Up to the Tasks

Multifunction equipment streamlines operations, accelerates ROI.

By  Karen Weisberg, Freelance writer

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You can credit “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and Miss Harriet Elizabeth Cow’s iconic washerdryer- sorter-dumper: We’ve grown to expect any equipment we buy—cell phones, TVs, stereos—to perform multiple tasks beyond what the original invention was designed for. Saving space and streamlining our lifestyles has become a prerequisite for any new product on the market.

The same holds true when choosing foodservice equipment. Units that boast multiple capabilities help streamline operations, save precious square footage and make labor and training simpler— an important feature because, according to the National Restaurant Association, the industry’s demand for foodservice employees is expected to outpace the growth of the U.S. workforce over the next 10 years. Multifunction equipment also enhances ROI, especially when the piece is used across multiple day-parts.

Here, several operators share their picks of versatile units they’d be hardpressed to do without.

AN OVEN FOR EVERY NEED

For Debora Lindsey, project manager for Freshies, the proprietary foodservice program for R.H. Foster Energy’s Mobil On the Run and One Stop cstores, three pieces of equipment share top billing as multitasking dynamos.

“The TurboChef high-speed oven lends itself to use during all day-parts,” says Lindsey. “It can bake freezer-to-oven items such as cinnamon rolls that are ready to go in five minutes.” The TurboChef ovens are also used for the toasted, made-to-order-sandwich program available days and evenings at the 12 Freshies locations, all found in Maine. “Depending on the type of bread and ingredients, it’s done in about 45 seconds,” she says.

Typically, there’s one countertop TurboChef unit per Freshies location, and it’s programmed by whoever is creating the menu. “There are a dozen touch buttons that can be programmed to say, ‘ham and cheese,’ ‘breakfast sandwich,’ ‘12-inch sandwich,’ etc.,” Lindsey says.

The Freshies deli program also uses conveyor pizza ovens (multiple brands including Lincoln and Blodgett) for preparing not only traditional and breakfast pizzas, but also meatball and steak and cheese subs. The stores’ 12- and 16-inch, hand-stretched, freshdough pizzas are cooked on a screen (for a perfect crust) in countertop or floor models, depending upon the location.

Meanwhile, convection ovens are used for baking cookies, muffins, whoopie pies and sandwiches, and as a back-up to the conveyors. “We can do pizza in it if we have to, so we wouldn’t be ‘out of business’ if the pizza oven went down,” Lindsey explains.

CREATING THEATER

At Porter Khouw Consulting Inc., based in Crofton, Md., senior design project manager Ron Lisberger transforms retro, straight-line cafeterias into sleek, 21st century marketplace concepts.

“What we’ve seen and specified in several projects is a combi oven,” Lisberger says. “It’s a workhorse that gives you the ability to steam or bake and to do several products on each rack with no flavor transfer.” There may be a bit of staff resistance among those not familiar with the technology, he admits, thus recommending dedicated training (provided by the various combi-oven manufacturers) for the entire staff.

Aside from the combi, Lisberger views the griddle as one of the most versatile tools for back- and front-ofhouse applications. “Nowadays, most operators we design for want flexibility of equipment and the ability to move pieces around to convert an existing station to some other use or for another day-part,” he says. “With a griddle, you can do an entire breakfast menu, then switch to beef, burgers and chicken for lunch or dinner.”

 Meanwhile, the surprisingly versatile open-hearth oven creates a unique focal point for customers, Lisberger says. “The visual aspect is an important factor [to generate customer traffic], and about 90% of what’s produced in the oven is a pizza product; but depending on production capacity, you can do other items,” he says.

Many such ovens are also equipped with technology that eases labor and training. Not only is the production capacity of high-volume hearth ovens greater than other oven options, “but its unique rotating deck also enables you to put different products on,” he says. “You set it for each product and the number of revolutions needed per product is programmed in.” While a standard pizza takes one revolution (or about 60 to 90 seconds), Lisberger finds you can cook strip steaks to medium- well—on specific cookware provided by the manufacturer—in one fiveminute revolution.

In designing a marché-style area, Lisberger thinks of potential “anchor points” to draw people in—such as a hearth oven, Mongolian grill or a rotisserie. Although the cost of a rotisserie— in the low to middle five figures, he estimates—could throw a budget out of whack, the food produced could be distributed to other stations. So not only is it creating an interesting focal point for customers, but it’s also pumping out food for the entire operation.

“You can prepare rotisserie chicken, ham, turkey, even beef, so the equipment is able to do—and display—several meat products simultaneously,” he says. “After they’re done, products can be distributed to the entrée-salad station, the hot-sandwich station or a carvery. A rotisserie also reduces the need to have the production function in the back of the house.”

FAST AND FLEXIBLE

Manitowoc Foodservice’s corporate executive chef Alison Cullin-Woodcock hails from the United Kingdom, as does the Eikon, the latest generation of Merrychef ovens from Manitowoc (whose U.S. headquarters are in Fort Wayne, Ind.). Putting native affinities aside, Cullin-Woodcock points out that the Eikon can cook (and reheat and retherm) just about anything.

“It’s very intuitive and user-friendly. Over 1,000 icons [such as a picture of chicken or a bagel] can be uploaded from a digital camera or USB flash drive,” she says. “An operator can choose to upload for different dayparts, for limited-time offers, or for a snack [item].” It can also cook food up to 15 times faster than a standard convection oven, she says.

