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October 2001
By Brian Ward

SPECIAL REPORT: Better Tools, Better Results With Smallwares Winners

This year’s crop of winners proves that somebody out there really is listening when you talk about the little things that make a big difference.

Smallwares, as we’ve said since our inaugural FER smallwares judging in 1998, often get short shrift in the kitchen world. Heavy and light equipment, blazing Btus and winking computers galore are more techno-dramatic by far. Give us a burner, a fan, maybe a computer and some RPMs anytime. How about a neat new chilling solution? By gosh, let’s transfer some energy somewhere!

And yet when you get down to the daily hand-to-hand of kitchen operations, the smallwares can make or break you. Every hand tool that requires two or three passes instead of one is costing you money. Every bun pan that sticks, well, stinks. Every item that defies cleaning is a liability. Thermal meters that don’t do their jobs—or do a job but not the one you need—can send you to lengthy late-night discussions with your attorney.

So this year, the fourth year of this competition, we again put out the invitation for special recognition of noteworthy smallwares designs. Give us your slick, your sleek, your marvels of design, we said. The rules, as always, were simple: Any new smallwares product intro’d no earlier than the National Restaurant Association Show 2000 would be eligible. Judging would measure an entry according to innovation, problem solving, durability, ergonomics, labor savings, and food and health safety.

Slicker, Sleeker, Better
And then we stood back from the doorway, because we’ve been this way before. And sure enough, the hallowed halls here at Gill Ashton soon looked like a freight yard. Cardboard boxes everywhere, stuff stacked to the rafters. We love the smell of wood pulp in the morning, but this was ridiculous.

When the UPS guys and the two-wheeled dollies cleared, we had about three dozen entries in the smallwares category (see the tabletop story for the tallies in that group). As always, the editors took a first pass at them, weeding out items that were insufficiently new (on the market prior to May 2000) or just too hard to differentiate from existing competitors. This year, though, we stuck mainly to the deadline issue. The finer points of differentiation we left to the judges. That is, after all, what judges do. Thirty-one entries made it to the finals.

Lined up for judging duties were six of the best: Maureen Burriesci, sales rep with The Boelter Cos.; Nydia Casas, v.p. of purchasing for Chart House Enterprises; Michael Cech, executive chef at The Weber Grill; Antoinette D’Ambrosio, smallwares manager, Edward Don & Co.; Peter Dipalomares, assistant manager of food and nutrition services, Rush-Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center; and Dan Lindsey, sales rep, The Wasserstrom Cos. Among them they could review a product from every possible angle.

Which they did. They poked. They prodded. They turned entries upside down and pulled them apart. They said things like, “Look at this blade and how much more accessible it is than anyone else’s.” And then another judge would say, “Why does it eject from this end instead of the other?”

Scores for each item, from each judge, were added up, and where opinions clearly diverged, judges had a chance to hash out differences and revise scores where appropriate. And then the winners were named.

This year the group of 31 finalists yielded eight winners, and again, it’s a diverse lot filling diverse needs. Those of you who try to read trends will search in vain for any meaningful patterns. We wracked our brains and came up with doodly. But all the winners did have one thing in common: They all fill needs unlike anything else on the market, and several of them are truly ingenious.

First up alphabetically is Cambro Mfg.’s innovative new Camwarmer, a nonelectric heat source for mobile applications. The disc-shaped heat sink can be warmed in a conventional oven for 45 minutes at 350&Mac251;F or on a CookTek induction charger for just four minutes, a neat flexibility not seen elsewhere. The Camwarmer itself consists of a pellet sandwiched between heat-resistant top and bottom pieces. Once properly thermalized, the warmer can go into loading carts or pan carriers for half-size food pans and full-size sheet pans, where it will help hold foods above the 140&Mac251;F food safety threshold for hours. “Great product,” one judge summed up. “I bet it would be great for catering,” another said. A third saw clear buffet applications.

“A great idea,” is how one judge explained the high scores for the Unclutchable Clutch Removal Tool by FMP/Franklin Machine Products. Anyone who’s ever changed a blender clutch knows what a pain the process can be. Normal use torques down the clutch so that it can be very hard to loosen—enough to make you chuck the whole blender. Well, this unique new blender clutch removal tool solves that, working without any other tools to easily remove clutches from blender bases and blade assemblies. The one-piece unit is small, fitting handily in
a tool box or work drawer so it’s never far from where it’ll be used.

Samurai Prep Tools

Lincoln Foodservice Products, meanwhile, scored big with not one winner but two. The Enodis company’s Redco Insta-Slice 5.0 scored big for features like a one-piece blade assembly that pops in and out for cleaning, a knob placed for either right- or left-hand use, and a 17-blade cutting zone 20% larger than competitors’ for cutting larger tomatoes more quickly.

Following on last year’s victory for Lincoln’s Hard Coat fry pan, this year the expanded Hard Coat line won again for its newly hardened stock pots. The Hard Coat process consists of a black anodized surface electrochemically bonded to an aluminum base, giving a combination of strength and light weight. The anodized surface is 400% harder than aluminum and 30% harder than stainless, offering strong heat conductivity and notable warp resistance.

Mouli Mfg. came up a winner for its Kitchen Warrior Perfect Slicer. The samurai-sounding name fits well for the unit, which uses a “super sharp” micro-serrated blade and two-way cutting action to make quick work of all kinds of prep. “The concept is really good,” one judge offered. “Selecting different hole sizes lets you cut different things,” from onions to tomatoes, carrots, apples and cucumbers, to name a few.

Another slicing tool hit the jackpot, as well. Prince Castle’s Citrus Saber is a wedger that caught judges’ eyes first because it’s made of sturdy high-impact plastic. Light weight and impervious to food acids, the handy Citrus Saber sections lemons, limes and tomatoes with a smooth push, making it a great tool for preparing drinks, salads and garnishes. Other bennies: It’s dishwasher safe and comes in several colors to enhance décor.

The Color Of ‘Hot’ And A Smart Honeycomb
This next one was a doozy, and the highest-scoring winner of this year’s competition. Taylor Precision Products’ new TempRite Disposable Dishwasher Sensor finally gives you a clear, simple way to know whether your high-temp warewasher’s final rinse temps are right for local sanitizing regulations. Here’s how: The sensor is a simple tab that clips to the side of a dish rack. When the rack goes through final rinse, the tab changes color according to its temperature. Check the color and you’re finished. You can chuck the sensor, or label and retain it for documentation purposes.

Last up alphabetically, Traex won with a product that will make you wonder why nobody thought of it sooner. The new Rack Max 20 uses a smart octagonal compartment design that scores on several levels. First, it accommodates a variety of glass sizes, and yet does it snugly enough to reduce bounce and clatter breakage. Second, the octagonal divider treatment yields a honeycomb compartment placement, in effect getting more compartments into a given space—20 instead of the usual 16. More glasses per rack means less water and chemical consumption per glass, and tall rack dividers give complete vertical coverage, again for lower breakage.

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