A kitchen staff without the right preparation equipment is like a DJ showing up to a sold-out Cubs game at Wrigley Field with a mixed tape and a boom box. Not even John Cusack hoisting the stereo over his head can save this disaster on the field. The playlist might be the perfect and well-rounded menu, but the execution will be severely flawed.
Say anything you like, but investing in the appropriate food preparation equipment will help maintain recipe consistency, save labor, and simplify training in a high-turnover environment.
A modern kitchen will have recipes and cooking times uploaded via jump drive to a willing and waiting combi oven or other piece of cooking equipment. While technology can take away some of the human error involved in setting cooking times, temperatures, and steam percentages, the size and proportion of raw food needs to be accurate if it’s to be cooked as immaculately as envisioned. Enter the prep equipment beyond the knife: manual slicers, food processors, vegetable prep machines, blenders, and more.
Close your eyes and imagine this horror: The rustic carrot and root vegetable sides emerge from the combi oven or steamer as a ghostly mush, simply because the vegetables were cut by hand in smaller portions than the one-inch rough chop specified by the recipe. Inconsistent sizes can lead to a terrifying, rocky road of subpar dishes. The executive chef will channel his or her inner Gordon Ramsey, and the food will be tossed into the garbage can.
The National Restaurant Association found that about 60 percent of fine dining customers create repeat business. To keep your customers coming back at this rate or higher, consistent and excellent food must be a priority.
The right preparation equipment will not only create this consistency, but will also lead to labor savings.
Labor Savings and Controlling Costs
While there is no substitute for fine knife skills, save them for the right purpose, like garnishing with parisienne, batonnet, and chiffonade cuts. Brunoise, julienne, and paysanne cuts can be accomplished with a vegetable prep machine or food processor easily and efficiently.
For example, dicing tomatoes by hand can be a long and arduous task. If you are serving fresh salsa, consider a tomato slicer or vegetable prep machine with a dicing blade to minimize the labor hours. It can take considerable time to dice tomatoes with a single knife, and a veg prep machine can do in minutes what can be done otherwise in hours. A processor or vegetable prep machine will also have interchangeable discs or blades for slicing, grating, julienne, and ripple cuts for any vegetable you choose, from cucumbers to cabbage.
If fresh-to-order French fries or pomme frites are a staple, have the right potato cutting machine for the number of pounds of potatoes you use in a day. Charcuterie boards offering prosciutto and artisan cheeses should be prepared with a slicer with higher horsepower specifically designed to accommodate the cheese. Cheese cubers are another solution to achieve consistent sizing.
The right prep equipment will also help with portion control and will ultimately minimize waste by improving yield of whole product. Your local dealer and manufacturer’s rep can get you the ROI for any equipment you chose.
The bottom line: Equipment that can cost thousands of dollars can pay for itself in as little as a few months.
Simple Training in a High-Turnover Environment
With the rising minimum wage and the struggle to staff appropriately, you still can’t use an app to prepare food. Add safety and sanitation, and your kitchen can feel like a complex equation.
Employees need to be trained to use slicers, processors, immersion blenders, and other prep equipment safely and in the intended manner. There is no substitute for a good training program when it comes to new employees on the prep line. Consider this, though: Prep equipment shows up to work every day, provides operational efficiencies, and saves hours of time. When more labor becomes available through efficiencies, the kitchen staff can keep up with HACCP plans, sanitation schedules, and nutritional info compliance.
Additionally, many back of house entry-level employees are looking to move to the front of house, even if just to make more income through tips in their pocket. Now they can be cross-trained to prep, bus, barback, and potentially serve when the right prep equipment is in place in the kitchen.
Consumers today are demanding more healthful menu options. Beware the pre-prepared, diced tomatoes in a bag or a can. While getting fruits and vegetables pre-sliced, pre-diced, and preserved from one of your suppliers is a solution to cutting labor costs, it doesn’t fit with the trend of minimally processed foods. Even if a supplier can offer pre-sliced items without preservation, be mindful of an incredibly short shelf-life.
Invest in prep equipment, save time, and reap the rewards of fresh and consistent plates.