Month: January 2018

Cool Runnings


Whether air-cooled, water-cooled or walk-in, refrigeration systems should be unique to each foodservice operation

So, you need a new refrigeration system. It’s not a particularly sexy appliance, but admittedly it’s a key tool in any foodservice operation. Unfortunately, all too often, very little thought is given to adequate refrigeration equipment. And, although anyone retrofitting a restaurant kitchen should consult a design expert or manufacturer to get the skinny on the draws and drawbacks of the products available, below is a list of jumping-off points to kick-start the research process.

AIR COOLED VS. WATER COOLED // There are two ways to operate refrigeration units: one uses water to cool the compressors and the other employs ambient air. Each installation needs to be assessed to determine the type best suited to a particular environment, with the operator analyzing the initial cost, operating costs and maintenance costs. Generally speaking, unless air-cooled units are meticulously maintained, they often require more repairs and will likely need to be replaced before water-cooled units. Another drawback, is air-cooled units do not operate well in extreme temperatures, so the ambient air must be tempered (heated or cooled) for optimal operation, which can be expensive — although water costs for watercooled units can be significant, too. Air-cooled units can also radiate a great deal of heat, and if they are in a small enclosed space this will affect performance and operating costs. Alternately, some jurisdictions limit the use of water-cooled units, which are likely to be required to drain into storm sewers rather than sanitary drains. Where buildings have a “chilled water system,” attaching refrigeration systems can provide efficiencies and help meet local restrictions on water consumption for refrigeration purposes.

WALK-IN VS. REACH-IN // Walk-in refrigerators are generally designed to accommodate bulk storage and the contents should not be continually exposed to a hot humid kitchen. It’s best to limit the frequency of access and purchase as any walkin and reach-in refrigerators as needed. This may cost more initially, but the expense will be offset by reduced operating and repair costs as well as increased labour efficiencies. Some walk-in refrigerators can be equipped with reach-in door panels  on one or two sides to provide easy access during peak periods, but this is only advantageous if the doors are easily accessible to work areas.

BLAST CHILLERS AND FREEZERS // Avoid using standard refrigerators or freezers when cooling large quantities of food that need to be chilled or frozen for storage. Not only does it make the machine work harder than what it was designed for, but it also has a serious effect on the quality and shelf life of chilled products. That’s where specially designed blast chillers and blast freezers come into play, offering tremendous energy savings in the long-run and ensuring chilled or frozen products are brought through the temperature danger zone within the time guidelines prescribed by governing codes.

DUAL-TEMP UNITS // In many operations refrigeration requirements can change with menu fluctuations, seasonal promotions and product availability, so it may be necessary to frequently increase refrigeration and freezer capacity. It’s the reason manufacturers developed dual-temp reach-in units, which are flexible and can be switched from refrigeration to freezer at the flip of a switch.

SPECIALTY REFRIGERATION // Since not all food can be stored at the same temperature and humidity levels, it might be wise to purchase specialty units. For example, fresh produce should be stored at about 45°F and fresh meats should be stored at 33°F to 35°F, so it’s best to have one unit for each. Fresh fish and seafood should be refrigerated on ice, ideally in a drawer-type unit with specially fitted drainage pans, which allow water to drain as the ice melts. If storing delicate cakes and pastries, which dry out quickly then exposed, a low velocity coil is necessary to reduce air flow, minimizing the drying effect. Highly acidic foods such as salad dressings and pickling brines will corrode ordinary coils very quickly, so if you are storing large amounts of these products, look for specially coated coils.

SIZE // It’s true: size matters. The dimensions of a refrigerating system need to be carefully calculated, taking into  count factors such as the hours of operation during a 24-hour period of the establishment in which it will be operating. Next, the type and temperature of product being stored is a critical factor; if warm or room-temperature products are constantly put into the unit, it will need to work harder to cool them. Inventory levels also play an important role in determining the size of the units — the more information you can give the manufacturer the better.

