The commercial kitchen equipment industry is in revolutionary mode, with cutting edge technology like the Internet of Things (IoT) helping chefs in achieving consistency and less dependency on manual work. Akshay Nayak spoke to industry experts to get their insights on kitchen equipment 2.0
Kitchen is one of the major revenue hubs for an hospitality business. Good kitchen design, streamlined energy supply, adequate workspace, hygiene and modern-age kitchen equipment are some of the key needs of a chef to ensure seamless operations, increased productivity and decreased costs, without compromising on the quality of the food. Kitchen solution providers, for some time now, have learnt about the many pain-points of a chef and try to marry technology with food preparation to enhance the overall productivity.
The commercial kitchen equipment industry is seeing a revolution with the introduction of smart equipment as well as the use of artificial intelligence. “Smart is the game-changer. In today’s time when innovation is on every menu, refrigeration equipment must give ease of use apart from fundamental functionality. Pioneering approaches across the refrigeration industry focusing on energy efficiency, storage, user-friendliness, etc, are mushrooming,” says Sanjay Jain, director, Elanpro, talking about the rising demand from the industry for new-age kitchen equipment in refrigeration.
The age of automation
Kitchen equipment for foodservice establishments is not very different from that used for cooking and serving food at home except that, because of the volume of food cooked and served, and the greater degree of handling required, it is constructed for greater quantity, quality, standards, durability, speed and efficiency. “The last few decades have seen a complete revolution in the kitchen equipment industry, which now provides the modern caterer with a range varying from very simple easy-to-use kitchen equipment to a complex one,” informs Chef Satyaseelan, executive chef, Grand Mercure Mysore.
With an array of smart kitchen equipment addressing the core kitchen operations right from pre-cooking and cooking to waste management for projects of variable sizes, some of the recent innovations include combi-ovens, peelers, smart dishwashers, etc. “What we are seeing today is that pre-planned cooking programmes are used in most of the automated cooking equipment,” elucidates Chef Rana Mukherjee, executive chef, Four Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort & Convention Center.
Sunil Khanna, director, Hotelconsult Orient adds, “The new age equipment, undoubtedly, are pre-programmed Combi Steamers, pre-programmed Pressurised Bratt Pans and programmable Speed Ovens if we focus our discussion only on cooking. A sizeable range of Self Cooking Centres from Rational can do a variety of cooking operations, be it steaming, grilling, boiling or baking at the mere press of a button with remarkable consistency in quality. The Flexi-chefs from MKN can also perform similar cooking functions at the press of a button with multi-zone operation whereby different products may be cooked simultaneously in a single appliance. Speed Ovens can regenerate any pre-cooked and preserved food to its original quality within seconds by simply clicking on the correct programme.”
Khanna adds that these appliances can save tons of energy as they are completely sealed and require a negligible amount of exhaust air, thereby also saving both supply air and conditioned air. Further, these appliances do not emit any heat as they are well insulated. Since the cooking time is less than half of the other methods, a lot of energy is saved thanks to the use of efficient heat transfer through forced draft heating with variable speed fans. Smaller footprints are a big boon for the operators with the rising cost of real estate.
From the chef’s perspective, Chef Nilesh Limaye, chef culinaire, Meluha The Fern, Mumbai, informs that in kitchens the chefs have now access to the guest’s choices and menu priorities as soon as the guest checks in based on his history of preferences. Materials management systems give more accurate data based on the previous patterns of stock orders. “This helps us in pointing out critical areas like controls in wastage of a particular ingredient, non-usage of any ingredient, near expiry of a certain stock item, etc. On the kitchen utensils front, a sous-vide, smoke gun, gravity slicers are all mandatory to create more finesse and a professional approach,” he explains.
Speaking on similar lines, Chef Irfan Sayyed, chef de cuisine, Renaissance Mumbai notes, “Many of the heavy-duty equipment such as the combination oven, gravity slicers, peeling machines, boilers and steamers and vacuum machines make life easy for the chef as they can produce quality food products with minimum manpower involved. For example, peeling of 100 kg of large potatoes would earlier take approximately two working man-hours but with the new potato peeling machines, it takes only 15 minutes to complete the same task.”
Technology has also come a long way when it comes to hassle-free real-time hygienic cleaning with state-of-the-art equipment. ‘Sometimes double doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it does.’ This is Hobart’s slogan for promoting their latest invention – deemed to be the world’s first two-level dishwasher. “The newly developed dishwasher by the world market and innovation leader for commercial warewashing equipment has a second wash chamber for simultaneous washing. This means two levels are available for double the washing volume. It is another great benefit that the two-level-washer with its compact design does not take up more space in the kitchen as compared to a conventional dishwasher. Whether plates, coffee cups or GN pans- the two level washer not only increases the volume but also the flexibility in terms of different types of wash ware. For example, while porcelain plates are being washed in the upper level, the bottom chamber of the dishwasher provides space for saucers, pans, cooking pots, cutlery or salad bowls. The kitchen staff can save lots of time and have different wash ware ready for reuse when they need it,” explains Razi Haider, national sales manager, Hobart.
