For Bryan Corkery, the bottom line drives kitchen equipment decisions. And, a big part of that is reducing labour and energy costs, says the executive sous chef at the Westin Nova Scotian in Halifax. “Labour is directly related to the amount of revenue that’s brought into the company. So, the more efficient you can be in servicing revenue coming in, the more revenue we can service,” he explains.
As purveyor of “one of the biggest kitchens east of Montreal,” Corkery says the historic property used to service the adjacent Via railway station. The central kitchen continues to be the major hub for the hotel’s preparation needs, from breakfast and lunch to dinner and buffet service. The vast operations are home to a plethora of equipment, including the usual stoves, deep fryers, grills, steam kettles, mixers, blenders and reach-in and walk-in refrigeration units.
But the number-1 appliance for Corkery is the Rational combi-oven; the chef has two in his kitchen. “They deserve a gold star, because they can do everything from steaming to deep-frying. It’s amazing how crucial they’ve become to the types of services we do. I can plate a dinner cold for the next day, arrange it on a plate tree and wheel it into the oven. When it comes time for service, it can be ready and hot to go in eight minutes.” He estimates the units cost approximately $50,000 apiece.
For the most part, the kitchen is powered by natural gas, although the team has played around with induction burners for the omelette bars. “We’re trying to get into more induction, so we’re not burning so much gas,” Corkery says.
When it’s time to select new equipment, he looks at a combination of factors, including pricing, energy consumption, functionality and footprint. “We try to find the most cost-effective solutions for our operations. If we get a new piece, the important thing is whether everyone can use it efficiently.”
Interestingly, The Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon is another hotel with ties to the railway. In fact, it was one of the last of the railway hotels under CN, claims Andrew Turnbull, GM. But, more importantly, its food preparation needs are unique in that the largest ballroom capacity is 350 people, while the expansive gardens overlooking the river can accommodate as many as 3,000. “We have to transform ourselves without [changing] the infrastructure.”
The all-encompassing primary kitchen has undergone some staged renovations, he says. “We’re limited in the kitchen because of the capital reinvestment costs. We use a gradual approach, so we have to be selective about what we focus on each year.”
The most recent investment has been in the refrigeration area, Turnbull says. “We’re reinvesting significantly in staying on top of our refrigeration systems. We’ve replaced our line and standing fridges, relined the walk-ins, replaced cooler doors and made sure the rolling racks are clean and fresh as new. With today’s focus on food safety, we can’t afford to have finicky equipment.”
Space constraints mean the combi-ovens of choice are smaller in scale. To date, the kitchen has six Rationals. “Even though we don’t have the space for roll-in ovens, we still need to focus on efficiency to improve quality and yield,” says Turnbull.
Since the hotel operates in one of the country’s tightest labour markets, functionality and ease of use are critical. “Anything we can do to help the culinary team focus on the task required is tremendous. At the same time, we invest in equipment to allow their creative skills to flourish. For example, we recently purchased a smoker,” says Turnbull.
But, when buying a smoker or any piece of equipment, the GM has to consider the hotel’s Saskatoon location and how it will factor into delivery distances. “Everything is a bigger challenge when you have transportation issues,” because getting things takes more time, he adds.
Meanwhile, Robert Hood, corporate food and beverage manager for the Element Vaughan Southwest in the Greater Toronto Area, doesn’t have to grapple with the constraints of a historical property. The new, LEED-certified Starwood property opened at the end of June, boasting, among other accoutrements, a well-appointed 700-sq.-ft. food-production kitchen, where food is prepared for breakfast, evening and banquet-style events in meeting rooms.
As a LEED-designated property, sustainability is an important consideration when making decisions. “But our needs are no more complicated than any other select-service brand. Our kitchens are designed so they can be run by an efficient number of associates … two to three at most.”
Plating, production and storage functions are contained within the main-floor kitchen. In Hood’s mind, what sets the kitchen apart is the new Alto-Shaam self-ventilation combi-therm oven, which he estimates costs between approximately $15,000 and $17,000. “That’s the biggest difference between this property and any other. With this, we don’t have to spend extra money on extraction ventilation systems, which translates into massive energy and cleaning savings. Ventilation costs are in the five figures; it’s a great piece of equipment and the food quality is fabulous.”
The “hyper” efficient combi-therm can also be standardized and loaded with recipes. “That makes for easy training when you have associates with limited culinary training,” Hood says. “Using any type of convection can be daunting. This is very user-friendly, because you do everything from baking muffins to cooking a salmon entrée for a group of 40.”
A further nod to efficiency is the energy-efficient dishwashing system leased through Ecolab. “It makes more sense to lease, especially in terms of maintenance,” says Hood.
Given the configuration of the kitchen (which faces the front of the building and has two large windows), the new site was outfitted with reach-in refrigeration systems, since the windows take up a wall and a walk-in would block the light. “We specify and purchase Continental Refrigeration for our properties,” Hood says. A highly popular addition is a display refrigeration system by the lobby front desk.
What’s more, hot and cold induction plates are used occasionally for buffet and self-service needs, because they’re energy-efficient. “The whole lobby has a very sleek look. Induction really fits with that,” adds Hood.
Whether dealing with historical infrastructure, spacious quarters or small spaces, experts agree that finding efficiency — in energy or labour — is an important part of equipment selection. “Any time you can save a half hour, it can add up to a significant amount over a year,” notes Corkery.