The only thing I know for sure is nothing stays the same! On a fairly regular basis, the seasons change; along with the harvest cycle and availability of food crops. With the exception of aquaculture, the availability of regulated, fresh-caught seafood changes. Geo-political chaos and inevitable disruptions in distribution channels changes the availability and affordability of imported foods and key ingredients.
The desires and tastes of the restaurant dining public evolve, driving menu change. Short term foodie fads come and go but longer and deeper menu changes [i.e. healthier eating, farm-to-table, global cuisine] ultimately impact all but the most steadfast and staid restaurants. A creative new head chef can initiate menu change. In the competitive world of chain restaurants, category competitors can drive the search for new menu offerings.
Let’s face it, menu change is inevitable. But menu change is often disruptive, requiring new recipes, access to new ingredients, staff training and often new equipment and supplies. Setting aside the first-cost of new equipment, available kitchen space and ventilation hood capacity can make it difficult to change or expand menus without compromising food quality, safety and the sanity of kitchen staff.
In a world of CHANGE, cooking, preparation and even refrigeration equipment that is more flexible and versatile is the SOLUTION! Historically, the need for cooking versatility has been met by a progression of venerable multi-function kitchen equipment. Today “The Three Musketeers” of multi-function cooking are: the range, the tilting braising pan and the combi oven. In food prep the vertical cutter-mixer and combination food processors are a cut above in versatility. Even some blast chillers and dual purpose refrigerator/freezers are cool multi-function tools.
Let’s see which companies and brands are adding even more versatility and help with menu change.
How to stand out in a crowded category
Commercial ranges have slowly evolved to offer more choices, including: type (restaurant, heavy duty, island suites, Chinese, etc.); base configuration (conventional or convection oven, open base, cabinet base or refrigerated base); range top configuration (open burners, French tops, griddles, planchas); plus back-mounted shelving or broilers; and the ability abut multiple ovens and other equipment in batteries, or back-to-back, as a chef island suite.
Highly customizable heavy duty and restaurant ranges can perform most wet and dry cooking operations with the help of a supporting cast of pots and pans.
Product: Ice & Heat Sauté Station
Company: The Montague Company
The Montague Company is a 150 (plus) year old company that continues to innovate. Its newest addition to their Legend™ Heavy Duty Range Line is a Glycol Ice and Heat Sauté Station. This work station combines both hot and cold-side capabilities, including: three or more 30,000 BTU front-mounted gas burners, with a handy rear-mounted glycol-chilled ingredient cold rail, mounted on a drawer-type refrigerated equipment stand. In 2015, this multi-function high production work station earned National Restaurant Association (NRA) Kitchen Innovations (KI) Award recognition.
More 411: A dependable Turbo Coil is used to chill and circulate R-290 Ethylene Glycol (a heat transfer liquid) to the heavily insulated top rail, maintaining safe ingredient temperatures only inches from those hot burners, even when the insulated lid is open for easy access. They are available in: 36-, 48-, 60- and 72-inch widths; with three, four, five or six raised-port star burners, respectively.
Products: Hestan Ranges
Company: Hestan Commercial
Anaheim, California based Hestan Commercial is a new player on the range scene having introduced their line at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) Show in February of 2015. Focusing on both performance and esthetics, Hestan did their homework to make each top and base design more effective and chef-friendly.
That effort has earned Hestan multiple NRA KI Awards, one for their movable modular salamander-cheesemelter-shelving system designed to hang off sturdy stainless steel rear risers; another for French tops that focuses heat on the center plate, providing up to 1000-degree F center heat and perimeter heat as low as 320-degrees; and a third for their unique open burner tops, with sealed single or dual ring burner heads, mounted above stainless steel burner bowls, with a water bath and overflow drain.
More 411: While most range manufacturers offer a convection oven base, Hestan has added additional layout and work flow versatility with a pass-through convection oven designed for space-saving single-depth cooking suites. Both sides of these unique ovens boast a soft-opening counterbalanced door, enclosing a low-profile high efficiency convection fan and motor system that delivers superior heat transfer and heat retention.
The Tilting Braising Pan is a versatile workhorse
The tilting braising pan is a cross between a griddle and a tilting steam kettle. It has a gas or electric heated flat bottom plate; 7- to 11-inch high side walls for liquid cooking and containing splatted; a manual crank or electric tilting pan body to simplify food transfer; and a hinged cover to contain heat and control moisture loss. They can be used for braising and sautéing, pan frying, griddle-cooking, liquid/stockpot boiling, steaming or poaching, wet roasting and more. The braising pan is a versatile batch production workhorse.
