I have heard many discussions on the pros and cons of the open or display kitchens now so popular in today’s trendy restaurants. Some question whether display kitchens are a fad or a trend in dining that is here to stay. A majority believe it is here to stay because today’s eateries are about experience not just the food we eat. Customers pay for the sizzle as much as the steak.
Many equipment items can be easily adapted to the open kitchen. Some look better than others or provide a cooking process that is especially pleasing to watch. Then there are some pieces of cooking equipment that tend to be suited perfectly for the cooking style. We will discuss several of those items including induction cooktops, pizza ovens, rotisseries and Waldorf ranges.
Wood Burning-style Pizza Ovens
We say wood burning “style” because while it may look like they burn wood, an increasing number of these ovens are gas fired. The gourmet pizza craze has boosted the popularity of these ovens substantially over the past few years. The pizza product they produce is generally good when quality ingredients are used, the cooking time is fast and the ovens are actually easy to use.
Most wood burning “style” pizza ovens are built so they look like igloos. Typically, they have a massive stone hearth and fire brick sides. They can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, so once the unit is in place, it’s not likely you’ll move it from the location you selected. The bulk of stone and brick are key to the oven’s most important feature, its ability to store heat. Recovery time when doing high volume is generally not an issue. The ovens are also surprisingly energy efficient.
Most ovens are round and range in size from about 9- to 30-square-feet of cooking surface. Ovens at the smaller end of the size range are most common, but they are still large compared to most other cooking equipment. The overall diameter of an oven with a nine-square-foot cooking surface is about five feet when the fire brick and insulation are added. This small unit can produce quite a high volume of pizzas, however. Pizzas can be baked in as little as three minutes, but may take five to seven minutes depending on toppings. A nine-square-foot oven can hold 8 to 10 pizzas at a time, so with experience it is possible to bake up to around 100 pizzas in an hour.
Getting the most display effect from your oven is essential to high pizza sales. When planning for the oven, always face the mouth of the unit where the guest can see inside. This is especially appetizing because whether you use a wood-burning oven, a gas-burning oven or a combination unit, you’ll see flames inside that light up the interior baking cavity. Also, dress up the outside of the oven with an appealing finish. Some are finished in tile or stone, others in brick or copper, depending on the look desired. Lastly, train your staff to look polished and make a show of the baking process. Do these things and the equipment will do the rest.
Induction cooktops have found their way into restaurants in a big way. Primarily used now in front-of-house applications, they should eventually find their way to the kitchen if energy costs begin to rise as they have in Europe and Japan. The induction units are becoming a regular component of many buffets and open cooking areas where sauté or stir-fry work is done. They have a wonderful clean look and do a great cooking job in an open kitchen.
The price of many induction cooktops has dropped substantially over the past few years. Some units can be bought for as little as $300 to $500. The cost, in conjunction with its numerous advantages over other forms of cooking, make it desirable for a wide range of restaurant applications. The cooktops are now readily available in the U.S. with at least eight manufacturers supplying a variety of models.
An induction cooktop works like this: The core of the unit is an electric generator and an electromagnetic coil. The coil is energized by the generator and creates a magnetic field. When an iron or ferrous metal pan is placed on the glass cooktop, the magnetic field causes the molecules in the pan to move so rapidly, the metal heats up. Unlike electric burners, there is no waiting for the unit to become heated. Another advantage is that the magnetic field only causes molecules in other magnetic things to heat, and since the ceramic cooktop is not magnetic, it stays cool. Though the cook top does not get hot, the pan gets as hot as if it were over an open flame!
Induction cooking is alluring because it is quick, clean, energy conserving, usually cheaper to use and generally safer than traditional gas or electric burners. The heat to your pan is instant. Clean-up after cooking is easy because induction units use a sealed glass or ceramic top that can easily be wiped clean. There is no chance of spills seeping into the burner or other crevices and no baked-on mess.
Induction units are very efficient. A high percentage of the energy used transfers directly to the cooking pan without heating your kitchen. Because they are so efficient and use full power only when there is a magnetic load to be heated, they are often less expensive to operate than gas or electric burners. A rule of thumb is that a 2.5 kilowatt induction burner has cooking power equal to a 20,000 BTU burner of a typical sauté range. Induction cooktops are generally safer, especially in buffet applications, than are similar gas or fuel burners because there is no open flame and surrounding surfaces are relatively cool.