FINISH // Stainless steel is a favourite style,  but what about the function? Durability and ease of cleaning are two important issues to consider when choosing from the various finishes on the market. All interior finishes should be easily sanitized, especially for storing highly perishable food such as produce or baked goods. The build up of bacteria and decay-producing organisms on refrigerator walls will reduce a product’s shelf life, so being able to effectively sanitize the walls is critical to reducing spoilage.

If mobile carts are used frequently, interior and exterior bumper guards are a  worthwhile investment since they protect the finishes. Similarly, door-kick plates are worthwhile in most installations.

Adequate lighting is important for safety and sanitation, since it’s much easier to clean what you can see. All conduits for lights should be external since internal conduits collect dirt easily. Openings for lights and pipes as well as seams in the panels must be properly sealed with silicone or approved gaskets to maintain energy efficiency.

HARDWARE // Consider the type of hardware that fits your operation. Items such as hinges, automatic door closures,  locks and gauges need to be assessed based on needs. If security is important, then good quality locks need to be purchased and properly installed. Accurate temperature gauges, and in some instances alarms, which go off if a pre-set temperature is reached, can save money and are more convenient.

APPROVALS // Most refrigeration manufacturers and installers deal exclusively with approved units. That’s why it’s  important to check approvals and compliance with local codes and regulations, which vary by province and municipality. A big red-flag issue is the local regulations for CFC-free (chloro-fluorocarbon) coolants, so check local codes and  regulations before making a purchase. And, finally, watch for limitations on the type of insulation in panels for walk-in units. To be safe, learn local regulations or hire a specialist.

INSTALLATION // It’s hard to believe, but proper installation is often overlooked even though there are many factors to consider. For example, level surfaces are integral to installing a walk-in box unit, and floor drains should be in line with drain pipes to avoid expensive plumbing bills. Also ensure panels fit through door openings and conduits and piping are installed outside the box to allow for clean walls and adequate shelving. And, although compressors mounted on top of the boxes make for a cheaper installation, they can be difficult to maintain and repair. Remote compressors (preferably installed in one central location) allow for easier access during routine maintenance. Lastly, properly prepared floors are integral to good installation, especially with walk-in freezers. Whether the underslab is insulated from below or a floor is built on the slab with external or internal ramps is purely a matter of cost and efficiency of construction.

WARRANTIES // As a rule, most manufacturers provide a 12-month warranty on refrigeration units and a five-year warranty on the compressor motor. Since the bulk of the cost is the compressor and coil, it is usually not advisable to purchase second-hand refrigeration unless absolutely certain of its condition. Such a purchase isn’t likely to cut costs in the long-term since the savings realized in buying used refrigeration is usually lost in higher repair and maintenance bills, as well as the expense of having the unit dismantled, moved and re-assembled.

Induction Cookers – The New trend in cooking

Induction cooktops are enjoying their time in the spotlight, and for good reason. Both chefs and manufacturers are endorsing this trendy new method, finding it to be a more efficient, more precise, safer and more flexible way to cook than conventional methods such as gas or electric.

This flame-free cooking option works by generating an electric current when the unit is powered on and a compatible cooking vessel is present. Alternating magnetic fields affect the molecules in the cookware, heating only the cookware and what’s inside it, offering precise temperature control.

Hatco Corporation’s Business Development manager, Edward Nunn has worked with induction technology for more than a decade and has seen it move from classic omelette stations at hotel breakfast buffets into the mainstream. He attributes the surge in popularity to the rise of molecular gastronomy in world-renowned restaurants. “From the line cook doing eggs to high-end chefs now using it as a complementary tool along with other gizmos in the kitchen, chefs are driving [induction cooking] because they like how it works.” Angus An, chef and owner of four Thai-inspired restaurants in Vancouver, uses Vollrath induction in all of his restaurants and says the technology has come a long way since he started using it. “We have it in all of our restaurants. Over the past 10 years, induction has [grown in] leaps and bounds. The price has come down and the power has come up.”


One of the many benefits of cooking with induction is efficiency, both in terms of reducing hydro, gas and energy costs, and also reducing cooking times. “The units we use are more efficient [than gas],” says An. “All of the energy used is transferred into the food so the money spent on power is going directly into cooking.” Nunn explains that by doubling the power, some tasks — such as boiling water in large volumes — can be done in half the time. “In a restaurant, 10 or 20 minutes can be a painful amount of time,” he says. An agrees, stating he can boil two litres of water in a minute and a half.

