By Gregory Furgala, in partnership with Rational Canada
Ovens, stoves, grills, planchas, fryers, refrigerators and innumerable small appliances make up a conventional restaurant kitchen. At peak hours they’re running full bore and using a prodigious amount of energy, eating into restaurant owners’ budgets and slim margins. With the exception of wood oven-only restaurants, a steep monthly hydro bill is the necessary cost of running a modern kitchen. But there are ways to bring that soaring cost back to ground.
As manufacturers have made their products smaller, more versatile and more powerful, they’ve also made them far more efficient. The foodservice industry could use the help, too. In a 2013 study on energy use in U.K. pubs in the International Journal of Low Carbon Technologies, researchers found that energy use in restaurants is “vastly” greater than most estimates. Cooking is responsible for the lion’s share, accounting for 42 per cent of energy consumption on average. For context, refrigeration stands a distant second at 28 per cent.
“Kitchen and food-related activities greatly [outweigh] other energy-using activities,” the report states. “Consumption is highly variable between kitchens and appliances due in part to the wide variety of makes and models of appliances implemented.” Rephrased, the report’s authors found that some restaurants, kitted out with inefficient appliances, consumed far more energy than kitchens operating better, updated equipment.
“The operating cost of the whole life cycle is more than the purchasing cost.”
Enter Rational’s SelfCookingCenter. While combi-ovens aren’t exactly new — the first one was introduced in the 1960s — the combination of convection cooking and steam is versatile and fast, characteristics that make it well-suited to modern kitchens. Since 1997, Rational has improved on that standard, adding features and improving its construction to not only make it perform better than the next combi, but also with less bottom-line impact on your hydro bill.
“A lot of customers, when they’re looking at purchasing [new equipment], ground it in the initial cost,” says Jim Lund, a consultant resource manager at Rational USA. “People say, ‘I just want to invest $500 in a deep fat fryer, $1,000 in a convection oven and $1,800 in a steamer. I can’t afford a combi-oven, it’s so expensive.’ But the operating cost of the whole life cycle is more than the purchasing cost.”
With any piece of old gear, maintenance outside of warranty will contribute to those operating costs, but reducing energy consumption can cut that cost down. The Oxford study found that the average grill used 36.89 kilowatt-hours (kwh) daily; steamers, 11.99 kwh; and fryers, 40.82 kwh. Rational’s SelfCookingCenter combi-oven is an able replacement for all three, and is, on average, 30 per cent more efficient than conventional cooking methods, which adds up. In recent years, hydro rates have increased in almost every major Canadian city. Only Ottawa and Toronto saw a decrease, but that was from record provincial highs of 16.15 and 17.81 cents per kwh in 2017, to 12.16 and 13.24 cents per kwh in 2018. For argument’s sake, assuming a Toronto chef ran a SelfCookingCenter instead a grill every day last year, they would have saved more than $500 on their hydro bill.
Not every fix needs a revolution; some of them are simple, expedient and effective.
Some of the developments setting Rational’s SelfCookingCentre apart are seemingly low tech — a third pane of glass on the cooking window, an easily de-scalable heating element for steam — but the results are startling. That third pane keeps 30 per cent more energy in the cabinet, with a net 10 per cent decrease in energy consumption. A quarter inch of limescale buildup on the seemingly innocuous heating element reduces its efficiency by 38 per cent. That efficiency drops exponentially, with a half-inch of buildup reducing efficiency by 90 per cent. Instead, the oven prompts users when it’s time to clean the element, which is facilitated with a simple descaling tablet. A standby mode enables chefs keep their SelfCookingCenter at the ready without running them at full power all day long.
“In kitchens of the past, the first thing chefs do is walk down the cooking line, turn the oven on, turn the steamer on, turn the flat top on, turn the deep fryer on, and they’re using energy all day, even if they’re not cooking anything,” says Lund. Now, the oven can be ready at a moment’s notice, but not running at full power. It’s like overhead lights that automatically turn off when people leave the room. Not every fix needs a revolution; some of them are simple, expedient and effective.
How many appliances could a combi oven replace? Realistically, it depends on the chef and their workflow, but frying, roasting, grilling, steaming, poaching and baking are all on the table, and chefs willing to adapt their recipes and processes to a SelfCookingCentre could see substantial savings over older, inefficient appliances and save space in their kitchens. They could see savings in time, too: the SelfCookingCenter is smart, and senses, detects, thinks, learns and communicates with the operator while cooking toward a pre-programmed result, freeing them up to take over other duties (although it can still be operated manually for cooks who want to be there every step of the way).
Rational’s SelfCookingCenter is, if it’s not clear by now, very efficient, with the end result being a significant return-on-investment and high performance. Those benefits will only increase as the cost of electricity — and labour and real estate — continues to climb.