Products: EclipseÔ Braising Pans
Company: Unified Brands – Groen
In addition to their Classic (-C) controls, Groen has introduced a new Advanced (-A) control package available with their EclipseÔ Line of braising pans. Advanced controls allow operators to achieve more precise, repeatable temperature control for cooking consistency. Advanced controls models have a digital timer and temperature pre-sets, plus an LED display of set temperature or cook time. Both Classic and Advanced Controls are mounted in an IPX6 water-resistant housing.
More 411: Groen’s EclipseÔ Line of braising pans includes 15 gallon gas and electric models that are only 30-inches wide. The Eclipse Line also includes gas and electric heated 30- and 40-gallon models. All models have three-inch radius pan body corners for easier cleaning.
Products: DuraPan™ Series Braising Pans/Tilting Skillets
Company: Cleveland, A Welbilt Brand
Cleveland’s new DuraPan Series of braising pans are available in gas and electric heated 30- and 40-gallon models, with modular 36- or 48-inch wide bases, respectively. They can be ordered with a partially open base with 15-inch legs or a modular cabinet base with 6-inch legs. All models come with a power-tilt pan body with easy-clean coved corners and interior gallon/liter etch marks; plus recessed front-mounted controls that are water resistant.
More 411: The Cleveland DuraPan Series has an electronic thermostat embedded in the 5/8-inch thick pan bottom plate, positioned 1/8-inch below the cooking surface, which reacts quickly to changes in surface temperature.
Combi ovens combine two heat sources to deliver three standard cooking modes: dry heat, steaming, and the even more productive combi-mode that uses superheated steam to cook faster at lower temperatures. They use process controllers and sophisticated sensors capable of measuring and controlling compartment humidity to add additional capabilities, including: slow cook-and-hold, low-temperature sous vide cooking, prepared foods retherm and dough proofing.
Products: SelfCookingCenter®, CombiMaster Plus & More
Company: RATIONAL USA
You can’t cover combi’s without mentioning the role of Landsberg, Germany-based RATIONAL or the 2017 passing of Siegfried Meister, the inventor of the combination oven, company founder and Chairmen of their Supervisory Board. Back in 1976 Herr Meister added steam to his convection oven design, creating a totally new equipment category. Under his leadership RATIONAL has stayed laser-focused on this single product category, grown into a global brand, while staying focused on making life-in-the kitchen easier. They have continuously refined control technology, culminating in the introduction of and numerous generational improvements to their SelfCookingCenter.
More 411: During this journey they have developed a host of special pans, racks and systems designed to further expand combi cooking versatility. More recently they added smaller XS Models to both the SelfCookingCenter and CombiMaster Plus Lines; and addressed multi-unit, multi-oven control, with the introduction of RATIONAL ConnectedCooking, a cloud-based networking solution.
New multi-chamber ovens can also add menu versatility
Because of their free-venting designs and sophisticated controls, combi ovens can simultaneously cook multiple products by varying their cook times and alerting operators when to remove pans. A new breed of smaller multi-compartment ovens are emerging, capable of cooking different foods that require different temperatures and cook times.
Product: The Vector™ Series Multi-Cook Ovens
Company: Alto Shaam
Alto Shaam introduced new multi-function, multi-chamber oven technology at the NAFEM 2017 Show in Orlando. Their Vector Series Multi-Cook Ovens are literally two, three or four ovens in one, with separate and isolated chambers stacked inside a single 21-inch wide oven footprint. Top-mounted controls let you set a different cook temperature, fan speed and cook time for each insulated chamber. Bake a pizza in one, while cooking baked potatoes, roasting chicken quarters or maybe bake fresh bread in the other chambers. There is no chance of flavor transfer.
More 411: Innovative Structured Air Technology™ delivers unmatched even cooking, according to the manufacturer. Like some speed-cook ovens, Vector Series Ovens have an integrated catalytic converter for ventless installation, programmable touchscreen controls and a door with a double-pane viewing window.
More Versatile Prep Performers
Powered prep equipment was developed to take the tedious hand work out of: fruit and veggie cutting and processing; mixing, blending and dough-making; plus meat, cheese and bread slicing. While not as bulky as most cooking equipment, work and storage space are limited and the cost of powered prep help-mates not inconsequential. So savvy manufacturers have combined functions and developed attachments that can add additional versatility.
Product: Model HCC34 Combination Processor
Hobart has a storied history of developing powerful prep equipment, including their iconic (now Legacy®) planetary mixers. For veggie prep their Model HCC34 Combination Food Processor delivers multi-function versatility as a bowl or continuous feed vegetable processor. For batch processing you get a stainless steel 3.2-quart bowl with clear plastic cover for viewing; integrated side, top and product-into-blade folding/wiper system and a serrated stainless steel knife. The continuous processing attachment has a half-moon hopper for batch operations and a feed tube for continuous-feed cutting. Plenty of cutting plates are available for slicing, dicing, shredding, grating or julienne cuts.
