As technology evolves and labour shortages and rising costs continue, hotel kitchens are undergoing a transformation. As a result, operators are now re-thinking kitchen design when making equipment choices.
Many wish lists now include advanced, intelligent, multi-functional systems that can work quickly, reduce space requirements, deliver consistent results, and keep staff numbers at a minimum.
“All full-service hotel production kitchens have shrunk remarkably over the years,” says Rob Hood, corporate director, Food & Beverage, Silver Hotel Group in Mississauga, Ont. “In many places, the banquet kitchen has been absorbed into one production, storage and service space.”
With 22 various brand properties, Hood says there are no cookie-cutter plans for equipment investments. “Every scenario has different equipment demands. At the same time, we are looking at technology development and multi-functional items.”
According to Hood, one of the most significant innovations is ventless cooking technology. “Equipment pieces that don’t require external ventilation allow even the select-service environment to steam, roast and bake products in very quick order using a very simple technology. Ventless is even making its way into frying systems and cooktops. You can build an entirely ventless kitchen, as long as you have water and drainage, which cuts down the costs.”
Alto-Shaam’s Vector is another innovation that has changed the small-oven dynamic as it allows a full combi setup in a compact unit, is completely ventless and includes zone cooking, says Hood. “And it fits in a 3’ by 2’ footprint, allowing major production to take place in a very small kitchen.”
Recently Hood has also been working with blast chilling. “Blast chilling and combi-oven technology really go together hand in hand. Chillers have evolved from large and expensive walk-in large formats into undercounter units. This allows even smaller operators to prepare food products for later re-therm, save time, and use batch cooking much more effectively.”
For Ernesto Castillo, director of Food and Beverage for the InterContinental Toronto Centre, much of his focus has been on labour savings and versatility. “The middle of last year, it was hard to find people. The second half was hard to find ingredients for our menus. One thing we learned quickly was that we needed to streamline processes as much as possible.”
With regard to replacing old equipment, “We look at anything that helps us do things better and make it easier on our kitchen staff. For example, we had three small pizza ovens that did the job but needed replacing. We found a [Lincoln] conveyor oven that was a bit more expensive, but now we can make perfect pizzas in about four minutes.”
Castillo also purchased AIR 2.0 chocolate tempering machines from Perfect Choco. “We can manage tempering without using up the hours we used to doing it by hand. Those two machines have definitely helped us save on labour.”
To help on the supply front, Castillo acquired a Commercial Urban Cultivator for growing basil and other garnishes. “We’re taking full advantage of the system now. It makes it easier to have control over our menu items.”
Luckily for Castillo, the kitchen acquired new Rational combi ovens just before the pandemic. “We had just started playing with them before the lockdowns. They were life savers. I can go to the screen, pick what I want to bake, it will automatically do it. They pretty much do everything by themselves. They’re so intuitive we’re looking to buy another this year.”
Moving forward, Castillo says he is looking for technologies that are more intuitive. “Some equipment you can’t change – a griddle is a griddle after all. But the more equipment you can use to save labour, that’s the name of the game.”
Eraj Jayawickreme, director of Culinary at Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle, has recently invested in a number of updates as part of the hotel’s multi-million-dollar lobby renovation. These include French flattops, combi ovens, pasta extractors, a blast chiller, blanching equipment, and pull-out-drawer style refrigerators with work surfaces. Still to come: two new Rationals, and induction technology for its banquet operations. “We’re more on the path of re-therming and preparing [food] ahead of time versus line plating. We don’t have the hands for that.”
The bakery was a major investment focus, where acquisitions include a 200 qt. spiral mixer, an updated proofer, and stand mixers. “The pastry shop is a big spend this year,” says Jayawickreme.
And for the kids and young at heart, they invested in a self-serve ice-cream machine and cotton-candy maker, “just to have fun,” he adds.
“Technology has grown by leaps and bounds,” says Jayawickreme. “It’s more about adapting processes for getting things done versus simply getting equipment.” An integral part of that is moving to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi based communications.
Whatever the technology, understanding what you are paying for is key, cautions Hood. “When combis first made it big, everyone bought them, but didn’t understand they were not just an oven. It’s like buying a Ferrari. If you don’t know how to drive it properly, you’ve wasted your investment.”
With all the innovation at hand, Hood contends the real advancements are in the quality of the food these items are now producing. “As good as equipment is getting, the actual food itself is improving. It wasn’t always that way. We finally have a great marriage of technology and food quality. Now you can create amazingly impactful menus in very small spaces, and you don’t need a certified chef de cuisine to be able to do it. That’s the brilliance of what technology has come to.”
BY DENISE DEVEAU