Sure, you can shop the aisles at any industry trade show these days and hear talk of product innovation and updated technology, but it’s rare to see a show devote separate time and floor space to truly new and advanced equipment.
And that’s what makes the Kitchen Innovations program, launched last year at the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, so exciting. For the first time in the show’s history, NRA put out a call for the latest energy-efficient, labor-saving and truly advanced equipment, then gathered a panel of well-known operator and consultant judges to determine which products were worthy of special recognition.
When all was said and done, 19 products and their suppliers were invited to display in a dedicated area known as the Kitchen Innovations pavilion.
The key to the program, which continues at this year’s NRA Show with 18 fresh products, hinges on the keen insight of the judges. They include Martin Cowley, senior manager, restaurant design, Disneyland Resort; William Eaton, president, Cini-Little Int’l.; John Egnor, president, JEM Associates; Robert Forrester, v.p. of concept development, Quiznos Subs; Rick Gentry, director of technical services, ARAMARK; Robert Marshall, v.p. of U.S. operations, McDonald’s Corp.; Robert Pacifico, executive v.p., Romano/Gatland, and Kathleen Seelye, president, foodservice, Ricca Newmark Design.
This group, which judged products in both the ’05 and ’06 competitions, brought many years of operations and design experience to the task, as well as a desire to see true advancement in equipment development.
“The diversity of the panel of judges is a real benefit to the program,” says Quiznos’ Forrester. “You have a group of people looking at the product applications from very different perspectives.” The result, he adds, are products that offer a broad scope of creative foodservice solutions.
Keep On Raising The Bar
To keep the focus on the latest innovations, NRA’s call for entries stipulated that products should have been introduced no more than 24 months before the show, and should have been in use somewhere—meaning, not in test. “Our goal is to have products be commercially available at show time so buyers can implement them,” explains Mary Pat Heftman, NRA’s senior v.p., convention.
To NRA’s delight, suppliers in last year’s program delivered a variety of products designed to meet operator needs for energy savings, increased cooking speed, labor savings and data tracking.
This year’s entries kept pace with last year’s, says NRA, and the 18 ’06 award recipients will once again be showcased in a special pavilion at the NRA Show, slated for May 20-23. In addition, special programs are planned over the course of the show to introduce attendees not only to these products but to the concept of ongoing advancements in general.
More importantly, this year’s KI pavilion will continue a new tradition of calling suppliers to develop more innovative equipment, and rewarding their efforts.
“The NRA Kitchen Innovations Awards concept is intended to lead and encourage manufacturers to focus on inventing new solutions for foodservice kitchens,” says Egnor of JEM Associates. “Judging from entrants both last year and this, the bar has been raised for innovation in this industry.”
Read on for details on items recognized last year, products that will help define how we operate kitchens now and in the future. Products here are listed in alphabetical order by company name. And remember to check out this year’s KI award recipients at the NRA Show.
CHILL THOSE RISING ENERGY COSTS
Beverage-Air landed itself in the KI pavilion last year with its new Prestige Plus line of refrigerators. The line features the patented XStream valve technology from XDX Innovative Refrigeration. The valve, which can be retrofitted to standard systems, sprays a thin, uniform coating of refrigerant throughout the interior of the evaporator tubing. Essentially, the uniformity of the refrigerant flow creates a much more efficient, effective heat transfer across the entire surface of the evaporator. The results are fewer defrost cycles, more uniform cold temperatures, longer product shelf life, reduced energy consumption and longer lifecycle for the entire unit. Prestige Plus units come in single-, double- and triple-compartment reach-ins, and pass-through models with full and half-doors in stainless steel or glass. All-stainless construction, an easy-to-see LCD thermometer reading on the outside, and antimicrobial handles are standard.
PUSH-BUTTON PERFECTION IN BLENDING
Blendtec’s BDI Narrow Blender/Dispenser saves labor and delivers blended frozen beverages consistently with the push of a button. The unit fits in a small counter footprint—12”W x 20”D—yet delivers just the right amount of ice, water, purée, juice and/or liquor in a multitude of combinations. Up to nine programmable motor speed settings are available to ensure the perfect blend cycle for specialty drinks. The unit runs on a 15-amp/1800W motor and features a 6-gal./25-lb. insulated ice bin, water dispensing line, low-ice indicator, empty-bag indicator (unit accepts all bag-in-a-box fittings), and has a built-in cleaning cycle. The BDI Narrow requires very little training and frees staffers to see to other business while the drinks automatically blend. Enclosed housing keeps the noise level down, too.
