Features: Innovation

For many innkeepers, the Christmas season is like overnight snowfall: it’s wonderful to behold, but it creates a vast amount of extra work to deal with both practically and safely. Bill Lumley explores how you can save both cost and time in the busy festive season.

Kitchens are working at capacity as party bookings soar in December. According to the British Beer & Pub Association, more than twice as many pints of beer are consumed in December than during the average month of the year.

But relax: even though your bookings may be rising, it’s still only November. Just time to take stock and make last-minute changes to your kitchen and laundry to streamline yourself for the onslaught behind the bar and in the restaurant.

You may be considering new laundry equipment. As your wage bills shoot up for extra staff and overtime in the coming weeks it’d be reassuring to save money elsewhere, and Xeros has come up with a solution to save a large proportion of the water used in the H2O-hungry laundry process using polymer technology as the primary means of removing stains from fabrics. The process saves energy too, using far less hot water than a conventional machine.

Polymer technology as a replacement for water at first sounds strange, almost like a defiance of nature, but it really does work, as Xeros training manager McGinty explains: “This polymer technology works by gently absorbing stains and carrying them away gently, rather than through the traditional rough ‘drop and slop’ method. Because water is not the primary way of removing stains, Xeros can get fabrics clean whilst using much less water than a standard commercial machine.”

Traditional machines use between 40% and 70% hot water, but Xeros only uses 5% on average. With less water to heat, more energy is saved and bills are reduced. By bringing the laundry operation inhouse using a Xeros machine, daily operational costs associated with energy and chemical usage are cut by up to 30%.

The Xeros SM35 is a new 35lb/16kg capacity washer that is ideal for smaller hotels where size and space is a consideration. Using the same technology as the Xeros SMV90 Commercial Washer, the Xeros SM35 reduces water consumption by up to 80%, and reduces energy and detergent usage by up to 50%, while delivering a superior clean.

Luxury hotel Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire washes all its spa robes and towels in-house, so maintaining quality is a top priority for them. After carrying out numerous tests in the lab and onsite, general manager David Munson became convinced that installing a Xeros machine would be a sensible investment for the establishment. Xeros’ unique after-care offering sealed the deal because the chemistry service and repairs were all included.

In a high turnover environment a commercial microwave oven is one of the most important devices at a chef ’s disposal in a commercial kitchen. Unless someone develops a faster means of turning out hot food in seconds the commercial microwave oven is here to stay.

The device has come of age, and as new models come onto the market they are generally the same as those models that they are replacing, although some are tweaked with added programmes and facilities that are often never used.

However, Panasonic recently introduced a feature to stop using the incandescent lamps, which are never covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and instead fit an LED electronic circuit. This can be programmed to flash when the cooking has finished, so with a bank of microwaves it is easy to see which oven has completed the cooking cycle, according to Patrick L Bray, managing director at Regale Microwave Ovens.

The company followed Panasonic’s lead with the LED idea. Every new microwave oven the company supplies comes complete with a Microsave Cavity Liner, and they change the incandescent lamp or lamps to LED free of charge in the heavy duty compact Daewoo range, and even provide a free three-year warranty.

The Microsave Cavity Liner that Regale invented is a hygienic device that fits inside the cavity of the microwave oven and protects the base, ceiling plate and lens-light covers, which are never covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. The liner can thus save very expensive repairs.

“It can be easily removed when food splashes and spills and can be washed in a pot-wash and placed back inside the microwave before next use, potentially saving hours of time on cleaning,” says Bray. “The Liner, when purchase complete with the microwave costs less than one repair and can extend the life of the microwave oven.” There are now more than 16,000 units in daily use and the device is now considered an essential item by inns, restaurants and pubs.

Microwaves cannot be compared with other cooking methods since often microwaves are used for the re-generation of pre-cooked product. When used as a cooking aid, for example melting chocolate or cooking vegetables, Bray says there is no other kitchen equipment that can compare with a microwave for speed, footprint and running costs.

So what should inn managers look out for when looking for an efficient microwave oven? Bray says: “Firstly consider what power is required to do what is required and how heavy the usage is. It is pointless to buy on price as you can end up with a low-powered back bar or sweet type microwave.”

He advises that that a microwave with only 1000watts to 1200watts is a low-powered unit and could not be expected to be used continually during the day. “Quite a few models of this power level are generally uprated domestics,” he says – so don’t go simply on price: go for a branded product, preferably one that you know, he suggests.

If the purpose of the device is to cook or to quickly reheat items he suggests you look for a machine of 1400–1500w, but he says that if some things are frozen to be regenerated and you also want quick re-heat then you must go for an 1800–1900w output model to be on the safe side. He adds: “There are very many microwaves that come out of the same factory with different names and labels on them, so always go for the branded names that you know well.”

Another way of boosting the life of a microwave and to help avoid costly repairs if the ceiling plate burns out or the base plates crack – which are not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty and can cost well over a hundred pounds to have replaced – is to consider making sure that the microwave has a Microsave Cavity Protection System pre-fitted. “This will save cleaning time and avoid down-time while waiting for the engineer to come to replace them,” says Bray.

Menumaster brand manager for Nisbets John Marks says: “Commercial microwaves can be a serious time-saver for caterers. Whilst great for regenerating both single and multi-portions without keeping customers waiting, there are many meals that can actually be cooked completely in a microwave. Any recipe that requires, poaching, steaming or braising can be completed in a microwave, making them an extremely versatile piece of equipment.”