More 411: The HCC34 Processor comes with SURESENSE TECHNOLOGY™, which identifies which processor head is installed and adjusts motor speed for best results, with three speed options for bowl processing and two speeds for continuous feed use. For operator safety there is a double interlock system which stops the motor when the pusher plate is up or the feed cylinder is removed.
Products: R 2 N Ultra Combination Processor
Company: Robot Coupe USA
The versatility of two-in-one machines is nice but Robot Coupe USA has raised the bar with their R 2 N Ultra, which can perform four prep functions with a single machine (with attachments). The R 2 N Ultra can be used as a juicer or citrus fruit press when not performing bowl cutter functions or handling vegetable cutting, slicing and dicing.
More 411: The one horsepower induction motor base provides the power to the: 1) quick change stainless steel cutter bowl with ‘S’ blade; or 2) the vegetable processor with both large and small feed hoppers with pushers; or 3-4) the optional Cuisine Kit for preparing fruit sauces/pastes or citrus fruit press. Optional slicing/dicing blade sets are available to meet any veggie prep requirement.
More Versatile Refrigeration Equipment
Blast Chillers were developed to quickly and safely lower hot food temperature through the bacterial growth “danger zone” of 140 to 40° F. They can be used to safely handle leftovers and deliver the chill for more elaborate cook-chill production used by both commercial and institutional foodservice operators. Some blast chiller manufacturers have expanded those capabilities to add more value and versatility.
The need for both refrigerated and frozen storage is obvious, but the space needed for each can change. Some new refrigeration equipment can switch between refrigerated and frozen operation, as needed.
Products: Model FX-2WS-290 Convertible Refrigeration System
Company: Unified Brands-Randell
Randell introduced the Model FX-2WS-290, the latest model in their FX Series, at the 2017 National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Chicago. The FX-2WS-290 is a refrigerator/freezer system that can be set to operate at any temperature between -5-degrees and 40-degrees F. It is a drawer-type, work top model which provides top-side prep space or room for a fast-cook oven, while safely storing refrigerated or frozen ingredients close-at-hand. As the model nomenclature attests, it uses environmentally-friendly R-290 refrigerant to deliver this flexible operating temperature capability.
More 411: Randell’s patented in-draw cooling system directs 100-percent for the cooling inside their removable drawer inserts. Cold air doesn’t pour out when a drawer is opened. The FX Series has the only full-extension, full-product-view refrigerated drawer system with drawer tracks outside the cooled compartment interior.
Products: ULTRASPEC™ HI5 Series Blast Chiller/Freezers
Company: Victory Refrigeration
Blast chillers are great for maintaining prepared foods quality and safety but some savvy manufacturers are expanding their roles to save space and add versatility. Victory’s ULTRASPEC HI5 Series functions as a ballast chiller and blast freezer, but it can also serve as thawing cabinet, retarder/proofer for bakery operations and even slow-cook foods with probe or timer setting. The HI5 Series are all reach-ins with upper door-mounted touch display controls. A multi-point core probe, probe heater, HACCP alarm display and 99 pre-set recipe programs are standard. The HI5 Series is available in five sizes with from 6 to 16 bake pan capacity.
More 411: In addition to their five-function blast chillers, Victory’s ULTRASPEC Line includes Dual Temp Refrigerator/Freezers and Dual Temp Refrigeration/Warmers.
- Alto Shaam 800/558-8744 alto-shaam.com
- Cleveland, A Welbilt Brand 800 388-2204 clevelandrange.com
- Hestan Commercial Corporation 888/905-7463 hestancommercial.com
- Hobart 937/332-2015 www.hobartcorp.com
- The Montague Company 800/345-1830 montaguecompany.com
- RATIONAL USA 888/320-7274 rational-online.com/en_usa
- Robot Coupe USA 800/824-1646 www.robotcoupeusa.com
- Unified Brands-Groen 888/994-7636 unifiedbrands.net
- Unified Brands-Randell 888/994-7636 unifiedbrands.net
- Victory Refrigeration 800/523-5008 victoryrefrigeration.com
Recommended Photo Captions [In order of mention in article.]:
- The Montague Company Legend™ Heavy Duty Ice & Heat Sauté Station
- Hestan Commercial single-depth cooking suite with pass-through convection oven
- Unified Brands – Groen EclipseÔ Braising Pan with Advanced Controls
- Cleveland, A Welbilt Brand – DuraPan™ Series Braising Pan
- RATIONAL USA – SelfCookingCenter XS Model combi oven
- Alto Shaam – The Vector™ Series Multi-Cook Oven
- Hobart Model HCC34 Combination Processor
- Robot Coupe USA – R 2 N Ultra Combination Processor
- Unified Brands-Randell – Model FX Series Drawer-Type Refrigeration
- Victory Refrigeration ULTRASPEC™ HI5 Series Blast Chiller/Freezers