A new range of accelerated cooking ovens is available, turning cooking into a whole new experience. By Dominique Antarakis
A nine-inch frozen pizza cooked perfectly crisp in one minute and 40 seconds? Or a croissant baked in just 15 seconds?
This kind of fast-tracked cooking is possible with accelerated cooking ovens, which use a combination of heat sources—such as steam, microwaves and air impingement—to vastly speed up cooking times.
The SelfCooking Centre from Rational cooks up to 15 per cent faster than conventional combi-steamers and up to 30 per cent faster than convection ovens.
The oven is designed for ease-of-use, and features a panel with pictures of different food items. For example, operators can press the button for ‘poultry’, then ‘roasted’ and then ‘medium-dark’ and the oven determines the chicken’s size, cooking time and appropriate steam/dry heat proportions.
“What we’ve done is use language that chefs understand—light, dark, rare, medium-rare,” says Geoff Mead, product manager for Rational in Australia.
Daniel O’Rafferty is executive chef at Red Scooter restaurant and function centre in Melbourne, winner of the Restaurant & Catering Association’s Best Function Venue, Victoria, in 2004 and 2005.
He says having the Rational cooking centre is an enormous benefit for a function centre, because you can cook “200 steaks, or 200 chicken breasts at the same time”.
O’Rafferty is particularly keen on the dual steam-roast function, but says the restaurant is not big enough to make use of all the programs available with the system.
“I would recommend it, especially for large-scale catering,” he says. “If you are cooking food for airlines, or hundreds of covers at the MCG [in Melbourne], then you would certainly be using many more of the functions.”
O’Rafferty says that a benefit to the hospitality industry is in making life easier for apprentice chefs. “Apprentices can pick stuff up a lot quicker now. Before, an order would come in for 10 steaks at a time, and you need a lot of experience to grill 10 steaks to perfection. Now, if one steak is done, they’re all done. Then you seal them in a pan and finish them off in the oven.”
He says the steaming function is great, because is doesn’t use as much water as previous systems. Another benefit is the cleaning process, using a tablet rather than messy chemicals, which O’Rafferty says he loves. “Our system is nearly three years old, but it looks brand new,” he says.
Other options include TurboChef’s Tornado oven, which combines high speed, forced convection heating (impingement), microwave energy and infrared heating element to bake, roast, toast, brown and boil up to 12 times faster than conventional methods.
Merrychef also offers a range of ovens, which are distributed in Australia by ICE Technologies. Their Mealstream EC701 model cooks food up to 10 times faster than a convection oven.
TurboChef is a pioneer in the field of ‘speed cooking’, according to Steve Brewster, national general manager, sales and marketing for Global Food Equipment, which distributes their products in Australasia.
Priced at $12,5000, Brewster says the Tornado is ideal for front or back of house applications, particularly where fast food or bar menus do not justify full catering facilities. “It is suitable for the smallest café to five star hotels and national quick service restaurant chains,” he says.
Merrychef works with operators who purchase a unit to develop an encoded key that is programmed with the operation’s menu and preferred cook times for each item. When an order comes in, an employee simply inserts the key into the oven, selects which item they want to cook, and the oven does the rest.
“Operators loved the oven’s flexibility and versatility but loading programs locally created the possibility of errors,” says president of Merrychef USA, Steve Beck.
Mead says Rational units start around $9000 up to $50,000, with some clients seeing a return on that investment within three years. In the meantime, productivity increases justify the cost for most restaurants. “It takes away a lot of manual labour,” says Mead. “Instead of slaving over a box of zucchini which needs to be grilled, monitored and turned over, you can put them in and press a button and go away and do something else.”
Nick Fenemore, sous chef at Langton’s, in Melbourne, says he uses the restaurant’s Rational SelfCooking Centre as a prep oven and for things which need steaming or slow cooking. “We’ll steam potatoes first thing in the morning, and roast things like pork belly or anything we need to cook for any length of time. We also use it for reheating bread using the combination steam/roast function. It certainly makes life a lot easier—you know the oven will hold the temperature you set it at for as long as it takes to cook. It’s expensive, but it definitely saves time, and you can do quite a few different jobs throughout the day.”
However, as far as cooking meats go, Langton’s has a French rotisserie, which Fenemore maintains gives much better results. “I know a lot of places that use the Rational as a service oven, and it’s certainly a practical option for cooking meats to order, but we have separate ovens up front in the kitchen.”