POWERFUL REPORTING IN YOUR HANDS
Intelli-PDA is like having a BlackBerry or Treo custom-programmed for your kitchen functions. The system is compatible with a variety of commercial handheld PCs and monitors a quartet of applications including food safety (temperature probe attachment included), health department/company inspections, inventory control and employee training. The powerful back-office database portion, which is expandable, also allows you to create and distribute any number of custom forms, reports and management documents electronically to gather the information you need in your specific operation. Data gathered on the PDA is either wirelessly transmitted or uploaded through a batch process to the back-office application for paperless reporting, trend analysis, corrective action and historical data file/documentation.
EUTECTIC FLUID MEANS REALLY COLD
Thanks to the incorporation of patented LiquiTec, a revolutionary eutectic (liquid/gel-like) fluid, Delfield’s cold compartment drop-ins really hold cold food cold. Ingredient pans slip into LiquiTec filled “jackets,” so that the bottom and all four sides of the pan inserts are hugged with cold. LiquiTec is so good at conducting and holding cold temps, a unit equipped with the technology experiences excellent energy efficiency, says the company. The prep compartments and stations are easy to customize with an assortment of insert pan sizes.
PLUG-IN COOKING ADVANCES
Electrolux Professional presents the ultimate in plug-and-cook flexibility. The Libero Point is a mobile, freestanding unit that allows you to plug in any number of combinations of Libero Line cooking components. Pair an induction cooktop with a panini grill, a wok with a pasta cooker, a griddle with a hot/cold plate—whatever you need, wherever you need it. The unit, which runs on 208V, features integrated radial fan ventilation. That means it goes where you go—or more importantly, where your customers go—without the need for ventilation hoods. The self-contained air filtration system comes with removable, easy-to-clean air filters. Libero Point measures 39 3/8”W x 35 7/16”D x 51 3⁄16”H and wheels around on casters, two of which have brakes.
Electrolux Professional North America
WHEN YOU NEED IT THAWED, NOW
At last year’s NRA Show, Penguin Rapid Thawers drew attention in the Kitchen Innovations Awards with its Penquin II rapid thawer. So much attention, in fact, that Hatco Corp. later purchased the technology. Now the product is called Hatco’s Quick Thaw. It uses patented technology that features a combination of regulated water temperature and pressurized sprayers. The NSF-approved unit can thaw a 5-lb. block of shrimp in just 8 mins., says Hatco, and greatly reduces the thaw times of many other frozen products. Specially engineered water sprayers thaw common frozen products packaged in Cryovac bags, and you can adjust speed, pressure and water amount at will. The mixing valve takes care of regulating the water and keeping it a constant temperature of 69°F, and a catch tray/mounting rack below the thawing product is slanted to siphon off water. The wall-mount Hatco Quick Thaw has a patent-pending design which includes stainless steel construction for ease of service and cleanability.
NEW MIXER REALLY SWINGS
Three years ago, Hobart’s totally new Legacy mixer brought a bunch of clean-sheet design ideas to the market. Trouble was, it only came in one size—60 qt.—which left smaller ops wanting. But that was then. Now, Hobart’s 20-qt. Legacy offers all the same goodies in a compact package—a swing-out bowl for easy access, a splash guard, single-point bowl installation, quick-release agitators, a lowered bowl mount for easier handling, and an easy-to-use bowl lift. Add in standard shift-on-the-fly and programmable mix speeds, and the list goes on.
GREAT RINSE, HALF THE WATER
Unveiled last year on the C-Line of conveyor washers, the Opti-Rinse System is now also available on the FT900 flight-type machine. Opti-Rinse technology, which Hobart says cuts rinse water consumption nearly in half compared to traditional rinses, relies on low and high pressures to create an oscillating S-pattern of water, which in turn provides a more forceful washing cycle. Meanwhile, larger water droplets allow for longer heat retention, and a higher velocity makes for a faster, more uniform spray. Also in the water-efficiency arsenal: the new AM Select door-type, which features a new rinse system with rinse arm enhancements. With this model Hobart uses just 0.74 gals. of water per rack and offers adjustable cycle times, from 1 to 6 mins. The NSF-certified washer is NAFEM Data Protocol capable, and a booster heater is included in the standard AM Select footprint of 29 1/4”W x 34”D.