Mary Chiarot, vice-president and general manager of Garland Canada, says when less time is spent monitoring items, service improves. “Chefs can increase the speed of service and keep stocks and sauces at a precise temperature during service.” At his restaurant, Fat Mao Noodles, An simmers broth faster and without the need for constant monitoring and controlling. “It’s much more precise. I can put this pot of soup on medium, set it for five to eight hours and know it’s getting the same amount of power every single time. And, you don’t have to worry about the flame if you want to make stock overnight. It’s safe.”

Safety is a big factor when it comes to cooking with induction. As the risk of fire and injury from flame drops significantly, the level of comfort increases. The equipment heats only the cookware and doesn’t give off heat to the surrounding area. Chiarot recognizes that induction greatly improves working conditions in what is normally a very hot and moist kitchen. “The air conditioner isn’t working as hard because now you have a much cooler environment,” she says, adding the ambient temperature of the kitchen and restaurant becomes easier to manage and more comfortable for guests and staff.

Induction’s flexibility in and out of the kitchen is another contributor to the rise in its popularity. Available in both tabletop and built-in units, the product offerings vary from woks and griddles, to holding and chafing dishes, making induction an ideal solution for simple or complicated back-of-house lines, as well as catering and buffets. An touts the benefits of a modular unit. “We can easily plug in an induction burner anywhere and get portable and professional power because of the size and height.”

Though the benefits make for a lengthy list, An says the major drawback is that people aren’t used to the technology, so there is a learning curve. “Traditionally, when cooking over a gas flame, the fire is still nearby and the chef can control the heat by lifting the pan up and away from the flame.” Meaning, cooking with induction often means rethinking the subtle routines of cooking with gas.
Nunn suggests using a needs-based approach to determine what is best for each venue. “Ask, ‘What power do I need? What am I going to do with it? Am I boiling large stockpots or just sautéeing? Does it need to be confined to the kitchen? What makes it prudent to me?’” Chiarot warns that not all induction systems are created equal and you get what you pay for, so operators need to consider the quality, design, engineering and components inside the unit. “It’s critical to have quality equipment to have peace of mind. Ask if the unit is commercial and if industrial components make up the product. It’s imperative that you have commercial-grade for a professional kitchen.”

Nunn echos this sentiment and urges buyers to take the time to understand the components and choose conformal-coated (a protective chemical coating or polymer film) boards when possible. “Should any grease or moisture be sucked in by the fan, you’re not going to get a short on the boards. Also consider the aesthetics, especially if you’re using the unit for display cooking, or action stations. You want it to look nice, high tech and modern and equally low profile.”

He also says to beware the noise factor. “If your chef has to engage with a customer, you don’t want a unit with a fan that sounds like a vacuum cleaner.

Restaurants are Taking Equipment Hints from Backyard Grillers

Barbecue — possibly humankind’s oldest method of cooking — is experiencing a re-awakening in commercial food operations. And it’s not going low-and-slow. Iconic barbecue, long the domain of high-profile pit-masters in the southern U.S., has been making its way into mainstream restaurants, says Steven Raichlen, James Beard-award winner and author of the best-selling series The Barbecue Bible.

Barbecue is waking up to pit-barrel cookers, salt slabs, new fuel such as almond wood, “caveman” meats, pine and spruce finishing salts, more types of vegetables, rotisserie and “plancha-style” cooking surfaces.

“There’s a resurgence in barbecuing. It’s the outdoor experience, the aromas, the flavour,” says Bill Verity, owner of Crown Verity — a company which got its start in 1991 and supplies stadiums and golf courses  with rolling grills, built-in grills, towable grills and a host of barbecue accessories. “There has been a big trend in foodservice in the last five or six years at golf clubs; the members want to have a barbecue every Friday night so the chef might put together a whole outdoor-grilling section with a couple of barbecues.”

