Balanced Meals

By | April 1st, 2006


No self-respecting chef would ever think of presenting an entire dish on one half of a plate. And the same principles of good balance, order, and putting everything in its proper place are equally important when preparing food in the back of the house, too.

Too often, though, chefs and their food and beverage directors settle for less-than-optimal conditions when it comes to how their cooking equipment is set up and used. They try to find ways to work around inefficient arrangements as best they can—but no matter how hard they try to overcome these hurdles, being hampered in the kitchen can still affect their ability to produce the required quality and quantity for the dining side of the swinging door.

With order properly restored through his new line of cooking equipment, Chef Gavin Kaysen is now confident that all of his creative presentations will have a safe trip from pot to plate to table (and diners’ mouths).

When the culinary staff at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, a property operated in San Diego by JC Resorts, had the opportunity to replace old equipment in the kitchen of its El Bizchoco restaurant, it also saw a chance to fix a lot of nagging problems in how its cooking line was arranged. “All of our equipment was 20 years old, so we had recurring maintenance nightmares and it was clear we needed to replace it all,” reports Stan Kaminski, Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Food & Beverage. “But while we were going to put the new equipment into the exact same footprint—about 32 feet—we also wanted to make sure we found better ways to set up the line, so we could also eliminate some production challenges we’d been having.”

Specifically, adds Gavin Kaysen, Chef de Cuisine for El Bizchoco, the set-up of the old cooking line made for lopsided and inefficient production. “We had too many dishes coming off one side of the line,” Kaysen says. “At peak production, some of our staff would be standing around in the middle of the line watching, while those on the end would be getting overwhelmed.”

This was only becoming more of a problem as El Bizcocho, under the direction of Kaminski and Kaysen, was creatively expanding its menu and enjoying soaring popularity, particularly in the group-business segment.

Stan Kaminski, Assistant General Manager/ VP Food & Beverage

“In general, group business has been strong in the hotel industry over the last 12 months,” says Kaminski, “and we’ve seen an opportunity to capture even more of it here by pushing the envelope and demonstrating that, even for banquets, we can prepare creative, high-quality dishes with a la minute-style service. But that means plating and saucing at the last minute—which requires an efficient line where chefs can stay at one station and focus on their contributions, rather than have to try to work around each other.”

While its existing line was an assemblage of “onesies,” according to Kaminski, that had been acquired from various equipment manufacturers over the years, the decision to replace the entire line at once also offered the opportunity to work closely with a selected supplier to design and install a more integrated, customized solution. After soliciting bids from several potential suppliers, Kaminski and Kaysen decided to work with The Montague Company to create a new line consisting of these components (presented here as they appear in the line, left to right):

• Double-stack convection oven with unique muffled-oven design

• Deck-type gas “steakhouse” broiler with 45- inch heavy-duty range and 1/2-inch-thick top plate

• Gas fryer with two-burner heavy-duty range

• “Half-size” 12-inch heavy duty gas range with spreader plate

• Heavy-duty 36-inch gas “French top” range with 18-inch rings and covers

• Heavy-duty 36-inch gas range with 24-inch fry top

• Two cheesemelters with 36-inch heavy duty range mount and infrared burners

• Two heavy-duty 36-inch gas ranges with 12- inch open burners

Gavin Kaysen, Chef de Cuisine for El Bizchoco,

“Essentially,” notes Kaysen, “over the same area of space we went from 10 burners in the old line to 16 in the new one. That’s helped us do a better job of organizing and delegating as we split up cooking and preparation tasks. We now have a line set up where all food funnels from both ends into the middle, where a sous chef focuses on plating.

“It’s a much better way to control things, especially as we have expanded to offer more multi-course menus and seen our overall volume grow,” he adds. “On a Friday night we can be doing close to 150 covers, many of them with eight courses. That means we need to have seven or eight people working the line to keep up. There’s no way to do that effectively without a line that’s properly organized.”

All components of the new line also came with flex-hose plumbing and individual casters, Kaminski adds, to make cleaning and maintenance not only easier, but more thorough. And by working closely with locally based Montague reps, Kaminski and Kaysen were able to not only fine-tune the specs as the line was designed and installed, but also add some aesthetic touches.

“We took [the cooking area of the kitchen] down to the studs and then, when we built it back up, we added show-kitchen tile with no grout, and a stainless steel wall behind the cooking line,” says Kaminski. “We also added decorative enhancements that have positive productivity benefits, such as pull-down heat lamps and hangers for the copper pots.

“All of this not only helps with cleanliness and maintenance,” he adds, “but now we’re also proud to have people see how we do things. There’s much greater interest these days in how chefs and top-quality kitchens operate—and now we’re more than happy to have them come back.” C&RB

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