Cooking Time-Delayed, Regenerating Mobilized, Portioning Decentralized – for almost every type of catering requirement there is a kitchen-specific solution

Published in frozen food europe 7,8/2015  Cook & serve resp. cook & hold (& serve) were the common production processes in gastronomy and communal feeding in the past. Today, modern kitchen equipment makes it possible to cook, for in-stance, time-delayed, to regenerate mobilized, and/or to portion decentralized at stations, for in-stance, of hospitals, or in living groups of homes for the aged. Mobile kitchens, sometimes installed in food trucks, form the prerequisite to spoil guests by offering a meal at (almost) any place and at (almost) any time.

In the past, everything was very simple. In order to cook, the chef needed a stove that was large (more or less), a tilting frying pan, and a deep-fat fryer – then he was already able to get started. In gastronomy, he cooked in the past the same way that is still common today – “à la minute”, thus direct per order; the guest receives his ordered meal freshly prepared. On the other hand, one usually still produces in large-scale catering establishments today in accordance with the system “cook and & hold” i.e. one cooks the food, keeps it warm for a few hours, and then serves it. Perhaps the kitchen professionals in the old days registered that the temperature, color and consistence of the food changed during this time, or that the dishes often lost a part of their nutritional value, especially vitamins and micronutrients, by the often long holding times. Possibly they even suspected that harmful microorganisms form, when the temperature drops, but they didn’t know precisely about these processes and often ignored them. Today, one knows these degradation processes quite precisely and looks, where applicable, for an alternative.

Different Production Processes – A Summary

In gastronomy, cook&serve is presumably still the most used process for preparing meals in the gas-tronomy of many European countries. However with this process, the cook can only serve a relatively small number of guests gradually. For the large number of daily meals served in hypermarkets, schools, universities, hospitals, homes for the aged, or companies, this procedure is unsuitable. That’s why cooks there use frequently “cook & hold, keep the food warm right up to consumption resp. keep it cool as long as antipasti, salads, desserts and other cold dishes. This system is a good solution culinary and nutrition-physiologically as long as there is a maximum of 90 minutes between the end of the production and serving the food to the guests. But quite often, the process takes about three hours, which is barely accepted in Germany according to the so-called “good hygiene practices”. But even this time interval is exceeded quite often.
Whoever doesn’t accept this, cooks his food “decoupled” i.e. time-delayed to the distribution up to a cooking point of c.80%. Afterwards, he cools it (cook & chill) in 90 minutes down to 3° C in a blast chiller and then can store it up to three days at this temperature. As an alternative, he can flash freeze the food (cook & freeze) down to -18° C and can keep it up to 12 months. Sous-vide is a very special process with which raw ingredients can be cooked carefully at low temperatures in plastic wrap under vacuum or in a controlled atmosphere and can be stored afterwards up to 21 days. Freaks cook at 60° C or just a bit over, but hygienic experts require a core temperature of not under 65° C (better 72° C), with which the cooked food is supposed to be kept at least two minutes. With this process, meat needs just under twice the cooking time. Due to the fact that it is hygienically difficult, this process should only be used by experts, who have special knowledge in the field of foodstuffs, cooking technology, hygiene, and microbiology. Because the capacity of the equipment is indeed growing, but is currently still relatively small, sous-vide is only used supplementary to other systems in large-scale catering establishments.

Free-Flow – the Popular Serving System with Flaws

The reason why free flow is a very popular serving system is because it offers the guest a large selection of food. But some nutritionists criticize the often long holding times of the food of over several hours. One of their points of criticism is that the humidity in the room, oxygen, and light would cause, above all, sensitive nutrients like vitamin C or folic acid to decompose relatively fast. It is important that the temperatures of the serving counter and buffet trolleys are controlled precisely. If one would like to work precisely, one has to measure the core temperature of the food continually. If the temperature drops down under 65° C, there is a risk, from the critics’ point of view, that pathogenic germs are able to proliferate and cause health problems. That’s why they advocate a small selection of food which is freshly produced over and over again and changed quickly without long holding times.

