The past two-and-a-half years have transformed priorities for hotel food-and-beverage operations. Combi- and rapid-cook ovens reigned supreme as the primary focus switched to room service and grab and go. As restrictions lift, staff shortages and inflation are putting the spotlight on efficiency and consistency when it comes to equipment choices. Here is an overview of how some operators are planning for 2023 and beyond.
Technology all the way
For Garth Ruggiero, corporate director, Product Procurement for Atlific Hotels in Montreal, moving forward is all about technology advancement. “We’re actively looking for the next piece of equipment that will elevate our game, put out better-quality product and save on labour. They will be instrumental in keeping costs down from a labour standpoint as jobs are harder and harder to fill.”
Atlific is moving to smart equipment such as the Alto-Shaam Vector and the latest Rational units, he explains. “Any new oven coming out today will have a phone built into the screen to use as a control panel. Younger staff tend to gravitate to those types of technologies. It’s second nature to them.”
While it is a pricey investment, he says, “We know that’s where we need to spend our money. We need to embrace the technology that is available. It’s only going to get more high tech as the industry evolves, and the labour pool gets smaller. Tradition is nice, but at some point, you have to turn the page and move on.”
Tracking the bottom line
Jacky Bruchez, National Food and Beverage director for Groupe Germain Hotels, says that while staffing continues to be a primary concern, rising food costs are equally critical to menu development and technology investments. “The combi-ovens would be one of the main pieces because it can do everything. Sous vide is on the rise, as it allows chefs to do a lot of preparation work in advance.”
One of the biggest challenges moving forward is food costs, he adds. “We are always finding ways to prepare meals differently and extend the use of products.”
A key investment for Germain is technology tools relating to inventory control, says Bruchez. “We are working with Restock to learn more about every part of buying, what is moving, and projected costs, so we can stock up in advance for menus based on pricing forecasts. We are finding ways to optimize what resources we have and not waste efforts on items that may not be our best sellers.”
Working from a clean slate
Jason Williams, executive chef, Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine and The Gate House, at 124 on Queen in Niagara-on-the Lake has been spending his time equipping its recently expanded kitchen operations, including a new central kitchen in the hotel’s Q Lounge in the main hotel.
“I’m looking forward to getting a Rational with smart features for the lounge as it will help us execute for functions in a small space. I’ve never used one before, but excited to try it out. Right now, The Gate House is where we do most of the prep work for the other restaurants because we don’t have much prep space there.”
With the blast chiller going into the Q Lounge kitchen, Williams says they will be able to cook and steam in the Rational and then use the blast chillers for cooling. “I’d also love to get a small Rational for Treadwell for braising, cooking and holding.”
Thinking outside the box
W Hotel Toronto’s executive chef Keith Pears has the good fortune to be sourcing brand new equipment for his kitchen operations as the hotel only opened in the summer of 2022. “When I started, I asked for everything.”
Known for his innovative cuisine, Pears is always on the lookout for new equipment that can help him wow guests. For example, he uses a Harvest Right freeze dryer to freeze raspberries and pineapple for items such as his sweet toast multi-grain sourdough with frozen raspberries and cashew butter, or jerk chicken topped with roasted-pineapple aioli, puffed rice and a freeze-dried pineapple crumble.
Pears is also experimenting with his new 3D printer. “We can use it for different amenities, such as personalized chocolate desserts, or butter in the design of a company logo,” he says. “We haven’t taken full advantage of it yet.”
Another item is an in-house canning machine they use for favourites such as tomato gazpacho. The rooftop Skylight Mediterranean raw bar features a Jade grill for serving steaks and other barbecue items.
Pear’s equipment inventory also includes a small smoker for olives and a Pacojet for sauces, sorbets, and ice reams, as well as a flavour blaster, smoking gun, and centrifuge for the bar. Another favourite is a ControlFreak induction burner by PolyScience. “Its super accurate.”
Upping the combi quotient
Having worked in restaurants in Europe before coming to Canada, Sebastian Brand, executive chef at The Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff, Alta. is more familiar with combi-ovens and blast chillers than many North-American chefs. “Here they’ve only been popular over the last decade. Our goal at Rimrock is to use them to modernize for a smaller footprint as well as increase efficiency.”
The combi-ovens they had were the biggest workhorses during the pandemic. “Now we are shifting to more high-tech ovens and have ordered six Rationals for banquet and line production to get more consistency. Before, we had seasoned veteran cooks. Now there are more fresh interns, so the ovens will help us keep the standards up. These are top-of-the-shelf cooking centres where we can create and upload recipes, proof, and bake. And it’s all wireless.”
His 2023 budget includes a new Rational Vario cooking centre. “You can cook on the flat top at different temperatures, which will make us more efficient and consistent.”
There are a lot of great products out there that can help to improve efficiency, he says. “Now we just need the budget to get them.”