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October 200
By Janice Cha with Jennifer Hicks
SPECIAL REPORT: Smallwares Keep The Kitchen Running

Simple solutions to everyday challenges lead judges to choose nine winners in this year’s competition.

Think of smallwares as the motor oil that makes the kitchen engine tick along smoothly. By themselves, kitchen tools are usually small and relatively inexpensive. And they’re not always particularly eye-catching. But without ’em, the kitchen would quickly grind to an ugly halt, just like a car that’s lost its last drop of oil.

Never fear, though. Manufacturers and distributors keep kitchens humming at peak performance levels with an abundance of new smallwares offerings, many of which appeared in FER’s Sixth Annual Smallwares competition, held at our Skokie, Ill., office building this summer.

Our panel of discerning judges, which included Chef Hans Aeschbacher, Tony Diar-Bakerli, Ray Rees, Doug Mitchell and Susan Steinway—all profiled on page 34—gathered at FER headquarters one warm July morning to find long tables neatly laid out with 29 smallwares items. (Judge Pam Sisler opted out of smallwares judging so she could focus on tabletop, her area of expertise.)

As always, the product range boggled the mind. Judges examined tiny entries such as stick-on buffet glass labels, a bottle-opener that bartenders can wear on their fingers, and a wine cork fitted with a combination lock. And they hefted larger products like a 6-ft. long hood filter remover and a 5-gallon commercial salad spinner, which, despite their size, fall under the category of kitchen tools.

When the panel sat down to discuss individual scoring, they started with a few comments on the state of the industry. Judges credited the flat economy with the lack of “major breakthroughs” this year. The pros also noted the growing number of product lines per manufacturer, which on the plus side allows operators the convenience of one-stop shopping.

We began soliciting for product entries last summer, sending out the call and requiring suppliers to hew to strict guidelines. New products submitted for the smallwares competition had to be introduced after the 2002 National Restaurant Association Show, allowing for a development window of about 14 months. Further, the products had to offer some clear benefit: labor savings, food safety support, or meeting a specific challenge.

Given that, the competition was pretty much open to any supplier who wanted to make a run at it. But once the entries reached our office, the editors cut those that did not meet the “new” criteria, and we eliminated anything that had a motor, as our definition of smallwares allowed for tools that are mechanical but not powered by electricity.

In all, we received 35 entries, culled the group to 29 finalists. On judging day the pros named nine winners within an hour.

...And On To The Winners
Beginning alphabetically, Brass Smith was honored for its Buffet Menu Tags. Talk about innovation: these small, oval, plastic-encased buffet labels solve a daily challenge for any operator running a buffet line by neatly identifying what’s what. “Clean-looking,” “efficient” and “elegant” were a few of the judgely raves we heard about the Menu Tags. The neat thing is that they adhere to buffet glass—or even, as one judge pointed out, to the side of a chafing dish—using mini double-sided suction cups. So no messy adhesives to deal with, and you can reuse them by printing out a new label to replace the old one. Choose from metallic silver- or brass-colored label plates.

Next up, the Chil-Stik, made by C&K Mfg., helps you quickly drop the temperature of sauces, soups and stews for safer food storage—before the pots hit the walk-in. This low-tech device is essentially a paddle-shaped water bottle. You freeze it, then use the ice paddle to stir hot foods in order to reduce temperatures more quickly to 41&Mac251;F. The Chil-Stik can be left in the pot and the whole thing put in the cooler to chill from the inside out. Chil-Stik’s design lets you store them upright or lying down, while the wide mouth makes for a fast fill. The ice paddles come in 2- and 4-liter sizes and are NSF certified.

Carlisle FoodService Products walked away a winner for its Cateraide Slide N’ Seal Pan Carrier. “Now that’s sturdy,” judges enthused. What they were looking at was an all-plastic insulated pan transporter—ideal for catering of all kinds. The lid slides shut and stays closed without latches or gaskets, forming a seal that keeps food hot or cold longer. The self-venting lid can be locked and labeled for quick I.D. and extra security. The polyethylene containers are stackable and scratch-resistant, and come in black, brown and forest green. They’re NSF listed, too.

“It’s like a Ford engine—always runs when you need it,” one judge said about the next winner, even though all the operating power comes from the user’s arm rather than a motor. The 5-Gallon Commercial Salad Dryer by ChefMaster earned points for its simplicity and sheer reliability. “It’s great to have on hand as a backup,” our chef judge added. The salad dryer features a braking system that prolongs the life of the gears, a sealed gearbox for sanitary operation, clockwise and counter-clockwise spin-ability, and enough space to spin-dry up to six heads of lettuce at once. The chrome-plated brass crankshaft resists rust, while the heavy-duty plastic body and basket are made of FDA-approved plastic.

Plastic—specifically, a plastic insert for a knife holder—carried the day for another product. Edlund Co.’s Knife Sanitizing System provides kitchens with liquid sanitizing, air drying and storage of knives. Judges particularly liked the cleanliness aspect of the unit. “Even if you wash your knives, how often do you clean out the holder?” one asked. “With this system, you just lift it off the wall and run the insert through the dishwasher. The health department would love it.”

The knife sanitizer breaks down into three pieces for easy cleaning: stainless steel wall-mountable container, plastic rack, and stainless steel bracket to hold the rack in place.

The next two winners came from Traex, a division of Libbey: the Multi Tip Squeeze Dispenser and the Clean Cut footed cutting board. The Multi Tip squeeze bottle gives you double (Twin Tip) and triple (Tri Tip) amounts of sauce or dressing in a single squeeze—a time saver for those back-of-house crunch times. The bottles come in six colors, while the translucent plastic lets you check contents and fill levels at a glance. The 16-, 24- and 32-oz. bottles are ribbed for slip-resistant handling.

“They’re lifesavers,” declared our chef judge. “You can use them for everything.”

The Clean Cut reversible, nonskid cutting board garnered equal raves. “I like the nonslip aspect,” said a judge. “It lets you eliminate a towel underneath to hold the board in place.” The rubber feet also help prevent cross-contamination by raising the board off the counter surface.

Thinking of safety and convenience, judges gave the thumbs-up sign to FMP/Franklin Machine Products’ Baffle Boss. This hood filter removal tool simplifies one of the kitchen’s most unpopular jobs. At the same time, the Boss makes the procedure safer for workers, who’ve been known to climb on equipment, reach for filters with broom handles, and worse. Baffle Boss consists of a lightweight 5-ft. pole with adjustable lifting prongs at the end. The prongs can be set anywhere from 93&Mac218;4” to 15”, matching most filter brands and sizes. An adjustable “fork” allows stable handling at any angle.

“It sure beats standing on top of a cooling griddle after a shift,” admitted an operator judge. “Believe me, I’ve done it!”

Last but certainly not least comes another kitchen essential: a frying pan. But not just any frying pan. Vollrath Co.’s Three-Ply Fry Pan gives chefs even heating, durability and induction-readiness in one stainless steel/aluminum package. The pan is equally at home on the range as it is in ovens (up to 450&Mac251;F) or on an induction hob. It’s made with an inner layer of 3004 aluminum for even heating on the bottom and sides. The top layer of 18/8 stainless steel is easy to clean without reacting with food. The bottom layer of stainless steel is induction ready, while equally suited for gas and electric. Low-profile stainless rivets add strength while being easy to clean.

And don’t forget the insulated handle, which stays comfortable to the touch even at high range settings. The Three-Ply Fry Pan comes in 7”, 8”, 10”, 12” and 14” sizes.

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