Mobile Regeneration – Mobile Food Distribution

Mobile serving resp. cooking equipment is required for all kinds of events. This applies to the Formula 1 race just as to conferences and congresses in hospitals resp. cultural events in homes for the aged. Depending on the catering concept, pre-produced food is regenerated on site or freshly cooked.
In the first case, the event caterer needs mobile units, which also, when applicable, regenerate and keep warm without an electrical connection, but are also able to cool. Manufacturers like Iseco, Electro-Calorique, Stierlen, tempe-rite, Menü-Mobil, Blanco, Hupfer, or Socamel equip them for this with different types of technologies such as for instance thermocontact regeneration- and heat holding, induction or hot air. Highly innovative systems offer up to five different temperature ranges in a trolley so that individual regeneration is possible for each component. Such a solution primarily makes sense if a distribution trolley is equipped with gastronorm containers from which the food can be portioned individually.

Mobile Catering with Mobile Kitchens

If it is supposed to be cooked at events on site, a special type of equipment is mandatory, which has to fulfill the basic functions “storing, cooking, suctioning, lighting up”. Then the front cooker has to be able to store his raw ingredients cooled or uncooled as well as his prepared components hot. He has to be able to cook classically resp. finished, but also have the possibility to broil, barbecue, or only keep warm Therefore flexibility is the ace in the hole because one time the front cooker has to produce components, another time he has to produce completely stir fried or pasta dishes. Because the last one mentioned is booming continually all over Europe, a pasta cooker can also be integrated into the mobile station. In addition to cooking and storage modules, an effective air extraction, and that at best right and left as well as in front of the cooking surface, is mandatory because the unpleasant smells run off guests quickly and permanently. Blanco, Rieber, Ubert, or Scholl are suppliers of such systems.

Food From the Truck

“Food from the truck” is a relatively new segment in the out-of-home-market. The idea is that smaller or larger vehicles, which are equipped with a special type of kitchen equipment, drive to locations daily that have been approved and precisely defined by the city government and property owners in order to sell food and beverages there. In Geneva, a pilot scheme with six locations and vehicles from three-wheel, relatively small vehicles costing 35,000 € up to US camping trailers costing just under 100,000 €, has been running for around a year. Each of these trucks has its own special food selection – the food selections reach from Tacos (7 to 18 €), burgers (14 to 16 €), salads (13 to 15 €) up to complete meals with a salad and main dish (15 €), or menus with dessert and a beverage (20 €). Depending on each truck, the guests pay cash, by credit card mobile with their cellphone. Three of the six food truckers also run stationary restaurants and build up a second economic base with their motorized offer. Zurich, Switzerland and Nuremberg, Germany are setting up their own “street food” or “food truck” festivals. Also the people responsible for the Internorga, one of the largest fairs for the catering industry in Europe, have invited food trucks operators in 2015 for the first time to introduce themselves to the fair visitors. The operators of the online platform ”Foodtrucks Deutschland”, estimate that c.150 vehicles are serving entirely different locations currently in the country – downtown locations as well as office blocks or grounds of large hypermarkets. The technical equipment is entirely different and depends on what kind of product the operator would like to sell. Just as in a classical stationary kitchen, there is almost nothing that can’t be built into a motorized kitchen. For instance, Peugeot proves this. For the Expo in Milan, Italy, the company has developed a luxury food truck and gave it the telling name “Le Bistro du Lion”. The restaurant on wheels, which can wine and dine 30 people, is equipped with a grill, an induction stove, a deep-fat fryer, and an espresso machine. The ventilation system disposes the cooking fumes. A 400 liter-size refrigerator for food is hidden in the under-floor; beverages come from a separate refrigerator with 350 liters. The food truck, which focuses on sustainability and garbage avoidance, also has bistro tables, chairs, sun umbrellas, dishes, and silverware. Obviously Peugeot believes in this market. Why should, for instance, the management of a company whose employees haven’t had any possibility up to this time to feed themselves, not have the idea of reaching an agreement with operators of food trucks. Different vehicles come every day. The employees are able to buy something to eat, the operators make money, and all of the participants are satisfied. At the end of the day, every one is profiting from a real win-win situation.

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