Traditional cooking ranges are as popular as ever, despite modern innovations. Kathy Bowry explores chefs' enduring love for them and the new developments that can only add to their attraction.
As soaring fuel costs and government exhortations to use more energy-efficient equipment impact on commercial kitchens of all sizes, you could be forgiven for assuming that the day of the traditional cooking range has gone. In fact, indicators suggest that they are more in demand than they were 10 years ago.
"Whatever the sector, range suites are still very much the order of the day," says Steve Loughton managing director of Enodis UK, which supplies the traditional four- and six-burner Moorwood Vulcan and Garland heavy-duty modular, island and bespoke suites. "And it's not combis versus ranges; rather that the lines are becoming more blurred. In larger kitchens range suites and combis are used side by side."
In terms of energy efficiency, Enodis is looking more closely at burner efficiencies and flame pattern sizes to ensure that maximum heat energy is transferred to the saucepan. The company is also a supporter of the new Catering Equipment Suppliers' Association Save IT! campaign, which encourages users to turn off burners when not required.
From a chef's point-of-view a range is the mainstay of any kitchen and a convenient all-in-one workstation, according to Neil Roseweir, development chef at Falcon Foodservice Equipment, which supplies the heavy-duty Chieftain Series and the medium-duty Dominator Series of prime cooking equipment in addition to bespoke ranges.
"An open-top range is the most versatile piece of equipment available and can carry out 10 to 12 methods of cookery," he says. "Bend down and there is an oven that can roast, braise and bake with a convenient drop-down door."
Nick McDonald, marketing director at Lincat, also reckons that, far from having had its day in busy kitchens, the range is more popular than ever. "We are currently selling three times as many traditional cooking ranges as we did a decade ago and the proportion of ranges sold, relative to other items of equipment, has grown," he says.
"Heavy-duty ranges, such as our Opus 700 offering, account for a considerable proportion of the growth we've experienced and all electric models have soared in popularity, too," McDonald says. "This is at least partly because of current safety legislation. This requires gas products to be positioned beneath powered extraction canopies fitted with an interlock, which automatically cuts the gas supply in the event of a power failure. These regulations can add significantly to the overall cost of installation."
Six-burner ranges are still in very high demand, according to Mark Poultney, sales director at Imperial Catering Equipment, which supplies the Montague Grizzly Series. "These are now being updated with a host of features which contribute to greater reliability," he says. "We are also finding that many chefs want more flexibility in the kitchen than a traditional range with burners on top and an oven beneath offers. Island suites make use of convection ovens, broilers, counter-top equipment, refrigerated doors and heated cabinets and put them all together in one seamless unit."
For Alan Evans, executive training chef for Electrolux Professional, which supplies the Italian-made Molteni bespoke suites and the 700 and 900 ranges of modular cooking equipment, the six-burner range will always have a place in professional kitchens. "It's a staple piece of kit that chefs feel comfortable using, although we have seen a shift in recent years in how ranges are incorporated into kitchens," he says. "Restaurants and hotels that still want a traditional burner but are looking for something that streamlines their equipment set-up could choose to have a burner as a modular part of a line of units."
He continues: "Bespoke suites are becoming increasingly popular, especially at top-end catering colleges and in the kitchens of Michelin-starred chefs. The bespoke element means that they can effectively be designed by the chef, allowing them to match the equipment to the number of chefs, menu and kitchen space that they have."
Trevor Burke, managing director of Exclusive Ranges, says bespoke cooking islands are a growth area for restaurants but adds: "Changes have been made in the make-up of the range, moving away from traditional cooking methods with all solid tops, burners and ovens underneath. Induction hobs are now being built into ranges and not just in less intense areas, such as pastry sections. They are now trusted to be in the front-line service side of the cooking range and offering all the benefits of energy saving, improved kitchen environment, ease of cleaning and multipurpose operation.
"Water baths are being built into the cook line along with holding cabinets designed to suspend the cooking process and hold food at a higher quality. The introduction of plancha plates has reduced the amount of pan cooking as food is cooked directly on the plancha," Burke adds.
Planchas feature on the Athanor bespoke all-electric peninsular cooking suite at the heart of the kitchen at the Star Inn at Harome, near Helmsley, North Yorkshire. "We are seeing many more chefs moving towards the Plaque Athanor plancha and using it as an electric solid-top during mise-en-place and for direct cooking during service," says Stephen Hobbs, director of Signature FSE, UK agent for Athanor.
Andrew Pern, Michelin-starred chef-proprietor of the Star Inn, says: "The suite has been designed to undertake the bulk preparation we need for such a busy operation but still give us the flexibility of controlled cooking during service. By moving to an all-electric suite we have significantly reduced the heat in the kitchen and made a much better working environment."
Two more enthusiasts of incorporating a plancha into a suite are André Garrett, head chef, and Chris Galvin, chef-patron of Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton on Park Lane, where a Bonnet Maestro island suite from Hobart has recently been installed. "The suite has quickly become the centre of the kitchen, vastly improving team communication," the chefs agree. "The plancha alone has greatly decreased the number of pans we need to use and increased efficiency hugely."
Many chefs are asking for induction tops on their ranges, largely because they are incredibly energy efficient and cut down the heat in the kitchen. However, when chefs want them above ovens this creates a problem as Wayne Cuomo, managing director of Charvet, explains: "Where the electric generator for the induction hob is placed over the oven, when the door is opened a great waft of 350°C air drifts up, gets sucked into the unit and effectively cooks the electrics."
Mindful of this Charvet has now developed a four-plate induction range with an oven below and has placed the generators for the induction plates to the right of the suite where they take in cool air and can also be pulled out on a sliding tray for ease of servicing. The induction units can be installed as part of a wall suite or designed in to a central island suite.
With such innovation by manufacturers across the board, it looks as though chefs need not fear the demise of their favourite cooking method for many years to come.
Chefs at Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton on Park Lane, say their new Bonnet Maestro Island suite (top) has hugely increased efficiencyEnodis is studying flame pattern sizes in a bid to get the best out of the ranges it supplies (above)Lincat says its heavy-duty models (right) are selling particularly well
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