In a reversed order of things, trends in barbecuing and outdoor kitchens are originating from residential backyards and moving into commercial restaurants. Based in Concord, N.H., MagiKitch’n makes commercial-grade gas and charcoal barbecues as well as outdoor-cooking equipment for operators seeking portability and convertibility. “We saw a proliferation of [home cooks]creating these beautiful outdoor cooking spaces and we wanted to come up with a commercial version of that,” says Mark Lang, vice-president of Sales.

Oakville which has been manufacturing serving counters for restaurants for the past 14 years, has seen a shift in interest toward outdoor barbecue kitchens — prompting begin making counters rugged enough to be used outdoors. “It’s turned out to be a big item for us in the last number of years,” Witt says, adding the company is about to launch a new website dedicated to professional outdoor kitchens.

The food operations at a hotel, he says, might want a cooking area on the patio — where aesthetics are important — that’s tough but doesn’t look institutional. “It’s a mobile modular system that doesn’t look mobile and modular,” he says.

Chefs are smoking more ingredients than ever before, making it a significant trend, according to Ted Reader, chef, author and College lecturer. “Chefs are bringing smokers into the kitchen to help diversify their menus and are using a variety of charcoals and woods to add big flavour to foods.”

Just as the boundaries of the barbecue belt are continuing to dissolve, Raichlen says there are signals that smoking is on the rise. “I called 2016 “the year of smoke” and that will continue into 2017.” However, he points out divergences: smoking traditionally uses pork shoulders, briskets and ribs, but it will now also take on vegetables, butter, heavy creams, Hollandaise sauce and desserts. In addition, Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurants are jumping on the smoking bandwagon in what Raichlen calls “Tweezer ’Q ” — using a smoker and a wood-burning grill to prepare refined foods such as pricey cuts of beef.

Verity says smoking is convenient and efficient: smokers can operate up to 20 hours on one load of charcoal, making it perfect for low-and-slow 18-hour pulled pork. “Restaurants will buy a Primo [ceramic grill] and put it outside and they smoke all kinds of things on it,” he says.

Tom Field, corporate chef at Concord, Ont.-based Alto-Shaam, agrees there has been an increased interest in barbecue and smoking from food operations. And while chefs have been using smokers for more than a decade, new equipment can be programmable, so staff don’t even have to touch the smoker box. “Restaurants are beginning to understand the value of putting the smoker option in their combi oven. They can get a smoker that cleans itself,” he adds.

Manufacturers and chefs recommend taking time to determine equipment needs. Pay attention to your horsepower and think about matching your BTUs with your needs, says Lang. “What volume will be going through your venue? Maybe you’re a winery doing catered events here and there compared to a restaurant trying to do 200 covers off that piece of equipment in a two-hour time span.”

The menu dictates equipment choice as well, adds Lang. For example, fatty hamburgers will require grease management. “If you’re smoking or doing butterflied chicken, make sure you can get a temperature setting for a low-and-slow process. Some grills don’t lend themselves to that. There’s too much heat.”

Don’t forget clean-up, he warns, and be sure the equipment is built to be taken apart and vigorously cleaned regularly. “Especially if it’s in an outdoor kitchen and your customers can see it.”

Field recommends thinking ahead about what you want to do with the equipment. “It used to be that people would say they’d never use a smoker,” he notes, adding that talking with operators that do a lot of smoking before you purchase is helpful. “Now, with barbecue being so popular, more cooks see the possibilities of the technique.”

How Blenders and Juicers are Stirring Up the Market

The myth is that the Waring blender was developed by Fred Waring, a musician who liked milkshakes so much he invented a machine for when he was on tour. At the time, the 1930s, blenders had small jars and low power and stayed that way until fairly recently.

“Things really started to change 15 years ago,” says Paul Leclerc of Serve Food Equipment, a specialty food-equipment company based in Richmond Hill, Ont. “Where you had 1/2-horsepower (hp) blenders, it’s now common to have two hp; where you had r.p.m. of 12,000, now you have blenders that are up to 45,000 r.p.m. Where blenders were once used to only mix ingredients, they are now making peanut butter from scratch and taking flax seed down to flax flour.”

