In commercial kitchens today, it isnâ€™t the size that matters, but what you do with it. Seasoned chefs and F&B specialist take us through the innovations that have transformed BOH
By Madhulika Dash
Two years ago, when Shangri La Eros decided to give its F&B units an overhaul with relevant concepts, it wasnâ€™t just the front of the house that was about to be redesigned and upgraded, the kitchens, too, were being synced for the change. At the helm of the transformation was newly appointed executive chef Neeraj Tyagi, who dedicated a good year of research to understand the various innovations that were changing commercial kitchens across the world, irrespective of the real estate of the kitchen (which remains on the low side still). Says chef Tyagi, who calls the experience an exercise in thought upgrading, â€śTraditionally, commercial kitchens were designed based on the food that the restaurant wanted to serve. Today, kitchens are supposed to be ready for innovation â€“ be it with the space design, walk-ins, prep stations, plating area or even with the equipments that should have the ability to be upgraded as and when needed.â€ť
One of chefâ€™s personal favourite in his state-of-the-art kitchen, which runs on PNG and cuts down the energy consumption level by 20% and hanging shelves to store food, is his one-battery appliance set â€“ which has a holding cabinet, especially custom-made by MKN. â€śIt is like a wall of every single piece of equipment you need to keep the food fresh, cook and minimise wastage.â€ť The other, of course, is the lab, which is essentially a combination of plating, finishing and experimental areas. Packed with the best of equipments, this area is called the play hub.
Clearly commercial kitchens are no longer about the size and equipments, which were picked up on pricing and base functioning. Now it is akin to setting up a lab â€“ one that would help you experiment and sustain. â€śThe need for transforming kitchens,â€ť says executive chef Prasad Dalavi, The Park, Calangute, â€ścomes more from the want not only to save energy but also make it efficient and safe. And one way of doing so is innovation be it in terms of designing the layout or choosing equipments that, though premium, cut down the daily cost.â€ť
An excellent example of this, according to chef Dalavi, is the latest conveyor oven technology, incorporated in the Middleby Marshall PS640 Wow!. It uses a patented â€śmagic-eyeâ€ť to sense when there is a product placed on the belt ready to cook. The machine automatically enters sleep mode if the product is not placed on the incoming belt within 30 seconds. Food Industry Technologyâ€™s (FIT) kitchen ventilation system called Cheetah, which uses a processor to control the extract and air supply fans to the lowest speed to suit the conditions. It slows down to between 30% and 50% of maximum operating speed during levels of low activity, saving up to 97% energy.
Apart from saving energy, which remains a big concern for hotels, given that commercial kitchens consume roughly 2.5 times more energy per square foot than any other space in the hotel, of which as little as 40% is used in the preparation and storage of food, such innovations lends sustainability when it comes to the perishable produce.
Take the example of the Winnow System. Though slightly premium to the traditional food management system, says Rakesh Anand (VP, F&B, India Habitat Centre), â€śIt helps cuts food waste by half, by making it quick and easy to measure and manage food waste. Food that is discarded is thrown into a special bin in your kitchen. Technology in the bin identifies each food type and measures how much of that food type is being wasted. The data is recorded and sent to the head chef/ management daily to monitor and rectify waste management if possible. Increase your food gross margin by 2-6% points with this technology.â€ť
Yet another favourite of Anandâ€™s is the Penguin food checker. In a time, when food contamination is a big concern for commercially-run central kitchens, this nifty device helps detects harmful elements in food and checks a productâ€™s acidity, salinity and glucose level ensuring food safety. â€śSimply drop some liquid or insert a small piece of food into the Penguin checker and wait a few minutes for your results,â€ť he says.
It is a must-recommended gadget in any kitchen much like the Verilux rechargeable santising wand, which helps keep the counters germfree. Agrees chef Tyagi, who feels that the hanging shelves do the same for the walk-ins. But kitchen design isnâ€™t only about upgrading or sustainability, it is also about devices that aid the chef in upping the game. Like the KĂĽchenMeister cooking suite from MKN. Made to measure and individually crafted by skilled craftsmen, this innovative piece of equipment is fitted to suit any style of food â€“ and can be upgraded with only an app called the MKN MagicPilot, a multipurpose, single app that not only take care of the appliances by intimidating the chef when the device needs servicing or cleaning, but also enables a chef to download the cooking specification into any new device without manually keying in.
Yet another device that has changed the way chef cook in the kitchen, says chef Dhwani Agarwal, senior sous chef, Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, are Combi steam ovens. “These versatile machines can be used for multitasking and cooking various proteins in one go while doing other tasks in the kitchen. It makes mundane work a breeze and thus freeing up a lot of time for the team to work towards R&D and innovation.â€ť
In fact, adds Agarwal, â€śMultitasking equipment adds weight to a lean kitchen, and is of great importance in an Indian kitchen, where everything needs to be slow cooked and with precision. Then brat pans, boiling pans and holding cabinets become a must-have.â€ť
Curiously, innovation isnâ€™t just a necessity in the kitchen, but also in public areas that join the
kitchen to the main restaurant. And here, equipment like Blanco that have self exhuming hoods work beautifully to save energy and keep the environment smell-free.
Concurs chef Sahil Singh, executive chef, Modern Asian Cuisine (Pa Pa Ya), Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd, who feels that â€śsuch computerised, programmable, automatic solution not just aids in kitchen operations, but also save on needless wastage of heat, electricity and gas as it shuts off on its own once the cooking process is complete. In turn, it also saves precious man-hours, leaving the chef to concentrate on giving good quality, innovative food.â€ť
In fact, the most common equipment change that is prevalent across commercial kitchens in India courtesy the arrival of live kitchens, says chef Singh, â€śare induction tops. These, with other electrically operated equipments, are used to reduce emissions in an open space, while having a controlled and effective cooking environment.â€ť
An idea that Anand, who has been creating sustainable practices for F&B outlets for more than a decade now, completely endorses. Innovation isnâ€™t about having high on technology kitchen appliances, a green kitchen today, adds the seasoned hotelier, â€śIs also about how healthy an environment can be created inside the kitchen that not only makes it a sustainable, energy-efficient space but gives the impetus to be creative.â€ť
One way of doing that has been the introduction of live kitchens. Apart from being high on theatrics and confidence boosting for diners, says culinary director, Vikas Seth of Lounge Hospitality, â€śLive kitchens have hugely benefited from innovations that have enabled them to cut back on energy consumption while keeping the design lean. One such masterpiece is the salamander. Usually a part of the plating area, this piece of gadgetry not only keeps the plate warm and is useful in giving the dish its finishing touches, it also ensure food safety. Much like the infra-red food warmers and Hatco Lamp, yet another kitchen innovation that sustains the dish taste and flavour characteristics by keeping it at the same temperature at which it was plated till it reaches the table.â€ť
And though none of these automation solution are economical, the popularity is, concludes chef Seth, â€śpurely for the kind of sustainability and efficiency that they bring to the domain â€“ the key essentials behind any commercial kitchenâ€™s success.â€ť