One of the most important factors in getting the most out of your induction cooktop is choosing the right pan. Not just any pan will do and not every iron pan will cook well. Pans vary in efficiency, based on their construction. The best pans are said to be made of multi-ply metal, specifically for induction. The drawback is that they are generally two to three times the cost of typical kitchen sauté pans.
Waldorf ranges, sometimes called island ranges, have been popular in European restaurants for more than a century. This equipment has only recently made an impact on the American dining scene, but is expected to become more popular in coming years. The great thing about an island cooking arrangement is that it merchandises well and, when operated properly with trained staff, can put on a tremendous show.
European chefs claim the range set-up is the most efficient cooking line. A Waldorf range is essentially an island-style battery with every needed cooking equipment item built together in one piece, without walls or tall range flues between the pieces. This configuration is new to American kitchens, though most of the U.S. equipment companies have recently added this style to their offerings. The functional advantage of the island range is that it allows cooks to pass food across the range battery and side to side to complete each step of the preparation process. Chefs can communicate back and forth better than they can using the traditional line cooking battery.
Just about every type of cooking equipment can be built into a Waldorf range. Anything that can be put in a battery line can be put into an island range. Open burners, fryers, griddles, broilers, bain-maries and salamanders can be fitted exactly where needed for your particular menu demands. Work top space and shelves can also be put where needed. Every unit is custom-made, which is one reason for the upcharge in cost, versus a traditional range line-up. The higher cost also comes from the special finish, brass trim, side rails and other features which commonly give Waldorfs their impressive appearance.
There is no better way to merchandise many menu items than in a rotisserie. What’s more tempting than an eye-catching array of succulent foods rotating while cooking in its own showcase. From mouthwatering chicken, roasts and ribs to vegetables, there is no better way to prepare these products than in a rotisserie.
Whole chicken is by far the most popular rotisserie—cooked food. Manufacturers, however, are now promoting other foods to broaden the use of this equipment. In addition to the typical skewer spit—rods pushed through chickens or forks to hold chickens in place—some equipment makers produce several types of baskets and other devices to hold various products. For example, several manufacturers make narrow baking pan attachments and promote baking of pastas and casseroles in the rotisserie. Others make various baskets to hold fish, vegetables or other items that don’t lend themselves to the typical skewer. On many units, different types of product holders, skewers and baskets, can be used at the same time, allowing operators to produce and merchandise several products simultaneously.
Rotisseries are available to support a wide range of sales volumes and in several different styles. The units range in size from counter top models as small as 30-inches-wide that hold 6 to 10 chickens, to large floor-mounted units 6-feet in length. The most popular styles hold between 20 and 48 chickens.
There are gas, electric, and even wood-burning models to choose from. Some gas-fired models have an attractive open flame or burners with ceramic logs in their base to give the appearance of a wood burning flame. Some chefs feel that infrared gas burner units yield the best products. The high intensity of the burners produces a browned, crispy skin on whole chickens.
Since many rotisserie applications are in customer view, ease of cleaning is important in keeping units looking good. Many units have glass doors that allow viewing into the cooking compartment. The doors keep heat in and prevent grease splatter, but they must be cleaned periodically throughout the day to keep the view attractive. Look for models where the spit and exposed mechanisms can be easily removed for cleaning. Also, look for units with wide openings for easy interior cleaning.
Most units have a removable drip pan. Before you buy, be certain that it is easily removable. Some manufacturers recommend buying a rotisserie that holds water, which makes cleanup easy and also provides some moisture in the cooking process to minimize shrinkage.
One important note: Don’t overestimate your rotisserie needs. The only thing worse than not having a rotisserie is having a rotisserie with nothing cooking on it. Having a small unit always full of product is more appealing than a large empty one.
The possibilities for display cooking are many. The kitchen as a stage is now an accepted form of entertainment, as well as a food preparation style. The types of equipment discussed here are but a few of the pieces that may be used in a display cooking environment. Use your imagination to find ways to entertain and provide a quality dining experience at the same time.