Bigger is Better
The blender market is a busy one. With four or five major brands within the industry, it’s not a sector where change is radical — or often — but improvements do occur in response to trends in the industry. “The evolution in blenders has been power,” Leclerc says. “But ultimately, it’s a jar on a base with a blade assembly.” Treated properly and maintained correctly, a good commercial blender can last 10 to 15 years, depending on what you put in it. Blenders can be targeted for specific uses because blades and blade systems have evolved for foods or frozen beverages. Some do both, Leclerc says, noting if you’re only going to blend a few ingredients or make the odd soup, you may need less power; frozen drinks, on the other hand, would need more power. “One of the rules,” Leclerc points out, “is the better the blender, the faster the blend.”

When it comes to jar size, blenders can have 32-oz. jars up to 64-oz. As for construction materials, while BPA-free polycarbonate is popular, glass is not practical and stainless steel is ultimately the best. However, at Waterloo’s Thrive Energy Lab, owner Jonnie Karan loves the 1,500 watts of power in his BlendTec. It has multiple programmable settings and several speeds for making approximately 100 smoothies a day on machines that have logged more than 50,000 runs, Karan estimates. The small restaurant and juice bar uses three blenders with a fourth utilized for other food prep. He says he considered three models, but prefers the plastic jug over glass.

“If you drop a glass one in a busy kitchen, it’s pretty expensive,” Karan says. “[Plastic is] lighter and quicker to use, as well as easier to wash.”

He selected the brand because he found the design suitable for fast smoothie production and lacks a tamper, which hinders speed of use, he says. “I find BlendTec is designed around smoothies. There are amazing machines out there, but they can be expensive.” A drawback for Karan is the fact that jug and blade assembly are single construction. “The steel goes, and it always does, so then you have to throw away the entire jug. I don’t like having to do that.”

Accordingly, the purchasing process always comes down to quality, knowing your ingredients and knowing what your blender can offer, says Ben Schach, co-founder of Vancouver-based Glory Juice Co. “People are craving healthy options that are convenient — whether that’s juice, smoothies or food,” he says, adding that Glory Juice purchased a VitaMix for power and functionality. “It’s a quiet version that works well for our store design and because we don’t use ice. We’re all fruit-based and all whole-food smoothies. We went with what we thought was the highest-quality blender.”

All Juiced Up
Juicers come in two basic types — higher speed, centrifugal juicers and slower “cold-press” masticating models. The primary difference is speed, with a low-speed juicer below 100 r.p.m. With a high-speed juicer, the juice product is typically good for about 30 minutes in order to ensure full nutritional value. Slow juicers prepare food that is fully nutritional for upwards of 72 hours. The proof is in the pulp: high-speed juicers release a wetter pulp, while masticating juicers result in a dry pulp.

Kevin Keith, national project manager at Robot Coupe, has three tips for buying a juicer. First, make sure it’s a commercial-rated product and can work day-in and day-out; consider name recognition, which can be synonymous with quality; and consider whether you require continuous output of product. He says a benefit of the Robot Coupe J-80 Ultra and J-100 Ultra  juicers is that they require no tools for assembly and disassembly.

“Other products on the market require what looks like a lug wrench,” says Keith. “We wanted to create a juicer that was user friendly.” Thrive Energy Lab uses two Robot Coupe J-80 Ultra centrifugal juicers. “They’re phenomenal,” Karan says. “They’re really well built and will juice anything you put through it.” That includes heavier root vegetable such as beets and carrots, as well as apples and pears. “They shred the product and then centrifugal force separates the pulp from the juice.” They also use a non-commercial Omega 8006 masticating juicer. “It produces a good juice yield and does the trick for us. I’ve used them all, including the Angel [Juicer], but some are very big and not something you can keep on the counter.”

Nitrogen in Coffee


Long-used in the bar industry, nitrogen gas is now being infused with cafe drinks to give them a creamy and smooth texture. Nitro coffee is the most popular beverage that uses this equipment, but watch out for tea and kombucha tapped with nitro in 2018.