The time-old method of vacuum-sealing and water-bathing proteins and other foods for gentle, moisture-laden slow cooking has made a comeback as chefs and operators seek consistency and ease-of-use amidst labor shortages and turnover.
At the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago last May, there was an obvious increase in the number of sous vide appliances on the market. "Sous vide has been used since the '70s in restaurants, but it is becoming more popular now as more high-profile chefs have been using the technique and people are becoming more aware of it," says Renee Zonka, dean of the culinary arts program at Kendall College, which recently unveiled a new, 1,300-square-foot sous-vide training kitchen dedicated exclusively to the cooking technology. "I think it will continue to grow in restaurants and catering operations because of the low-cost investment it offers for start-up; the amount of money to invest in hoods, equipment and labor can be greatly reduced."
According to Zonka, more fast-casual and retail food shops use sous-vide products because of the consistency they provide — armed with some pre-programming and a timer, at the simple press of a button, a piece of meat or seafood will cook to the desired temp and then turn off. The finished product can then be held under refrigeration for later use if necessary, or removed from the packaging and seared to finish.
Sous-vide appliances also have a small footprint. "They need very little kitchen footage to produce excellent product that will lend itself to higher profits," Zonka says. The yield of the cooked product is also higher, which helps drive down food costs, especially in catering applications. From meats to fish to vegetables and even desserts and fruit, "The imagination of the cook dictates what can be prepared," she says. And, she adds, for restaurants and operators looking for healthier alternatives, sous vide applies because of its use of water, not oil.
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