Taking a cross-country look at the working parts that make hotel kitchens hum.

While the adage “a poor workman always blames his tools” might be true, it was Winston Churchill who had a more positive outlook on the role of equipment when he said, “Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job.”

Today, hotel kitchen workers know the value of quality tools to get the job done properly. In particular, hotel chefs, charged with the difficult job of providing meals for groups ranging from 2 50 to 1,000 covers must have the right equipment for success. Gone are the traditional ovens, noisy hoods and clunky hand tools making way for new combi-therms, convection ovens, quieter ‘jet-canopy’ hoods and small devices such as blenders that create velvety ice creams and mousses at 2, 000 rpm. Today hotel chefs rely on far more productive, more efficient gear.

Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, where Churchill gave a speech in the hotel’s inaugural year, is famous for its supersized functions. Executive sous chef Dana Hauser, uses Cleveland brand ovens to create her magic.  “ We have eight Cleveland ovens we’ve been using for five years now. We cook everything in them from 30 kilogram hips of beef to chicken, lamb and turkeys. Everything can go in the unit: fish, vegetables and hors d’oeuvres.” Certainly a new way of cooking, compared to à la minute cooking on the line, but Hauser says her combi-oven steamers are simple to operate. “It shows you what the item is, what the weight is, and its cook time. Then you choose if you want steam, combi or hot air.”

“Before we installed the Cleveland ovens we had two very ancient roaster s, that used a lot of energy”

The hotel’s new equipment isn’t just versatile, it’s also energy efficient. Melanie Coates, regional director of Public Relations, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, says the historic hotel on Front street in Toronto, is enjoying lower energy usage now. “Before we installed the Cleveland ovens we had two very ancient roaster s, that used a lot of energy,” she says. “The energy they were consuming just wasn’t efficient.

We went from using two rotary ovens at 87.2- kilowatt hours each to three combi-ovens at 77.5- kilowatt hours each. Now there’s a big difference in our carbon footprint.” Hauser’s kitchen is further helping the environment; they’ve traded the standard issue, gelled chafing-fuel, for re-chargeable plug-in hot boxes used during busy services.

When it comes to achieving consistent cooking, combi-steam is considered by many hotel chefs to be one of the best methods, especially when executing a menu for large groups in the banquet hall. “Rational is the inventor of the combi-steam technology,” explains Ina Gerster, director, Marketing Communications, North America, Rational AG. “We invent edit in 1976, and today we’re in more than 80 countries. As the market has grown and the need for different foods has increased — we’re now able to do Halal foods and we’re also kosher-certified — we’re able to cover all continents,” says Gerster.

The company’s line of combi-steam ovens recently expanded last month when Rational unveiled its new Self- CookingCenter whitefficiency unit. Gerster says the new equipment from the German company will benefit hotel kitchens eve n further. “Prior to the launch of our latest unit this mo nth, we weren’t in the banking sector, now with the SelfCookingCentre whitefficiency we are.”

“I plate my banquet food prior to the event, presented the way I want it presented, then I put them on the Rational truck”

Executive chef Louis Rodaros, Hilton Montreal Bonaventure, recently out fitted his two hotel kitchens with a brand new line. His new combi-steam set-up is a winner for him. He especially likes its ease of use. “I plate my banquet food prior to the event, presented the way I want it presented, then I put them on the Rational truck.” The truck or rack can hold a stack of a 100 plates or more. Rodaros, whose kitchen was refurbished last February, says 20 minutes before ‘pick-up,’ the rack comes out of the fridge and goes into the Rational oven. “It reads the temperature of the unit and reheats everything perfectly. And it reheats food without increasing the degree of cooking.” Almost as if there’s a degree of magic present, he says, “medium rare stays at medium rare.” Additionally, the oven’s small footprint replaces 40 t o 50 per cent of all conventional cooking appliances.

So how does a combi-steamer actually assist a busy hotel chef? “It eliminates the daily hassles,” says Rational’s Gerster. “Take cooking steaks for example; you don’t need to have a chef permanently standing in front of the grill watching the steaks, turning the steaks, making sure the protein is cooked to the desired point.” Gone are the days of the hotel chef being tied to the grilling station. Now, a chef can load the combi-steamer and get other tasks done while the Rational unit does the work.