He tells Innkeeper magazine: “There aer benefits as well – vegetables steamed in

Nisbets supplies the CM735 Menumaster Heavy Duty Compact Microwave DEC18E2, which Marks describes as a sturdy and reliable cooking appliance which provides even and consistent cooking results, and is built to withstand the demands of a hectic commercial kitchen.wave will retain more of their nutrients than using conventional boiling methods, so steaming vegetables this way is healthier for your customers. A microwave is also perfect for sending a wide variety of foods from the freezer to customers’ plates within minutes, making it ideal for high demand environments such as inns.”

He says the model is ideal for bulk reheating and steaming. “It boasts an impressive 17-litre capacity which can fit a standard half-pan, allowing food to be transferred directly from the hob or oven. Its compact, efficient design is stackable, making it ideal for commercial kitchens where space is at a premium, and its simple touch panel controls and programmable design ensure versatility and ease of use.

Made from robust stainless steel, the Menumaster Heavy Duty Compact Microwave features removable filters with a handy cleaning reminder function, and comes with a three-year warranty for added peace of mind.

SOLID FUEL, ARTISAN OVENS

Innovation in cooking appliances is not restricted to microwaves. Harrison Ovens makes ovens closed-chamber solid fuel ovens for use in a commercial hospitality environment.

Co-founder and director Natalie Reeve tells Innkeeper magazine the natural ovens are appropriate in a hospitality environment. “In a high-turnover environment, speed of cooking without drying-out food is key,” she says. “The heat from the embers charges the walls, ceiling and door of the Harrison, which are made of 6mm stainless steel and insulated to retain heat.  Once the walls are charged, heats of up to 350 degrees are retained so steaks will cook in a couple of minutes.”

As Harrison doesn’t rely on direct heat from the coals; the moisture is retained, she explains. “The benefits of speed, moisture retention and that wonderful, smoky aroma of cooking with charcoal or wood are what makes Harrison perfectly suited for a hospitality environment. Food can also be rested on the top of the Harrison to keep it warm, rather than sitting under drying lights.”

Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan uses his Harrison in his fine-dining restaurant in Mayfair and his hunting-lodge hotel in Ireland. He says is very impressed with the speed and quality of Harrison’s output.

In the busy environment of an inn’s kitchen, a  chef may be put off by the unconventional sight of burning embers with no apparent off switch. However, Reeve explains: “Harrison Ovens have only been around for one year, but have been developed over three years. During this development time, we have listened to chefs about what they do and don’t like about cooking with charcoal ovens. The main problem seems to be the ferocity of a live furnace in the kitchen, which is mainly due to other charcoal ovens not being very controllable. We have listened to

this feedback and have created Harrison to be much more refined and controllable than our competitors. By relying mainly on radiant heat from the walls, there is no need to create big, dramatic flare-ups within a Harrison Oven. We also spend time with chefs when they purchase a Harrison, to make sure they are comfortable with it,” she says.

Cooking over real fire has had a big resurgence in the last few years. Reeve says: “The main benefits for cooking this way are speed, creativity and the wonderful smoky flavour and the sense of theatre it creates when cooked in front of customers. Considered engineering also means that heat is retained, so opening and closing the door will not have a dramatic effect on the temperature, therefore 40%

less charcoal will be needed than cooking on an open grill, it also cooks 35% faster.”

A Harrison oven is also economical on kitchen space. “Inns with small kitchens will find Harrison’s size of 600mm x 600mm x 600mm very attractive,” she says. “It can be either placed on its wheeled cabinet for portability, or on an existing work-surface. A Harrison Oven is extremely versatile, as it can be kept in the kitchen and also wheeled outside for outdoor dining events. Even though it is handmade in the UK, using all British sourced materials, a Harrison is not as expensive as many of our competitors. A Harrison is also a stunning piece of furniture that customers love to see and talk about.”

As you would expect the Harrison oven is energy efficient compared to a conventional oven. Charcoal and wood are organic, natural, non-toxic and more cost-effective. The average consumption is 3Kg coal for a full food service (depending on the menu, covers etc). Harrison’s chamber has been designed to retain heat, which means it cooks 35% faster than an open charcoal grill and uses 40% less coal. When directly compared to gas and electric, charcoal is more economical to use.

Like any heat-making machine, safety is in the hands of the operator. “If used safely and correctly, as outlined in our user guide, there won’t be any problems,” she says. “When inside an extraction hood and a carbon monoxide monitor should be used as standard. We have a standard guide to extraction in our user guide, but always recommend customers seek the advice of a professional extraction expert.”

If you are replacing your oven any time soon, there are several ways in which your kitchen operation could be more lucrative with a Harrison oven:

  • Much faster cooking times than conventional ovens – from room temperature an average duck roasts perfectly in a Harrison for 20 minutes at 200c, before resting on the top of the oven (for warmth) for 20 minutes. Succulent moisture and flavour are retained with a delicious smoky note.
  • Vegetables cook exceptionally well; moisture and flavour are retained – no dried-out or over-boiled veg. A smoky note is infused and if put directly on the grills, attractive chard strips are created. Roast potatoes cook very fast and perfectly in a Harrison.
  • Versatility – roasting, baking, smoking – hot and cold i.e. You can smoke your sausages or cheeses over night with the use of a cold-smoke generator in Harrison’s ashtray.
  • Creativity – chefs get extremely creative when working with our ovens – deserts with a smoky edge are particularly popular.
  • It can be wheeled outside to roast chestnuts for outdoor Christmas events, as well as the usual fare.
  • A Harrison is built by hand to last a lifetime, so they will get their money’s worth for many Christmases to come.

As the Harrison ovens are all hand-made, lead times to make the ovens are four to six weeks, so you will need to be quick if you wish to get your order delivered in time for Christmas