EXPRESS LANE TO ESPRESSO
The Leodoro-Swiss EGRO 55 Super Automatic espresso machine gets you into the upscale coffee business pronto. The brewer is only 12”W—or 24”W with the semi-attached mini milk refrigerator option (shown)—but its production output rivals larger machines, says the company. As many as seven buttons can be programmed (or up to 14 when done in conjunction with the shift/decaf button) to produce coffee, espresso, cappuccino or latte drinks or dispense hot water. The machine grinds whole beans, tamps, brews, dispenses the beverage, and discharges the used grounds into a container all with the push of a button. You get consistent and perfectly extracted espresso, cup after cup. The EGRO comes standard with two bean bins and grinders for two different whole-bean blends and roasts.
HOT, TOASTY AND SUPER FAST
Lincoln Foodservice Products combines its air impingement technology with high-intensity infrared heating elements in the Dual Tech Finisher. High-velocity air offers rapid heat transfer, while the three tubular IR elements provide the browning, toasting and crisping needed, especially for today’s hot sandwich craze. In fact, the oven will produce a savory panini (thanks to a special grilled pan) in just 30 secs. A variable-speed conveyor helps you maintain control over your production, and the control panel includes a standby switch (to turn elements on or off), temp controls, conveyor speed control and two one-touch buttons. The Cool-Skin exterior stays cool to the touch, says Lincoln, and the oven’s product clearance height is 3”. Conveyor and air distribution “fingers” are removable through side access panels for easy cleaning.
A WAREWASHER THAT CAN DIAGNOSE ITSELF
The Mike 2 is a computerized controller that allows you to operate and communicate with single or multiple undercounter or door-type Meiko warewashers using a handheld PC. The control system was originally designed to monitor and collect operating data on the machines so that Meiko could analyze its products’ life cycles. But the potential to do so much more revealed itself quickly. The Mike 2 makes it possible to operate the machines with one-touch ease from start-up through timed-cycle selection, machine shut down and automatic wash down. With a controller that monitors all aspects of the wash cycle, the Mike 2 also can be used for diagnostics, machine programming or to check individual operating components. The Mike 2 also enables two-way communication between the Meiko factory and a technician at the customer site. The technician gathers such machine information as configuration, operating history, service history and current settings, and that info can be downloaded and e-mailed to the Meiko factory, where a technician can analyze the information and reprogram the machines’ cycles and other operations.
MERRILY DINING IN 3 MINUTES OR LESS
The full-size, 502 high-speed Merrychef oven uses a combination of microwave and convection systems to advance cooking times and help retain moisture. Operating without the need for a hood, the oven gets you cooking in no time, anywhere. Just set from 0°F to 480°F convection temp and 0% to 100% microwave power and watch as foods cook five to eight times faster than conventional methods, says TurboChef. The units also feature wind-tunnel-type technology that optimizes the flow of heated convection air within the cooking chamber. And Merrychef ovens come with a unique feature: menu keys with imbedded computer chips that hold up to 250 recipes. Simply insert the key into a front port on the oven and go. Corporate rolling out new items? Just send the key in for programming! You also can use virtually any type of cookware in these ovens, including metal.
KITCHEN DISPLAY KEEPS STAFFERS UP ON ORDERS
Don’t you hate it when table service falls through the cracks? Despair no more. MICROS Systems’ KDS, which runs on standard PC hardware along with color touch-screen monitors, keeps you abreast of prep times and service status. KDS provides a higher level of management control and customer service, truly linking the kitchen and dining room. The system allows you to define preparation times for both appetizers and entrées. Highlights in yellow or red indicate that an order has exceeded expected prep times, displays orders in either List Mode or Chit Mode, and monitors the time dishes have taken to prepare. Intuitive icons display Rush Order, VIP and Void status, as well. The system lets your employees view the status of each table in the restaurant at a glance. Table buttons change color to indicate that a table is vacant, where guests are seated, if the kitchen’s working on their order, if they’ve been served or the order is late. You can capture service times for different courses at the various prep stations and generate real-time reports on kitchen performance.
