For many years my institutional kitchen operated in a very traditional way. We had a weekly menu and we would prepare each meal on and for the day it was intended. We would do essential preparations the day before after the day’s meal was closed. I was very proud of the variety and quality of the meals we put out. Very few five star hotels could match us for product quality, variety and taste.
One day an opportunity was presented to me. I was asked to prepare food for two other institutions the same size as my own. I knew that we were hard pressed to put out our own meal so how was I going to triple the work load. As things were my staff were going home at the end of their physical strength. It is a really hard days work to prepare food for one thousand five hundred people per day. I was going to have to think of a way of re organizing my whole operation without compromising quality.
One day I was reading a professional food industry magazine when I saw an advertisement for a new piece of equipment that looked, well, very much like an oven to be honest. The piece of equipment in question was called a blast chiller. The ad. claimed that the system could cool forty trays of food to twenty degrees in less than an hour. This claim intrigued me and so I contacted the company which was marketing the product.
After introductions the guy in the showroom said to me, “why waste time talking, lets go to see the product where it is being used every day”. I agreed at once, after all, actions speak louder than words.
After seeing the machine in action I knew that I was going to have a very personal relationship with a blast chiller. I knew that this one piece of equipment was the key to being able to triple my work load. The blast chiller was ordered and arrived one month later.
Without putting too much strain on the staff I had been making bigger batches of food and freezing them in my deep freeze. I knew that this was not ideal without my blast chiller but I had to have some inventory to be able to make the switch from cooking for 1500 people to cooking for over 4000 overnight.
I arranged a time for a staff meeting and told them how they would be working from then on. I told them that we would not be working as we had worked up to now. we would not be preparing meals for a daily deadline, instead we would be preparing stocks of food for the freezer. We would be reducing our daily task load from over eighteen Items per day to three of four. I told them that this would allow us to prepare bigger loads with fewer periods of transition from one task to another and we would be greatly reducing the risk of cross contamination by having fewer things flying around the kitchen.
What we would continue to prepare on a daily basis were soups, salads and things that couldn’t be frozen. All seemed interested in the new system but seemed a little puzzled. I asked them to trust me, they would not be working any harder and they would be given a wage raise for handling the extra volume.
Staff at the other two kitchens was cut to one third of what it previously was. It would be their job to receive the food the day before and to heat the meal up on the day. I bought small truck for transporting the food to the other kitchens. It was a truck with a cooler unit inside so that the food could be kept at a constant temperature of two degrees.
And so we started pumping our vast quantities of hot food which was rapidly cooled by the blast chiller and sent to one of the freezers within an two hours of coming out of the oven. To be able to do this operation successfully I took control of all the cooking trays and baking trays from the other kitchens We all used gastronorm trays so that did not present any problems. I did have to buy about 200 more but I had taken that into account and added the price to the cost of the food the others bought spread out over a two year period which I calculated to be the life expectancy of a cooking tray.
The system was working very well and the clients seemed very happy. Soon two more kitchens approached me to prepare food. I agreed to take on the extra work. I employed two more experienced members of staff and to tell you they truth we hardly felt the difference. I was now preparing food for upwards of seven thousand diners per day. The staff we now working very systematically, there was very little panic, everybody was smiling. What could be better.
My job was to formulate the recipes in such a way that diners would not feel that they were getting the same food all the time, to make sure all members of staff knew what they had to do, to make sure that the kitchen was cleaned before moving from an uncooked stage to a cooked stage and vise versa and to make sure that the end kitchens were handling and presenting the food correctly so that at each end dining room the presentation would look identical to all the other places.
And now I am going to tell you what the real key to running such a big operation is. Good technical staff. An operation like this needs up keep and hitches do happen regularly. You need to be able to rely on your technical staff to solve problems quickly and professionally. I also aways have one oven more than I need. For this type of work I prefer to use a combi steamer oven. It is very versatile and is adaptable to many different cooking climates.