For example, 6 ounces of raw chicken takes approximately 25 minutes to cook in a standard convection oven, but less than four and a half minutes (depending upon whether bone-in, skin-on or marinated) in this oven. Microwave, convection heat and impingement technology could all be used in tandem depending on the food product. Using a portion of herb-crusted salmon as an example, sheexplains: Impingement technology could be used to give texture to the crust; microwave is effective in keeping the salmon moist; and convection heat works for the all-around cooking process.

“Plus, this can all be set up ahead of time with [an icon] of crusted salmon uploaded to the unit,” she says.

Now, if you take an Eikon and add a Frymaster Pasta Magic pasta-cooking unit—which was reintroduced at this year’s NRA Show—you’ve instantly expanded into uncharted day-parts. “You can prepare individual portions of fresh oatmeal and fresh fruit vacuum-sealed in a bag, and then cooked in the pasta cooker,” Cullin- Woodcock explains. “We have also cooked liquid eggs—we portioned them out from 1-ounce frozen pucks, then put them into vacuum-sealed bags and cooked them from frozen in the pasta cooker.

“You can grill sausage in the Eikon, then assemble a breakfast sandwich with a toasted muffin out of the Eikon; add the egg and some Hollandaise sauce in a bag, rethermed in the Pasta Magic, for a complete sandwich assembled in less than five minutes,” she says. So with two pieces of equipment, you’ve expanded your operation into a breakfast destination.

CROSS-CHANNEL INSIGHTS

With around-the-clock service and a mission to become ready-to-eat dining destinations, the supermarket industry has already mastered multifunction cooking. At Skogen’s Festival Foods, a 14-store chain in Wisconsin, deli supervisor Cindy Schmidt is proud that almost 90% of product sold is prepared in its own kitchens. Such a production load requires dependable, multitasking equipment. “Some of our stores are manned 24/7, and hot bars are typically up and running from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” says Schmidt.

The Skogen’s team uses Henny Penny combi ovens (GSC-120) with programmable controls to prepare heat-and-eat items such as twice-baked potatoes, lasagna, spinach and mushroom pies, stromboli and other pasta dishes throughout the day.

Meanwhile, turkey and ham is prepared in the steamer of cook-and-hold ovens; Skogen’s stores are using the Royalton Cook/Hold Oven single units (RRH-4135-C2) or stackable cook-and-holds (RRH-4135-C2US), generally configured as two stacks of two ovens each.

For Schmidt, a perk of the cook-and-hold oven is its ability to slow-cook meats overnight, not only because of the moist and flavorful product it yields with little shrinkage, “but also, because we use our combi ovens so much throughout the day, we could never catch up if we didn’t utilize these cook-andhold ovens [usually two per store] as well.”

If you’re planning to purchase a cook-and-hold oven, Schmidt recommends purchasing one with a tempered glass door in the unit: “In cook-and-hold units, items cook slowly over a long time and can be forgotten. But with a window, the team can check before leaving.” Otherwise, she says, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Meanwhile, foodservice in healthcare facilities requires equipment that can make large quantities of food, similar to a commissary operation. At Saint Mary’s Health Care, a 345-bed facility in Grand Rapids, Mich., director of nutrition services Mary Jaskowski loves her department’s four programmable combi ovens, used for preparing an assortment of meats and bakery items. However, the Groen Cook Chill System, with its 100-gallon cook tank and 100- gallon water jet (used to cook or chill), is the workhorse, running four 10-hour days a week.

“We use it for a lot of scratch and speed-scratch soups, sauces and gravies,” Jaskowski says. “It can cook roasts and other heavy muscle meats in water jets [product is cooked in bags with seasonings]; even our signature mac and cheese goes into the cook tank, then into the water jet [still in bags] to chill it. Highvolume locations use this equipment to make salad dressings or even flavored gelatin to be cut into cubes.”

Jaskowski and her staff also view the smaller steam-jacketed kettles as stalwarts of the Saint Mary’s kitchen. “We use them to blanch vegetables and prepare smaller portions of soup—made from scratch but not in bags,” she says. “We also use these kettles to prepare mixed-entrée dishes, to slow-cook greens, and rapidly chill pasta or rice using an ice bath.”


Multitasking Stalwarts and Their Many Uses

COMBI OVENS: The epitome of multifunction, combis use steam, convection heat or a combination of the two to proof, bake, blanche, roast, grill, retherm and hold everything from baked goods to pastries, whole-muscle meats to pizzas. Very good for batch production or items that will be held.

ROTISSERIES, MONGOLIAN GRILLS OR OPEN-HEARTH OVENS: Not the first tools that come to mind when considering multifunction equipment, but these items are great for marketplacestyle operations. They pump out meats, vegetables and pizzas that can be used on hot and cold food bars and sandwich stations, while creating entertaining “theater” for the customer.

ACCELERATED-COOKING OVENS: Accelerated-cooking ovens such as TurboChef ovens or the Merrychef Eikon are becoming tough competition for combi ovens, albeit without the steam heat. They use convection, impingement and microwave heat— together or individually—to cook sandwiches, snack items, meats and pastries. Best for immediate consumables and small batches.

PASTA COOKERS: Similar in appearance to a deep-fat fryer, pasta cookers can also be used for cooking vacuum-sealed items, such as oatmeal and liquid eggs, or retherming soups and sauces.

COOK-AND-HOLD OVENS: Use cookand- hold ovens to slowly cook meats overnight or in off hours, freeing combis, accelerated-cooking and conveyor ovens—and employees—to focus on cooked-to-order foods.

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