Hot-side innovation: the trends

How equipment is meeting the changing needs of operators

The core principles of cooking never change, but the equipment to perform this simple process is constantly being refined and improved. Sometimes a gamechanging technology emerges, but the need to balance different priorities remains the same. Cooking performance, sustainability, ease of use, cost-efficiency and quality of output will always be at the top of the agenda for operators and equipment manufacturers.

“Foodservice operations across almost all market segments have a hierarchy of needs when it comes to production of hot food,” notes Australia-based foodservice consultant and president of FCSI Worldwide Mario Sequeira. “Research and development personnel at leading foodservice equipment manufacturers globally are constantly focused on the primary performance needs of foodservice equipment, which includes consistent quality, ease and speed of operation, and price. However, matters like sustainability, safety and staff satisfaction are now at the forefront for experienced and successful foodservice operators.

Operators want to save money without compromising on quality, but they must also address a potentially crippling shortage of labor. Creating a pleasant working environment – rarely a priority in the past – has become a key consideration today, and hot-side technology is seen as a big contributor to the image of a kitchen as a hostile and unpleasant workplace.

“We are keen to improve the working environment in the kitchen as the cooking appliances create high levels of heat, which we need to address,” says Serdar Sağlamtunç FCSI, consultant at DM Consulting Engineering in Turkey. “The operator or chef must work comfortably, as that is directly linked to performance, and they must prevent hygiene risks due to excessive perspiration. Ambient heat may also create unwanted effects on the kitchen personnel.”

Over time, technologies have emerged that seem to address cost efficiency, energy use, ambient heat levels and more. Chief among them is induction cooking, which could one day become the norm across the world.

All in with induction

Induction cooking is one of the most efficient options for a commercial kitchen, as up to 90% of the energy it uses is transferred directly to the food, compared to 74% for standard electric and 40% for gas appliances. With induction, the cooktop directly connects to induction cookware, and automatically shuts off when that cookware is removed, so minimal heat goes into the ambient air and little or no energy is wasted.

This results in cost savings, reduced energy waste, shorter cooking times, better temperature control, and a better safety profile compared to electric or gas alternatives. Popular in Europe, induction cooking is becoming more widespread in the US, not least because of regulations that favor electrification. However, cost-efficient, induction equipment is more expensive than comparable radiant heat cookers, so high-end operators are the first to adopt it. Running costs and regulations will see the technology filter down steadily to other segments.

“Induction is more efficient and there is no need to preheat, as heat transfer is immediate,” notes Florida-based consultant Ken Schwartz FCSI, CEO of SSA. “When you take a vessel off the burner, it completely turns off. The amount of heat gain into the surrounding space is much less compared to a gas ring. So, induction means less volume of extracted air and less make-up air, so it potentially brings some big savings.”

“It is quite understandable that quick food markets will welcome induction cooking technology,” adds Sağlamtunç. “There was a problem 15 years ago that induction could not be used for wok cooking, but thanks to recent innovations that is now possible. Most developed countries will shift from gas cooking to induction due to their concern for the environment and cost savings, but there is still much to do on induction and solar cooking innovations to create entirely new technologies that could shape the future of hot cooking.”

Induction may not be a new technology, but it is finding its moment on the global stage. “The use of electromagnetic technology in cooking has been around for many decades,” notes Sequeira.

“With the OECD leading the way with guidelines to address ESG issues, its benefits have been significantly elevated, and people are investing heavily in it.” “Wherever there are problems with compliance with local fire protection laws and where employees are put in the foreground, this technology is implemented faster and more efficiently,” says Alexander Hofer, senior consultant at H44.Team in Italy.

“We have been dealing with induction in the Alpine region for many years and it is a very common and proven device technology and offers shorter cleaning times.”

Striving for change

Induction cooking is not only spreading to more markets around the world and other segments of the commercial foodservice market, but also undergoing constant development. “The function and form continues to develop alongside the needs of operators,” says Kristine Holtz, CEO of commercial induction equipment supplier Spring USA.

“We have seen the need for ventless operations in commercial kitchens become more important, and induction cooking ranges produce fewer gas emissions than traditional gas cooking ranges, making them more efficient, safe, and environmentally-friendly. On the serving side, hidden induction has made a large impact on the design and functionality of foodservice spaces to offer maximum physical space with food-safe, functional furniture.”

