Band-Aiding an Institutional Kitchen

When assessing how design and equipment affected operations at Nardin Academy the main objective was to determine what immediate adjustments should be made to assure the school could move to scratch-cooked, fresh foods in their current facility.

Walk-in FreezerNardin Academy’s walk-in freezer was packed, which usually indicates a menu of heat and serve food items. To help move toward a from scratch menu, Beyond Green recommended adding reach-in refrigerators. In my last post I shared how Melanie Smythe of Candacity, LLC evaluated the dining floor. She observed things like how many students bought lunch, layouts, length of lunch periods, and the time staff spent during production, service, and prep. The post focuses mainly on the student experience and the impact of a change in menu on staff. Outside the quality of food, kitchen inefficiencies can create barriers to service that discourage students from participating in a school's lunch program.

When reconstructing a foodservice operation, it's pretty common to build a new kitchen, design the menu, and then figure out where to source. Our approach turns that model upside down by starting with customer engagement and working our way to reconstructing the physical space.

We observed Nardin Academy's kitchen from this standpoint and determined that the school could make minor adjustments and get by in its current facility while adopting a new menu. We had already conducted student tastings and created a three-week menu cycle.

The kitchen's freezer was packed, and there was no walk-in cooler. This usually means most of the menu consists of food items that staff heat and serve. I suggested Nardin purchase additional reach-in coolers to store, prep, and serve more fresh foods. There was little room in the current layout for a walk-in cooler, and this would be a more cost-effective route for year one.

The current four-burner stove and double-deck low recovery oven were both built for heat-and-serve foods. It was obvious that the staff would not be able to do any scratch cooking with those pieces of equipment. We suggested band-aiding by adding a used 40-gallon braising pan and a used 30-quart mixer to promote the implementation of more scratch cooking before jumping into a big remodel or purchasing all new equipment. We also suggested Nardin create a bakery area in the kitchen around the new mixer.

Kitchen View with FryerBecause the areas around the fryer, stove and deck oven appeared to be fire hazards, Beyond Green suggested a deep clean for the Nardin Academy kitchen.The cooking tables in the center of the kitchen all had lips at the back. This closed them off and prevented staff from working across the entire space. One reason I like open table space is to have an hour a day allocated to a team activity. This was not necessary for functionality but supported my focus on team camaraderie and training.
The dishwashing room was hardly being utilized as the provider had been using mostly disposable serviceware. Despite being 15 years old, the dishwasher was still operational so we suggested a service agent come in to tune up all the equipment, including the dishwasher, and have the meat slicer refurbished.

Another area we reviewed was safety and sanitation. It was clear that there was no standard temperature log. Staff should take and record the temperature of the food throughout the production process, from receiving items all the way to service. Beyond Green provided a list of food safety tips to Leslie Johnson to give her oversight on kitchen operations and basic procedures.

It was clear that the kitchen needed a deep cleaning. Areas around the fryer, stove, and deck oven proved to be fire hazards so it would be necessary to carry out a deep clean of the entire kitchen including the storage areas and refrigeration. We called an expert to evaluate the hood. They determined it was acceptable.

At the end of our design and equipment assessment the overall recommendation was that for the first year the school use what works for the students and staff with a scratch cooked menu before purchasing new equipment or remodeling. We presented a kitchen package that offered a more cost-effective alternative than the kitchen remodel pitched by the provider. It was designed as an option that either the foodservice provider or Nardin Academy could implement. The question remained who would do so.

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