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Multitasking cooking centers: a kitchen workhorse

multitasking cooking centers

It’s no secret that rent is going up, footprints are getting smaller, labor is getting pricier and food costs are a constant concern. So inside restaurants, the pressure is on to save both money and square footage—and that includes the kitchen. While some operators have streamlined their menus so that they don’t need five different heavy-duty cooking machines, others have turned to pieces of equipment that offer up an array of functions in one hardworking package. In fact, about 30 percent of restaurant operators are using “more high-volume production, beverage service and combination equipment,” found market researcher Y-Pulse in its recent Dream Kitchen Survey.

The upfront cost of these larger multifunctional cookers might be higher than a single-function piece of equipment—units can range from $8,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the size and model—but the savings are recouped elsewhere. Not only can operators eliminate the cost of buying several different pieces, but these multifunctional cookers help cut food waste, labor and utility costs.

Kevin Meyer, executive chef at The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., sous vides many items in a multitasking combi oven for the high-end menus at the hotel’s multiple restaurants. The result: A longer shelf-life for sous-vide foods and fewer instances of over- and undercooking due to the equipment’s temperature probe, cutting down on food waste. “It makes it a little foolproof to get your product out without having to worry about that,” he says.

At gastropub The Coupe in Washington, D.C., executive chef Stephen McRae has been able to cut about six man hours a day—essentially one full-time employee, he estimates—because he can run programs on a self-cooking center unattended. For example, instead of having a cook monitor an ingredient like oven-dried tomatoes, the machine slowly roasts tomatoes overnight and automatically flips to a dehydration setting.

There is a learning curve with this high-tech equipment, says McRae. “It takes a while to understand how to program it. Once you do, it is very easy, but teaching it to other people and employees can be a challenge,” he says. 

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