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Where to for commercial kitchens?

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Today’s commercial kitchens are centres for technological development that star equipment that is continually being improved to allow chefs and restaurateurs to run their business more efficiently, more creatively and more safely.

Combi ovens which created a major revolution in foodservice when they were first launched are now pretty well standard in commercial kitchens as new designs have made them accessible to even smaller operations.

And blast chilling equipment is quickly moving from the institutional sector where it's been long used to increase the efficiency of kitchens catering for large numbers of people and into the restaurant arena where clever operators are also using it to better manage the operations of their kitchens.

And as chefs look for way to get the edge on their competitors new kinds of equipment and appliances are making an appearance that allow them to create menu items that sometimes sound like they should be being served in a science lab rather than a kitchen.

With the setting up of new kitchen and also updating an existing kitchens comes a major challenge for foodservice operators. How do I choose and how do I make sure I'm making the best decision for the investment that I'm making. And importantly is this still going to be meeting our needs into the future?

A mistake that many make is not properly researching the equipment they want to buy and taking the time to think about what exactly you will use the equipment for, says Andrew Frost, principal at Cini Little Australia . “A lot of people are installing a lot of the latest hi tech equipment but the problem usually is that most only ever use it to 20 per cent of its capacity," says Frost.

The experts in commercial kitchens say some of the most important influences in commercial kitchens and the kind of equipment used will be food safety, as well as environmental concerns such as energy and water consumption, and the amount and quality of the waste being generated.

“[When it comes to food safety] the industry is starting to become a lot more regulated and inspected,” says Frost. “Plus when choosing any piece of equipment now you have to ask about its energy consumption. When you’re choosing a dishwasher for example you need to ask is it energy efficient, how much water do they use, how much detergent do they require?”

Frost says the rise in interest in the kind of innovative food labelled molecular gastronomy has seen the arrival in the commercial kitchen of some interesting new pieces of equipment that were originally developed for science laboratories that are helping chefs to run their kitchens more efficiently and achieve a better and more consistent standard of food, as well as surprise their customers and set themselves apart from their competitors. “Thermo recirculators are one area where there is a lot of interest," says Frost of the machines that allow food to be cooked at very low temperatures in water.

Tim Smallwood of leading commercial kitchen consultancy Foodservice Consultants Australia says he believes one of the most important areas of kitchen innovation is in the area of kitchen cleaning and sanitising and the pressure on the foodservice industry to use increasingly environmentally sound methods. He says one of the biggest revolutions he is seeing is the new electrolytic water equipment technology that is just beginning to be used in Australia—the ROX Water system that was developed in Japan more than ten years ago but has only more recently been made available through distributors here.

ROX Water equipment creates electrolysed water which can then be used to clean and sanitise food and food preparation areas and surfaces. It produces two forms of water—cleaning and sanitising—which can then be used for different purposes. A unit the size of a brief case can produce 3.6 tonnes of the water a day.

“It is a Japanese development and has been shown to be completely safe for the environment,” says Smallwood. “It has been used up in Hong Kong for more than four years. It can replace 70 per cent of chemicals used for cleaning.”

The ROXWater system is being marketed in Australian by Victorian-based E-water System and is already being used and trialed by some of Australia’s largest hospitality operations. “Nobu restaurant on Melbourne features one of the systems which head chef Scott Hallsworth and the rest of the staff rave about (see boxout). “It is also being used in Heidelberg Hospital in their new central production kitchens and Hewlett Packard is installing in their new kitchens,” says Smallwood.

“It has taken two years for it to get approval for use in Australia because it is so new. ROX Water can replace things like chlorine that are very dangerous for staff to be using and it means chemicals staying away from kitchens. People are taking it very cautiously though because it is so new.”

The new ROX system is being trialed by a number of major foodservice operators across the hospitality industry including major catering operations like the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Commercial kitchen consultant and distributor, Bill Sinclair, who runs the Brisbane-based company Gibpat, says operators like our major convention centres which operate large scale commercial kitchen operations are already under considerable pressure to achieve the highest level of environmental ratings. “And down the track it’s likely this pressure will also move to the wider foodservice industry," says Sinclair. “This involves looking at how much energy they use, how much water they use, how much of that water is being recycled.”

Another new development in equipment predicted to create considerable interest are new low pressure steamers that have been designed to use less water and energy than others on the market. Gibpat's Sinclair says one of the latest brands on the market, the new Evolution series from Accutemp on average would use just 15 litres of water a day. It works by incorporating a vacuum pump that reduces air pressure in the cooking compartment, allowing water to boil and generate steam at temperatures as low as 66 degrees Celsius. “This is a very clever piece of kit,” says Sinclair.

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