been asked to consider it. Where can operators easily source information and inspiration?

AW Eat out, read magazines, talk to suppliers and talk to other chefs about new techniques. I use a lot of small suppliers and along with a few other restaurants we have created a great supply chain. It's these suppliers who give me most inspiration. When you open up one of their boxes and see the array of produce - that's inspiring.

ST The seasons are inspiring, too - and actually being here today and meeting fellow chefs.Sebastien Durand, independent key account director, Brakes We have specialist fishmongers and butchers that can offer additional menu advice or even visit to deliver fish filleting and butchery tutorials. Brakes offers a wide range of seasonal menu ideas and recipes every month through the website and booklets that are posted direct to our customers.

Should operators experiment with their menus or stick to the tried and tested?

ST It all depends who you are cooking for.

OR Sometimes you have to stick to what you are good at. Burger & Lobster posted a tweet recently that they had sold 590 lobsters in a day and 25% of their sales are still burgers.

ST Tried-and-tested burgers are so on trend right now - I had a lobster and shrimp burger at J Sheekeys last night, it was superb.

AW So no experimentation there, just a simple concept. Another example is Goodman's burgers, in my opinion they are the best in London.

OR You have to know your market and cook for your market. 65% of our market is burgers and we know that and stick to it.

Is a Christmas menu essential?

ST Yes - although I've always tried to resist it at the Hardwick. This year we will be a bit more seasonal but do it our way with home-made Christmas pudding brÁ»lée, and an e-card Christmas menu.

ORChristmas is terribly important to us and we concentrate on it from September to December. This year we are already 20% up on sales compared with 2011.It doesn't have to be hard for the staff. Just plan it well and have a team drink or dinner afterwards - it's a great opportunity.

SD The Christmas period is a great footfall driver and provides operators with a perfect opportunity to make a big impression on new and returning customers and raise the profile of their pub or restaurant in the local community.Christmas dinner is one of the most popular and most memorable meals of the year and getting your menu right can guarantee happy customers, repeat visits and future sales.Not everyone is a turkey fan so it's worth offering a range of options but our analysis of sales and customer feedback suggests there is still an overwhelming demand for traditional Christmas menus so roast turkey remains a crucial option.

How do you choose your staff, is it their skill set, behaviour or personality?

TB My biggest challenge is staff. The restaurant team is forever changing and you invest such a lot of time and effort into training them. Getting really good staff where we are is really hard.

ST Personality - if someone has something about them then "happy days", especially if they are front of house. Our bar manager is the first and last person you see at the Hardwick.

OR I always recruit for personality; I'd prefer to have no staff than rubbish staff.

AW Front of house - personality definitely.

The Attendees

!Tim Bilton](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/yBf9nsWbRGampCSvJJny)![Tim Bilton](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/ya4kWBH6QokNRin2YIKw)![Tim Bilton](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/vN3FIuifRxWqbfgem5PJ)![Tim Bilton](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/PMJLwvlQIa1t8RTb2bGw)![Tim Bilton](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/oeGAO9ydQDm0QtaW9Yvn)![Tim Bilton
  • Tim Bilton, chef-proprietor, the Butchers Arms
  • Sebastien Durand, national key account director, Brakes
  • Mark Irish, development chef, Brakes
  • Lisa Jenkins, products and supplier editor, Caterer and Hotelkeeper
  • Oisin Rogers, general manager, the Ship Wandsworth
  • James Stagg, content editor, Caterer and Hotelkeeper
  • Stephen Terry, chef-proprietor, the Hardwick
  • Andrew Turner, chef
  • Alyn Williams, chef-patron, Alyn Williams at the Westbury

Tips for saving time in the kitchen

  • Consolidate supply. One supplier means one delivery, one invoice and less admin.
  • Challenge your supplier to provide solutions and help with menu planning. This can be a time-consuming process but they will know what ingredients are at their best at any given time so make the most of that knowledge to save time and get the best deals.
  • When ordering meat or fish, save valuable time by specifying exactly how you want it cut or filleted.

Mark Irish, head development chef, Brakes

The microwave… A much-maligned kitchen essential

ST Microwaves are brilliant for reheating on the pass.

AW There's no harm in using them. They are one of those pieces of kitchen equipment that if you don't abuse them can serve you well. If you put the skill in before you use it then it's still a great product you're putting out.

AT Why would you take a fantastically cooked vegetable and lob it back in some water when you can retain all that flavour.

AW It's only heating up, after all. As long as you're not trying to cook in there.

TB When you talk about space it makes sense. Why toss veg again in butter? It's a good piece of kit that we use.

AW There's a stigma attached because it was one of those things that people assumed would stop the skill of cooking.

ST It was the first bit of tech that came into kitchens and it got a bad name but there are plenty of things you can use it for.

Restaurateur of the Year - independent Catey sponsor's comment

James Armitage, Brakes marketing director "Understanding the unique and changing needs of independents is the foundation of our business and Brakes Group has been the proud supporter of the category for more than 20 years, but every year, without fail, we witness restaurateurs continuing to find ground-breaking ways to push culinary boundaries."Demonstrating the ability to combine outstanding culinary flair and innovation with dynamic business acumen is no easy task, particularly in the face of such fierce competition, but this year's Catey finalists achieved that and more, managing to raise the bar once again and set an unenviable standard for next year's finalists to meet and, hopefully, exceed."

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