IFB Industries which is popularly known for its home appliances, also caters to commercial equipment including dishwashers majorly used by restaurants, commercial kitchens, etc. B Krishnamoorthy, business head – industrial products, IFB Industries, says, “We have a wide range of dishwashers for the customers to decide as per their need, with each having a capacity on average of cleaning 4000 dishes per hour. Our products are CE certified and manufactured in Europe under the IFB branding. We use two kinds of technology, PCB controlled machine and programmable logical machine which is useful to handle in rugged conditions. So we are the only company in India to provide our customers with both the options. We are also developing a new technologically driven equipment which reduces water intake by about 80 per cent to 50 per cent.”
IoT in the kitchen
Interestingly, Chef Limaye also points out a set of applications that Internet of Things can bring to ease kitchen operations. The Internet of Things (also known as IoT) is a network of physical appliances and devices that use a digital connection to communicate with each other. When implemented in a commercial kitchen setting, IoT can be used to create a smart, remotely controlled kitchen wherein your refrigerator could track and reorder inventory on your behalf.
“But really, this is just one example of the endless applications and possibilities of an IoT kitchen. There are still some benefits to an IoT remotely controlled kitchen which is not yet available in India. A kitchen display system (KDS) is a must-have restaurant technology in any commercial kitchen. KDS replaces old school kitchen receipt printers by improving communication between your front-of-house and back-of-house teams. This is widely used in modern high-volume cafes or fast food parlours. Some of the advantages of KDS are there is no lag – with a digital KDS, orders appear immediately on a monitor or tablet so your team doesn’t have to wait for a receipt to be printed,” he says.
It also means improved cooking time. A robust KDS can keep track of how long it takes your team to complete tickets. “This data can help you manage your back-of-house team and make well-informed decisions about your menu; the most important part where technology supports is in reducing or savings of cost or in areas where talented or skilled manpower is not available, in creating food safety, creating more space or time for effective guest satisfaction. The other controls enhancing kitchen productivity are Bluetooth temperature sensors, digital inventory tracking, automated purchasing tool, digital table/reservation manager, etc. Over the years, technology has become the key ingredient for success in the modern foodservice industry,” Chef Limaye adds.
The flip side
Although technology plays a pertinent role in today’s chefs’ life, at no point can the equipment wholly satisfy the human touch when it comes to dining. While Khanna feels that these equipment are a must-have for all discerning F&B operators, they have led to de-skilling of most cooking operations thereby allowing operators to run their kitchens without skilled chefs and yet achieve better consistency of dishes. Chef Limaye feels that the equipment becomes a liability, “when we start abusing the technology. We can say that already we have a shortage of skilled manpower, and with the advent of the use of technology, talented chefs will become obsolete.”
Chef Mukherjee agrees that a machine cannot be creative as it is programmed to perform in a specific way and gives chefs very little room for improvisation. Also, such equipment is costly and requires regular maintenance needing expensive spare parts and after-sales service which is not easily accessible. Chef Sayyed adds that working with heavy kitchen equipment needs exclusive training about the machines. “Mishandling can lead to major accidents, waste of products and dissatisfaction of the guests. Also, using these equipment needs constant monitoring as they are not fully automatic and sometimes, can malfunction leading to the wrong product being generated. Furthermore, the maintenance cost of these products may be high if they are not operated or maintained properly,” he cautions.
Jain believes that given the variety of options available, it can be a confusing decision. “While moving to environmentally friendly gases is the need of the hour, servicing such products becomes difficult due to infrastructural limitations. Stainless steel is also a trend as it comes with superior durability, resistance to corrosion and high return on investment. However, it tends to be more expensive than other materials and at times is prone to smudging,” he notes.
Charanjeet Singh Gujral, DGM – Technical, Fortune Park Hotels too says that kitchen equipment requires special tools and agencies to carry out any repairs. Spares are more expensive and the initial cost of good equipment is also high.
Chef Ganapathy Mallya, director – Culinary Transformation for Novotel Hotels India, Novotel Goa Resorts and Spa and Novotel Goa Candolim Hotel points out certain disadvantages like high cost of equipment, spare parts might be a problem as most of the parts are available out of India, the expense of the machine to justify the F&B revenues, cost of yearly maintenance is much higher than regular equipment; need trained kitchen staff to use the equipment and trained stewarding and technical staff to clean and maintain the equipment.
The commercial kitchen can be made sustainable with the committed design and rightful investment in kitchen equipment while recognising its functionality and compatibility with the project. Chef Mallya feels that there is a huge shift in the way the kitchens are designed nowadays. “Earlier the kitchen would be designed by the kitchen designer without taking inputs from the chef. Now we are seeing a complete 360-degree change. The kitchen is now designed as per the chef and also as per the menu which is a big cultural shift,” he observes. A good commercial kitchen is designed as per the chef to incorporate their easy movement across the operational kitchen, placement of equipment hot as well as cold. “Correct design with perfect equipment is quite integral to make work efficient and to deliver the right kind of experience to both the kitchen team as well as the guests. Moreover, multi-tasking kitchen equipment saves a lot on manpower cost and also the cost to buy additional equipment,” Chef Mallya points out.
Interestingly, Chef Satyaseelan notes that a proper kitchen with multi-tasking equipment, drainage system, exhaust, and hood system, can help health and safety, fire safety, comfort, well-being, and can reduce levels of absenteeism and increase productivity.