Winners of the US Kitchen Innovations Awards are not only the best in innovation—they’re also the most ‘eco-friendly’. By Dominique Antarakis
A quick glance at the winners of the National Restaurant Association’s 2007 Kitchen Innovations Awards in the US and a number of interesting trends begin to emerge. Foremost, according to Alan Plassche, food consultant and awards organiser, is the ‘greening’ of restaurants.
“This is probably as much a political issue as a practical one, but it is an area which is getting lots of attention,” he says. “A lot of effort is going into products which address the issue of sustainability.”
He cites as an example Action Comax Environmental’s BioX, which uses a biological process to decompose and dissolve around 680 kilograms of food waste per day. The liquid produced can then be poured down the drain or re-used for irrigation.
“This decomposing machine eliminates the need to haul food waste away from the restaurant site,” Plassche explains.
Two related trends that are represented by a number of winning pieces of equipment this year are energy savings and the reduction of water usage. The ASF-75G Gas Fryer from Alto-Shaam boasts 71 per cent efficiency, achieved through an enclosed forced-air modulating burner and heat exchanger. Other ‘eco-smart’ features reduce cost of operation, extend oil life and reduce absorption.
The Meiko Waste Air Heat Recovery System uses an exhaust system that reclaims the heat generated by the dishwashing machine as free energy to preheat incoming rinse water.
“These dishwashers effectively heat incoming cold water, reducing operating costs while providing hot-water sanitation from a cold-water supply line,” Plassche says.
Similarly, the Master Controller with Reverse Cycle Defrost from Master-Bilt features a reverse-cycle defrost which reverses high temperature refrigerant flow back the entire length of the evaporator coil, reducing defrost time/frequency and saving up to 27 per cent in energy costs.
Reducing water consumption is just as important as saving energy, and Plassche says one company, Hobart, has developed a rinse system that reduces water usage by 40-50 per cent. “This is a really important trend,” he says.
So much for the environment. But what about the nuts and bolts of the restaurant business—cooking? Here, according to Plassche, accelerating the cooking process is still very big news.
The Electrolux Professional Tilting Pressure Braising Pan shortens cooking times up to 50 per cent by cooking under the pressure of saturated steam; and the Lincoln Foodservice Products’ FastBake accelerates the rate of heat transfer, resulting in improved bake quality, energy savings and faster bake times by 10-30 per cent.
He says these innovations, crucially, cook faster “without sacrificing product quality.”
“TurboChef, which had a winning product in 2006, is another company which comes to mind which is doing a lot in this area,” Plassche says.
John Egnor, president of food service design consultants JEM Associates and one of the judges, maintains the biggest trend in the foodservice industry is a reduction in labour, exemplified by the accelerated cooking equipment and the Blodgett Oven Company hydrovection oven (model: XCEL.5E). This is the first self-cleaning electric convection oven with features that are designed to reduce cleaning time up to 95 per cent.
This year, Egnor is most impressed by the BioX waste reduction unit and Delfield’s Versa refrigerated drawers, which combines four separate units with individually controlled functions—refrigerate, freeze, chill and thaw—in one system.
Another trend Plassche has identified is food safety—with three products (one from the 2006 awards) which have features aimed at reducing the health risk to customers.
“One is an ice machine, the Prodigy Cube Ice Machine from Scotsman Ice Systems, which uses mineral-sensing technology to automatically adjust the amount of water needed to flush mineral residue.” This limits scale build-up and keeps the machine cleaner longer.
“While food safety isn’t its main claim to fame, it’s still an important feature,” Plassche says. “In 2006, Electrolux had an ice machine which used tap water in two streams—one was cleaned, the other sanitised. This is really part of the overall trend towards the greening of restaurants as well as food safety, because it also served to eliminate the use of chemicals to sanitise the water.”
The Kleen-Brush System from San Jamar aims to make it easier for staff to keep their fingernails clean. It positions a fingernail/hand brush to fit under any gooseneck faucet, exposing it to running water and soap, thus minimising cross-contamination.
“Innovative equipment not only benefits restaurants by increasing productivity, conserving the environment and keeping employees safe, it can also have a big impact on the consumer side by increasing speed and quality of service and menu items,” said Steven Anderson, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “While chef creativity is the number one influence on what’s on the menu, great equipment can enhance those options.”