Demand is growing for hidden induction tables with induction ranges mounted underneath an NSFcertified countertop for serving food. Furthermore, traditional heat lamps are being re-designed to be more efficient, effective, and durable with infrared technology.

“We’re on the brink of an induction boom,” says Holtz. “The technology has never been more efficient, more capable or more flexible. From larger cooking platforms to ‘smarter’ induction, we’re working to elevate performance and functionality, and that is a focus shared across the industry.”

Also growing in popularity is impingement. Cooking with impinged air is a thermal technique that relies on high-velocity air directed at the surface of food to accelerate browning by increasing the rate of heat transfer. It enhances moisture retention, which can lead to an improvement in a product’s overall reheat quality. “The growing use of high-speed cooking in the form of impingement, microwave, convection, and light wave, coupled with menu refinement, are reducing the need for skilled chef labour and controlling food cost at the same time,” notes John Egnor FCSI, managing partner, JME Design in Columbus, Ohio.

Also increasingly popular are multi-use cooking appliances that build on the concept of combi and speed ovens. “A technology that actually already exists and was only recently introduced to the market – microwaves in combination with hot air steam and automatic cleaning – sounds tempting,” says Hofer. “I’m still waiting for feedback from the market, but that makes a lot of sense in this fast-moving world.”

Sustainability and versatility are driving change

The key drivers of innovation remain consistent over time, with sustainability still high on the agenda. Operators are also looking for versatility and flexibility, as they recognize the need to adjust all parameters – from menus to staffing levels – in response to ever-changing market conditions.

“Energy-efficient equipment that can reduce utility costs while still delivering top-quality food will become the norm,” says Brody Haslup, engineering manager at Lakeside Manufacturing.

“Chefs and foodservice operators are increasingly looking for realistic solutions that are both environmentally friendly and economical.”

“Adapting to needs like food allergies, special diets, or cultural preferences can be time-consuming, but the evolution of foodservice technology has allowed back of house equipment to be more versatile and flexible,” he adds. “We’re anticipating different types of fuel, like gas and electricity, will become more widespread and also be designed to accommodate multiple cooking zones.”

As a result, air frying and dehydration technology are becoming mainstays in kitchens to enable operators to save space and reduce energy consumption. “As the world continues to push the use of electricity, electric cooking technologies will continue to develop, and not only induction,” says Egnor.

“Electrification is driven by a combination of sustainability, reducing total kitchen area to produce menus, labour, construction costs, efficiency – everything.”

Ease of use is another key parameter, given the shortage of skilled labour in the industry. “There is huge innovation in controls – as they become more sophisticated they become more efficient, as well as ensuring quality and consistency and ease of use,” says Schwartz. “Some equipment requires the input of knowledge and recipes in order to create a simple programme that can be operated at the push of a button. Leaders in the industry are spending on R&D to develop these kinds of efficiencies.”

“A big movement on the hot side is on controls,” concurs trained chef and former consultant Ryan Norman, director of consultant services at AltoShaam. “Traditional cooking requires trained knowledge to produce highquality food, but manufacturers have taken steps to put more of the workload on the equipment and less on the employees. Our new oven only requires a person to properly pan something up and push a button. It reduces training time and helps with the major labour gap in the market.”

Connecting to new ideas

The foodservice industry is currently facing many challenges, such as rising costs, a shortage of skilled labor, and rising customer demand for consistent product delivered fast. This means technology development must focus on equipment that is affordable, operationally efficient, and easy to use with a low carbon footprint. “Technology that delivers quality healthy food with less reliance on deepfat fryers and the use of AI to detect and minimise human error, that is the future,” says Sequeira.

“Personally, I think times are about to change,” says Hofer. “Network capability is where we will see the greatest development in the next few years, regardless of whether it is cooking, washing, cooling or ventilation technology. Operators want a precise and timely overview of the costs and the useful life of the devices.”

The next step in hot-side technology could well bring more intelligent and autonomous equipment to the market, though economic efficiency and sustainability will remain hot topics. “Everything is under scrutiny these days,” Hofer reminds us. “In the future, investors will want to know whether they have parked tin corpses in a kitchen.”

Jim Banks

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