Foodservice Equipment Reports

SPECIAL REPORT: Silver & Beyond!

If someone handed you a timeline and asked you to make a big, bold mark where the “modern” era of foodservice equipment development began, chances are good a lot of you’d pick 1987. That’s when Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s Food Service Technology Center was launched, and it’s hard to think of any other single event that’s had more impact on our industry.

Over the past 25 years the FSTC arguably has grown to be the single most influential entity in the equipment business. It’s been the birthplace of 40 ASTM Standardized Test Methods for a wide variety of kitchen-equipment categories, and those test methods in turn have become benchmarks for Energy Star standards, California Energy Commission standards, rebates from utilities all across the country, LEED points, and on and on. Thanks to the leadership and hard work of the team at Fisher-Nickel Inc., which operates the FSTC, many equipment categories today are two, three and four times more utility efficient than their precursors of just a quarter century ago.

So it was small wonder this past Aug. 1-3 when a who’s who of the foodservice equipment industry converged on San Ramon, Calif., to celebrate the FSTC’s Silver Anniversary. In all, more than 200 people gathered, including well-known equipment manufacturers, facilities and equipment spec consultants, rep firms, dealers, Foodservice Consultants Society Int’l., the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, major utility companies, the EPA/Energy Star group, the National Restaurant Association and several major chains, not to mention industry media types who are always up for a road trip and free food!

FSTC Walking The Walk

After a great opening reception the evening of Aug. 1, the educational program kicked off bright and early the following morning with the first of what would be a lineup of six speakers and 10 sessions that day, plus brief comments from PG&E officials who’ve been closely involved with the lab. The following day was a “field trip” to the lab and multiple presentations of the FER Industry Forecast by Publisher Robin Ashton.

And true to the FSTC’s mission of efficiency and sustainability, the Fisher-Nickel group practiced what it preaches. There wasn’t a single paper handout anywhere. Everything was handled electronically.

And that extended to communication between the presenters and the audience as well. At each seat in the Marriott San Ramon meeting room was an Audience Response System wireless handheld unit. Not only were attendees able to respond to yes-no and multiple choice questions throughout the day’s sessions, with responses tabulated and projected instantaneously onscreen, but the ARS also had full keypads, enabling an ongoing flow of verbatim input from the audience. So in addition to answering questions periodically throughout the day, the audience also was able to spontaneously comment and offer suggestions whenever the spirit moved them.

“How many of you know why you’re here?” Richard Young, director of education asked during the opening session. “I bet you came here thinking we were going to tell you about the ‘Kitchen of the Future.’

“Nope,” he smiled. “ You are going to tell us what you think the kitchen of the future will be! … We brought you here to help us plot out the next 25 years. As a group, we’re a giant supercomputer,” Young said.

And for the rest of the day, the audience provided a steady flow of text messages and multiple-choice responses all day—all of which is probably up at by the time you’re reading this.

A Woman With A Vision

The “Kitchen of the Future” was just barely forming as a question for most folks back in the mid-’80s.

“In ’86, PG&E was working on electric cars, wind power, futuristic stuff,” said Don Fisher, President/CEO at Fisher-Nickel and manager at the FSTC. But in foodservice, other than McDonald’s Corp. getting serious about ventilation and utilities in general, not a lot was happening yet.

Amid that background, however, a woman at PG&E named Bettie J. Davis was thinking hard about the future of foodservice energy. The Electric Power Research Institute had hosted a think-tank group in ’85 to explore the kitchen of the future. Davis had been there. And so had Fisher. It was a fateful meeting.

In ’86 PG&E green-lighted a request from Davis to fund a limited study of foodservice energy consumption. Immediately she phoned Fisher, and Fisher-Nickel (then literally just Fisher and partner Judy Nickel) was contracted to run the program. EPRI, the Gas Research Institute and the NRA pitched in some additional funding, and the foodservice equipment landscape was changed forever.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The anniversary activities were a fascinating blend of time travel, both forward and backward. Bettie Davis was an honored guest, and she rightly took her place onstage for well-deserved recognition of her foresight and determination in those early years.

Educational topics that day included the past, present and future of the FSTC; the state of technology in today’s kitchen; the state of efficiency on the cooking side; a look at how the cook side is most likely to change going forward; refrigeration; lighting; sanitation, dishmachines and water heaters; energy management systems; and a wrap-up on the “Kitchen of the Future.”

The following day, the lab threw open its doors for a full morning of exploring all the test stations, asking questions and seeing some test procedures in action. In the meeting room, Ashton provided condensed sessions on the 2013 FER Forecast.

In the coming months, we’ll be delving into several of the FSTC sessions in greater detail. Stay tuned.

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