Duncan Ackery is food and beverage director at hotel group De Vere. He talks to Kerstin Kühn about the company's new dining concept, Steam, Bake & Grill, which it developed to replace the traditional lunchtime buffet.
How does the new concept work?
Steam, Bake & Grill describes the methods of cooking that are used in preparing the food, and there are tandoori ovens, char-grills, steamers, open-stove ovens and Peking duck ovens. Guests walk into the restaurant and, instead of the usual buffet, there's a whole cooking theatre section where chefs are preparing the food right in front of them. It's all about interaction between the guests and the chefs, who serve the food and explain what everything is and how it has been prepared.
What's the idea behind it?
The idea is to bring theatre and energy into the restaurants at De Vere Venues and to enlighten the experience of our guests. Often, after spending the morning doing training, people are quite flat and tired, so we want to offer a lunchtime dining experience that will reinvigorate them.
What are the pros of cooking in this way?
People really enjoy seeing the food cooked in front of them, and this also gives chefs the opportunity to talk about their dishes and convey their passion to the guests. The chefs can see the guests' reactions to the food, which is rewarding and can help improve things if there's something the guests don't like.
And the cons?
There have been no cons, only challenges. These include operational challenges such as ensuring dining rooms are properly ventilated so guests don't suffer from the heat of the ovens, and making sure everything is done in time.
What sort of dishes do you concentrate on?
There are a lot of grills, including meat and seafood dishes, and we will also focus on slow cooking with dishes including pork belly or whole roasted duck. We prepare fresh lamb koftas and steaks, and there are antipasti counters providing side dishes. We are really focusing on light foods to give people energy, rather than using heavy ingredients.
How does it fit in with the overall F&B strategy at De Vere?
The concept will be rolled out at eight De Vere Venues. It fits really well into the company strategy as we're launching a similar concept that will be implemented at properties where Steam, Bake & Grill isn't suitable.
Have you had to train staff for this, and what has been their reaction?
Group executive chef John Woodward has been working with the chefs, giving them the necessary training. The reaction from staff so far has been great. The chefs really enjoy the interaction with the guests and prefer engaging with them to being stuck in the kitchen.