Multifunctional and rapid cookers can save operators time, money, energy and space, all of which will be vital as kitchens return to normality. Anne Bruce discovers the equipment making a difference.
A chef never has enough pairs of hands at the best of times, and during the coronavirus pandemic that's been truer than ever. Workforces have been limited by social distancing and self-isolation, while kitchens have had to adapt to increased demand for delivery and takeaway.
Step in the combi oven and a spectrum of accelerated or multifunctional appliances capable of cooking large quantities or more than one thing at a time, and doing it quickly. It's not much of a surprise that these bits of kit have accelerated themselves to the status of everyone's new best friend in troubled times.
Will the move to new tech gather momentum? And what are some of the key benefits of the latest fast cooking gadgetry?
Keith Warren, chief executive of the Foodservice Equipment Association, says that on the accelerated cooking front, whether its paninis, burgers or baked potatoes, high street chains are investing in high-tech foodservice equipment. This is about cooking a meal or snack in the time it takes a barista to produce a flat white. The same goes for multifunctional equipment, which can also provide cooking results that meet the standard of specialist appliances.
"Many of the more advanced models will produce those quality results, more quickly and using less energy than conventional technologies," explains Warren. "Plus, they save valuable kitchen space – it's 20:20 vision: 20% more productivity from 20% less space."
As we exit lockdown, operators have realised that rapid cookers can offer more than just a short-term fix, says Tim Bender, sales director, Hobart Equipment Division UK.
"When it comes to the modern tender process, our research tells us that 55% of tenders now include the requirement for a multifunctional pan; this is something that we predict will rise as kitchen space decreases and doing more with less becomes ever more desirable."
Combi ovens became the workhorses of many dark kitchens during the pandemic, thanks to their power, flexibility, speed, ease of use and the ability to achieve consistent quality through preset programmes, says Lee Cogger, brand manager for MKN, Venix and XpressChef at Jestic Foodservice Solutions.
"Combis really excel in dark kitchens where operators have to create a wide variety of dishes on a menu, or if the site is servicing more than one restaurant concept and therefore needs to prepare dishes using different cooking processes," he says.
Managing director Simon Lohse says Rational's iCombi Pro can achieve 95% of all typical thermal cooking tasks, arguably to a higher standard than conventional solutions. Its iDensityControl feature regulates the cooking climate by controlling the airflow throughout the cabinet, eliminating hot and cool spots, so that everything is cooked with consistency.
Different skill levels in the kitchen are a workforce pressure that technology can help tackle. The iCombi Pro and iVario both feature intuitive operating touchscreens that guide the user through the production sequence with clear, interactive instructions, making the cooking systems quickly accessible for all staff.
The Vector multi-cook oven from FEM, meanwhile, can contain a huge number of recipes, with simple-to-understand instructions using images displayed on the control panel, allowing skilled and new recruits to reproduce perfect results time after time, says Mark Hogan, commercial director at FEM.
The unit also records and stores all technical and operational data, including a HACCP log, which can be accessed and uploaded remotely via WiFi.
The Merrychef eikon e2s from Welbilt features three heat technologies: tuned impingement, microwave and convection. These features allow the unit to perform up to 20 times faster than a conventional oven and streamline kitchen processes, as one unit can cook, grill, toast and reheat.
"Not only will this reduce wait times for customers, but it will also help to generate additional revenue where more orders can be taken and completed across the service period," says Steve Hemsil, sales director, UK and Ireland, Welbilt.
Meanwhile, BGL Rieber's new Metos Proveno 4G Combi Kettle, available from 40- to 400-litre capacity, offers automated stirring and temperature control, which ensures sensitive foods such as milk-based sauces and chocolate do not stick or burn. Kitchens can therefore produce higher volumes of food, using less labour – allowing for more flexible use of staff, says Gareth Newton, managing director.
With environmental and cost concerns topping many businesses' agendas, energy efficiency is a big plus on any operator's shopping list.
Traditionally, a kitchen would include upwards of 10 pieces of kit, but with the increase of multifunctional equipment, Hobart is seeing cooklines that may now only have five or six pieces – a reduction of 40%-50% – which can contribute to a large-scale reduction in energy usage, says Bender.
Rational's Lohse says that the iVario consumes up to 40% less energy than conventional tilting pans and boiling pans and, although connected loads have been reduced compared to its predecessor, it has up to 20% higher searing capacity. Its pressure cooking option, available on iVario Pro models, is up to 35% faster than cooking without pressure.
The Convotherm 4 easyTouch from Welbilt is another energy-efficient option, with patented Natural Smart Climate that works like a lid on a saucepan, keeping heat and moisture in and enabling the temperature to rise more rapidly.
"As more of the heat is kept in the unit, it uses less power and water, thus greatly improving energy efficiency, while also reducing operating costs," explains Welbilt's Hemsil.
"Likewise, the eco-cooking mode, which is ideal for food with long cooking times, can be activated at temperatures as low as 30°C for convection and combi-steam cooking."
Some of the features built into rapid cookers also make them easier to incorporate into the footprint of the kitchen or front of house.
Hogan says that the latest Vector multi-cook oven from Alto-Shaam, supplied by FEM, features an advanced heating system called Structured Air Technology, which delivers a high-velocity, vertical airflow. This cooks food more quickly than conventional appliances and heat doesn't escape when the door is opened, making for a cooler, more comfortable working environment.
Meanwhile, the TurboChef Sota, supplied by Taylor UK, part of the Hubbard Taylor Group, has internal catalytic convertors that remove the cooking smells and grease from the cook chamber, so it can be sited anywhere with no extra ventilation, including front of house. The Turbo-Chef Sota can heat up to 260ºC while its external surface temperature is no more than 50°C.
With hygiene a top priority in the kitchen and front of house, ease of cleaning is another essential criterion for rapid cooking equipment. Auto-cleaning allows labour costs to be reduced, helping operators manage the current skills shortage and lack of staff.
But while many machines in today's market claim automatic cleaning, some still require operator participation, says Bender at Hobart. The company's Bonnet combis have the option to pre-determine cleaning schedules. "Such a feature can save money in the long run. For example, an energy-efficient model with an auto-clean function can save over £700 a year against a machine without.
Over 10 years that's £7,000 – meaning the machine has more than paid for itself with the savings," says Bender. ConvoClean, Convotherm's advanced, automatic combi cleaning system, features four cleaning levels, plus a thorough steam-disinfection cycle, catering for every usage profile from light to heavy use.
With kitchens under pressure, any one of a roster of all-singing, all-dancing multi-function and rapid cooker units can offer operators a multitude of quick wins, offering fast results and saving time, energy and space.
BGL Rieber www.bglrieber.co.uk
Foodservice Equipment Association www.fea.org.uk
Jestic Foodservice Solutions www.jestic.co.uk
Taylor UK (HTG Trading) www.taylor-company.co.uk
Welbilt UK www.welbilt.uk
You need to create an account to read this article. It's free and only requires a few basic details.
Already subscribed? Log In