Whole Lotta Food: Bulk Preparation and Production

Equipment to support bulk preparation and production of menus in banquet kitchens and centralized commissary kitchens may help operators lower costs, enhance kitchen efficiency and ensure the quality of menu preparations.

The versatile tilting skillet in the banquet kitchen prep area at Loews Hotel is used to prepare a N'Awlins-style crawfish boil for 350 banquet guests.

In the banquet prep area at Loews Hotel, New Orleans, the pre-prepared menu items frozen in cryovac bags go into the double-stacked steamers, key bulk prep equipment located at one end of the banquet kitchen's hot line.

Two steam- jacketed kettles found in Loews New Orleans Hotel kitchen are used for bulk preparations of menu items for both hotel banquets and for the acclaimed Café Adelaide, located in the hotel.

The bulk vacuum marinater is one of Executive Chef Andy Allen's key pieces of bulk prep equipment in the Culinary Support Group's kitchens at Harvard University.

The efficient conveyor-type wrapping machine saves time and labor wrapping grab ‘n go items prepared in Harvard's Culinary Support Group kitchens for dining services' “Dash” menus.

Loews New Orleans Hotel, opened in the fall of 2004, is one of the city's newest luxury hotels. The hotel houses the already-acclaimed Café Adelaide, created in partnership with the city's renowned Brennan family, and keeps busy hosting banquets ranging in size from 350 to 4,000 guests for events held outside in the “palazzo” area adjacent to the hotel. The 4,500-sq.-ft. central kitchen in Loews New Orleans Hotel is indicative of a trend in recent hotel kitchen design, incorporating all kitchen functions into one location, rather than building satellite kitchens to serve different hotel dining operations. Modern equipment design contributes to efficiency in these newly designed kitchens, as more equipment is now stackable, has a smaller footprint or may include wheels, keeping kitchen layouts flexible in order to accommodate menu changes, according to Mark Nodurft, outside sales representative at locally based Loubat Equipment Co., responsible for providing Loews' kitchen equipment package.

The design of the Loews kitchen incorporates separate hot lines and production areas for both Café Adelaide and banquet operations. The two kitchen areas share a centrally located steam kettle station containing one 40-gal. kettle and one 80-gal. kettle for bulk preparation of menu items such as rice, soups, stews and sauces.

Different work areas in the designated banquet prep kitchen support an efficient workflow for the preparation of banquet meals. One end of the banquet prep area contains a potwashing system and stand-alone shelving holding the large-size stockpots used in the kitchen. A centrally located, 14-ft. chef's worktable with reach-in refrigeration beneath corresponds to the banquet prep hot line that contains a flat-top griddle, a broiler with a salamander above, a char grill, and an eight-burner range with conventional oven below. Double-stacked convection ovens and double-stacked steamers anchor one end of the line. “The steamers have become the real workhorses in our banquet menu preparations,” says Patrick Dettwiller, director of food and beverage for Loews New Orleans Hotel. “After bulk preparation of menu items, foods are sealed in plastic bags using our cryovac machine, frozen and stored in the designated banquet walk-in freezer. They are then re-thermed for service using the steamers.”

On the day that FE&S visited the kitchen at Loews, preparations were underway for service of specially requested, authentic Louisiana dishes for a group of 350 in one of the banquet dining areas at the hotel. Pre-prepared, frozen-and-bagged red beans and rice were ready to be re-thermalized in the double-stacked steamers. In a production area at one side of the kitchen that included a worktable, a standing mixer, a 10-gal. steam kettle mounted on a cart, and a tilting skillet, live crawfish were being prepared in the versatile tilting skillet as spiced broth was added from the kettle. Corn on the cob and red potatoes were pre-cut and waiting in pans in the banquet kitchen's designated walk-in, to be added to the spiced crawfish. Three hot-holding carts were ready to transport food to the group upstairs, where they would soon be enjoying a real N'Awlins crawfish boil.

The central commissary kitchen at Harvard University has evolved through recent years along with the University's dining services. Initially, the commissary kitchen provided food to five dining halls on campus with limited kitchens. With the addition of cook-chill production equipment, which includes two 250-gal. agitating kettles, two standard 80-gal. kettles and two 40-gal. kettles, the kitchen's ability to provide more campus locations with food products through bulk preparation capabilities expanded rapidly. Motivated by food safety issues, two custom-built blast chillers, working in tandem with two roll-in combi ovens, were then installed in the kitchen during a renovation in 1999, according to Andy Allen, executive chef of Harvard University's Dining Services. The kitchen provides more than 300 different food products to 24 locations on campus. “Our cook-chill equipment, blast chillers and combi ovens have not only enhanced our ability to supply more food to more sites on campus, but also provided a consistency in the quality of those foods. We also renamed our central kitchen operation as we evolved. Now we're known as the Culinary Support Group,” Allen adds.