A PASTA COOKER THE JETSONS WOULD LOVE
It’s so easy to add pasta to your menu program. In just 2 to 4 mins., you can cook up to four servings of long or short-cut pasta with the Romar Pasta Cooker. The unit recovers instantly after each batch, says Prince Castle, and an automatic rinse gets rid of starch remnants after each cook cycle. Using four cooking chambers, the unit cooks batches individually and simultaneously. The cooker takes water from any standard water line and doesn’t need any hood ventilation. Plus you don’t have to worry about re-loading; the large-capacity pasta dispensers hold up to 120 servings. You can adjust portion sizes from 4 oz. to 6 oz. The unit is self-sanitizing and self-cleaning. With the push of a button, you get perfect servings of al dente pasta every time, in no time. Unit measures 42”W x 26”D x 53”H.
ONE OVEN, A MILLION AND ONE USES
Roast, grill, steam, broil, poach, bake...no matter what or how you need to cook, the Rational SelfCooking Center can do it 15% faster than conventional combi steamers and 30% faster than conventional ovens and in a fraction of the space, says the company. In fact, this push-button wonder can do the job of half the appliances in the kitchen. Just select the type of food you’re cooking and sit back as the unit detects product-specific requirements; gauges the size of the item to be cooked and the entire oven load size; calculates the cooking time, temperature and oven climate, and monitors and adjusts the cooking cycle second by second. Choose from six models, four countertop and two floor.
ON THE SURFACE OR DOWN DEEP, TEMP MONITORS DO BOTH
FoodPro Thermometer, which now touts NSF certification, gives you instant noncontact temperatures, and the larger FoodPro Plus adds a flip-down probe for internal readings. To encourage operators to move in close when measuring, the models feature a target illuminator light beam that appears only at close range so you can clearly see the area being scanned. With the FoodPro model, you get a temp reading range of -20°F to 400°F with varying accuracies depending on the application, while the FoodPro Plus temp range is -30° to 525°F. An integrated timer on both helps monitor cooking, cooling and holding times. Both units signal “safe” or “unsafe” readings, based on HACCP guidelines, using green or red lights. They give employees an instant clue that temps are safe or not.
WHEN YOU NEED FINE FOOD FAST
Whip up menu items faster than you thought possible with the Tornado speed-cooking oven. Using a combination of forced-air convection and microwave energy, this new TurboChef oven can bake, toast and brown food up to 12 times faster than conventional cooking methods, says TurboChef. UL certified for ventless applications and measuring 26”W x 25 7/10”D, the Tornado uses a patented catalytic converter system to eliminate grease particles. Other features include an independently controlled browning element on the bottom and a multi-speed convection blower. And flexibility is yours, as well, with 128 pre-programmed menu settings.
THE DISAPPEARING HOOD TRICK
Clear sight lines, quiet operation, dishwasher-friendly ducts and no stainless steel box hanging from the ceiling. You get all this and more from Vent Master’s award-winning ventilated ceiling. The system, used for more than 20 years in Europe, is finally commercially available in North America, and here’s how it works: Panels, similar to the cartridge-type filters of traditional hoods, are installed flush with the ceiling above each cooking appliance. The cartridges filter air as it leaves the kitchen, trapping grease particles in dishwasher-friendly filters. The exhaust cassettes achieve a minimum of 88% grease removal efficiency, says Vent Master, meeting NFPA96 standard exhaust air volume and velocity requirements. The cassettes include grease troughs for easy grease collection, cleaning and maintenance. Other key ceiling components include perforated stainless steel make-up air panels; lighting panels using incandescent or fluorescent fixtures; and an integral fire protection system that’s UL/ULC listed and meets UL300 requirements.
GREASE RECOVERY IS IN THE BAG
The grease trap is as important in the commercial kitchen as any cooking or cooling appliance, but it’s one of the messiest to maintain. Until now. The patent-pending Zurn Z1192 Grease Recovery Appliance provides the kitchen manager with a grease interceptor that makes cleanup easy. It’s a sensor-controlled, low-maintenance electronic appliance that prevents grease from passing into the commercial piping system to help keep your units up to code. The unit, made of 304 stainless steel, features a solids interceptor with replaceable collection container that prevents food particles and debris from soiling the appliance.