Dominique Antarakis says if you want to keep the heat down in the kitchen, technology is everything in the race to success.
In the final episode of Hells Kitchen, two wannabe chefs go head to head in the fight for their own restaurant, courtesy of the Gordon Ramsay empire. Each gets to pick their own team to help them realise the dream, and things go relatively smoothly until a guy in Team A practically chops his finger off. He sprints off to hospital; one man down. Not to worry, there are still three members left. Then another guy feels faint and takes himself outside for some fresh air. Why? He can’t take the heat in the kitchen. Red-faced, overweight and looking like a heart attack in waiting, he’s gone for quite some time. Suddenly Team A looks like the losing side.
While few restaurateurs will ever find themselves in the middle of such drama, the fact remains: if your staff can’t stand the heat, they need to get out of the kitchen.
In many cases, the heat factor could be enough to prevent them ever entering a kitchen in the first place. A recent study from Finland into kitchen ventilation found one reason for low take-up of work in the industry is its ‘unsatisfactory thermal conditions’—including excessive heat.
According to the study, concerns over the indoor kitchen environment have increased during recent years, as more knowledge emerges about the effect of air quality on health and productivity.
In a commercial kitchen, normal working conditions are especially demanding and rising temperatures can see tempers soar while efficiency plummets. But there are some simple ways to keep the heat out of the kitchen…
Keri Thomas, general manager from equipment supplier Stoddart, says two types of heat are generated in a typical kitchen—radiant and convective.
“You can only minimise radiant heat in the design and operation of appliances, because exhaust systems cannot remove radiant heat,” he says. “You need to choose appliances that are better insulated or have less heat radiation by design. The other advantage of this is that they will also be much more energy efficient.”
If you want to minimise radiant heat, Thomas says, you should be looking at induction equipment like the Electrolux professional range—a European brand distributed by Stoddart in Australia. Induction has the lowest heat output of any cooktop, yet is faster and more responsive.
Induction technology uses electromagnetic fields to transfer energy to the cooking pot, which then converts into heat. The heat is generated at the base of the pan, rather than by a cooking element, turning the pan into a hotplate and removing most of the radiant heat from the cooktop surface.
It’s technology that Testuya Wakuda of Sydney’s famed restaurant, Tetsuya’s, swears by.
“Induction cooking has been around for a long time, so it’s tried and tested,” he says. “It cuts down on radiant heat—keeping the kitchen cooler—so it’s perfect for Australian conditions.”
Even so, induction remains far more popular in Europe than in Australia.
“It’s probably because it’s more expensive than standard equipment,” Thomas explains, “but it definitely pays for itself when you take into account the amount of time and energy it saves.”
Another area to look at when fitting out your kitchen or upgrading equipment is the operating temperature.
“Very few people compare products to find out how long an appliance takes to heat up,” says Debbie Skilton, managing director of design consultants Comkitchen.
“If it takes 20 to 30 minutes to heat up an oven to the required temperature, that involves an extra time cost, as well as the higher energy costs associated with the higher heat generation.”
Convective heat can be controlled by both the equipment design and through ventilation.
For example, changing from a standard open gas burner to Electrolux’s recently patented ‘flower flame’ burner can make a significant
difference to the amount of convective heat generated, because it adjusts to the size of the pan rather than directing the flame sideways.
However the real gains in reducing convective heat come from more effective exhaust systems.
“The exhaust factor is often overlooked,” says Thomas, “but it’s incredibly important to get it right.
“A standard hood works by pulling as much air out of the kitchen as it can, but they are usually inefficient and the filters clog up easily.”
New technology is working towards a solution, however, with manufacturer Halton making a range of hoods that use ‘capture jet technology’, to significantly improve the capture of convective heat.
“Normally when heat and impurities are sucked into the hood, most of it spills back out,” Thomas explains. “But the capture jet keeps the plume within the hood until it can be extracted. This means there is a lot less air-conditioned air being removed, so the temperature of the ambient air doesn’t escalate as quickly.”
Altogether it takes around 50 per cent less air out of the kitchen, he says. “It’s much better in terms of efficiency, and it can save thousands
of dollars each year in air-conditioning costs alone, as well as resulting in a cleaner, safer exhaust.”