If a combi-steamer’s ease of use doesn’t impress, perhaps the labour savings it generates will. At Calgary’s Westin Grand, for example, executive chef Sean Ellis says his Rational system of ovens “cooks food better than anything.” Since acquiring the Rational ovens, Ellis says productivity has increased while his cooking brigade has decreased. “We’ve gone from about 45 cooks down to about 25, which is a huge labour savings for us.” He’s careful to point out most of his staff left the hotel through attrition but they didn’t need to be replaced. The reason behind the labour cuts is easy to accept because, he says, “you’re not creating those big lines of people, plating-up last minute. There’s not that headache anymore, so productivity improved about 30 to 35 per cent.”

For Todd Clarmo, executive chef at Stock at Trump Toronto, Christmas came early

For Todd Clarmo, executive chef at Stock restaurant, located in Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto, Christmas came early in the form of several exciting systems and equipment. With three kitchens in the tower, one on the ninth, one on the 10th and another on the 31st floor, the design of Stock’s kitchens certainly came with its challenges.

Mike Nicholls, regional sales manager of Halton Indoor Climate Systems, Oakville, Ont., suppliers of the kitchen ventilation system at Stock, says “we didn’t have conventional roof top access and there are commercial kitchens on three different floors in the tower,” he explains, pointing to the design obstacles. “We knew reducing airflows and minimizing duct size would be paramount.” This led to Halton installing its energy-efficient capture-jet oven hoods in chef Clarmo’s kitchen in the sky.

Nicholls explains the capture-jet technology uses a small built-in fan that draws room air in to the top of the hood, which in turn creates horizontal and vertical jets around all open sides of the hood. A soft stream of air — a gentle breeze that would barely disturb a classic combover — cascades vertically onto the cooking line, allowing for maximum exhaustion of kitchen smells, smoke and gases: a great idea indeed for open-concept hotel kitchens.

Nicholls says the Halton system, “allows us to increase the face velocity of the hood and reduce the exhaust airflow requirement by roughly 30 per cent over standard non-capture jet hoods.”

Containing the gaseous by-products of cooking is one concern, but the next challenge at the Trump’s Stock resto was where to exhaust cooking vapours. Nicholls’ team, along with designer Stefanie Jeric, president of Trend Foodservice Design and Consulting in Mississauga, Ont., knew it had to discharge the exhausted air at the same level the kitchen was located. “So we installed our ecology units, which allow us to take commercial kitchen exhaust and discharge it below the roof line.”

The new bells and whistles at Stock also includes Halton’s ultraviolet light system, which destroys grease. Indeed, high science has arrived in new hotel kitchens. Ultraviolet light bulbs inside the hood operate at a particular wavelength that breaks the molecular bonds that form grease. “It’s a two-step process,” explains Nicholls, “photolysis and ozonolysis.” What the client is left with after this two-stage process is ducts that are significantly cleaner than ducts without the UV system.

The latest technology at Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto even includes a state-of-the-art waste disposal. The restaurant utilizes a waste-pulping system that macerates waste, while reducing the hotel’s energy costs and benefitting the environment. “Stock has a Hobart engineered waste-pulper system,” says Jeric. “The reason for it is we don’t want to take the garbage through the elevator or any public spaces. And, it’s too far in terms of distance,” she says. The solution, while not one the man from Glad would be happy about, is quite ingenious. It’s called the WastePro 1200 and Hobart boasts it not only reduces waste by as much as 88 per cent (by volume), but it can also save operators more than $17,000 a year. Describing Stock’s pulping system, Jeric says “all three kitchens in the Trump hotel are connected to a large pulper; the waste travels along a three-inch slurry line. The ground-up waste travels down to the basement, where it hits a press; the press extracts the water and what you end up with is a pressed, damp pulp, which looks like confetti.” Curiously though, Jeric says the one food scrap the system doesn’t pulverize is salmon skin.

At the Trump Hotel there’ll be a good amount of waste generated by guests and staff alike — a projected 4,770 cubic yards per month to be exact. While there’ll be fewer garbage runs for Stock kitchen staff, any smells will be eliminated by transporting the garage in refrigerated garbage carts. “The cooled units prevent the rubbish from fermenting,” says Clarmo. “They’re fully refrigerated, and they come with a floor drain for cleaning.”

While the right equipment is key to professional results, sometimes even the most experienced chefs have to be creative. At independently owned Hôtel Château Laurier Québec, executive chef, Heinrich Meesen, and Guy Michaud, director Food & Beverage, invented their own functional piece of equipment. They call it “the lazy Susan,” a circular table top, made in plexi glass. They designed it to serve 10 different “bouchées” or cocktail bites. “I don’t think you’ll see it anywhere else,” he says.

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