Key E&S for Bulk Prep and Production

Steam-jacketed kettles Tumble chiller Blast chiller Combi ovens Convection ovens Steamers Broiler Salamander Char grill Flat-top griddle Range with conventional oven Tilting skillet Tilting braiser Vacuum marinater Standing mixer Ribbon blender Rolling carts Walk-in cooler Walk-in freezer Undercounter refrigeration Hot-holding banquet carts Hot-holding wells Cold-holding wells Cryovac machine Conveyor-style wrapping machine Plastic wrap Plastic storage bags Stockpots Hotel pans Stirring paddles

Besides the equipment found in the cook-chill and blast-chill production areas of Harvard's Culinary Support Group kitchen, a tumble-action vacuum marinater is a key piece of equipment in bulk preparation of menu items, Allen adds. The marinater, which can hold up to 500 lbs. of meat product, pulls oxygen molecules out of meat when the vacuum is applied. Then, the exact amount of marinade needed is added to the marinater and when the vacuum is removed, the marinade is drawn directly into the meat as it tumbles in the bin. A process that typically could take a day or two is accomplished in 45 minutes using this piece of equipment, he says. “The vacuum marinater is one of the greatest items of equipment for bulk preparation of menu items ranging from coq au vin to teriyaki steak tips, some of our most popular entrée items in Harvard dining facilities,” Allen says. “Initially, we purchased a 5-lb. capacity marinater, such as one that consumers would use at home, just to see what the equipment could do. That small marinater is now used in our R&D department where we use it to experiment with new recipes.”

Harvard's Culinary Support Group kitchen includes equipment commonly found in any large-scale commercial operation such as a high-capacity tilting skillet, a 6-ft.-long char grill and some other specialized, labor-saving bulk preparation equipment pieces. A floor-standing ribbon blender provides gentle mixing for bulk preparation of meatloaf or salad tossing, and a high-volume slicer primarily works with frozen chicken thigh meat for campus dining facilities' stir-fry menus. A new, conveyor-type sandwich wrapping machine, purchased in September 2004, is paying dividends, too. “We prepare sandwiches, salads and cookies for the grab ‘n go items available at campus dining locations, and moved from hand-wrapping items to using a shrink-wrap machine as our volumes increased,” Allen says. “This September, we installed the labor-saving conveyor wrapping machine that can efficiently wrap 25 to 60 items a minute.”

Foodservice operations at any healthcare facility face many challenges and St. Joseph Hospital, Wichita, Kan., is no exception. “At our central kitchen, we are working to switch over from the old tray-line service for patients to a room service-like system, which is a growing trend in hospital foodservices all over the country,” says Patty Dollarhide, foodservice director for Via Christi Regional Medical Center, Wichita, Kan. “We have also increasingly taken on the responsibility of providing meals for various dining operations on our campus, while dealing with the inevitable budget cutbacks. I credit the executive chef of 15 years, Linda Wenman, with the imagination and resourcefulness in organizing kitchen equipment and staff to provide customer-pleasing meals.”

The St. Joseph's central kitchen prepares meals for 300 on-site patients three times daily, 600 to 700 customers served in the hospital cafeteria daily, lunch for 250 elementary school students at Blessed Sacrament School, lunch and dinner for patients at Good Shepherd Psychiatric Hospital and daily catering operations. Both Blessed Sacrament School and Good Shepherd are on the Via Christi campus.

The room service system for patients at St. Joseph's Hospital, similar to room service in a hotel, provides patients with the option of calling the hospital kitchen anytime between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. to order from menus structured for specific patient requirements. “We're providing room service for about 50% of patients now, and have reconfigured our kitchen equipment in response to this change,” Wenman says. The kitchen's front hot line includes a broiler, fryer, flat-top griddle, char grill and six-burner range under an exhaust hood for to-order menu preparation. Adjacent to the line is a chef's prep table including hot steam wells to hold foods prepared in bulk ahead of time.

Behind the hot food line, bulk preparation equipment in the kitchen includes a pair of 45-gal. steam kettles, two double-stacked steamers, two tilting skillets, two floor-standing mixers and two double-stacked convection ovens with an older convection oven for backup. One area of the kitchen was formerly designated as a bakeshop, but because of staff cutbacks, bread is no longer baked on-site on a daily basis. The bakery oven with six rotating shelves has been pressed into use to prepare all ovenables for student and off-site patient lunches.