It is a good job that Contract Catering Equipment’s (CCE) project team don’t mind heights.
The company has been busy with a raft of projects of late, but none have provided quite the same challenge as its work at Searcys, where it delivered and installed a £60,000 cooking suite 180 metres above the streets of London.
The restaurant and private members club, based on the top three floors of The Gherkin, closed its kitchen for three days over the New Year in order to have a brand new resin floor laid and take stock of a bespoke Athanor suite that now forms the heartbeat of its kitchen.
As well as getting the new suite into position, Essex-based CCE had to dismantle and remove the incumbent Menu System unit and carry out some specific on-site fabrication work, all inside a 72-hour period.
Given The Gherkin’s scale, it’s perhaps no surprise that CCE’s managing director, Ray Costelloe, admits that logistics posed the biggest obstacle.
“Everybody knows the shape of The Gherkin and how high it is, so it’s quite a challenge to break a cook suite up and get it down, then take a new one up, while not making any mess or spoiling a new floor that has just been laid,” he says.
CCE took delivery of the Athanor suite — which had purposely been constructed in two pieces — on the ground floor and then set about transporting it up the tower.
“We put it in the first lift and then got it up to within three floors of where it wanted to go and transferred it to another lift,” explains Costelloe. “The challenge was to make sure that everything fitted into the lift and when it came back out again it could all be reassembled, erected, welded and polished. All the final connections, testing and training then had to be done on that timescale we had been given.”
The welding and assembly work involved altering the existing plinth that was in place to accommodate the new suite, which comprises two four-zone multi-point induction hobs and two double ‘Plaque’ cooking plates.
Searcys previously used an all-induction range, and while the executive chef remains a fan of induction he didn’t want to go down exactly the same route this time around, explains Steve Hobbs, managing director of Signature FSE, the UK distributor of Athanor.
“The limitations were that we had to go all electric again due to the logistics of the site and that the chef didn’t necessarily want to go all induction because it meant you’d got to do everything in pans,” says Hobbs. “So the decision was to put an electric suite in which had a mixture of induction and double planchas, or ‘plaques’ in there, so in essence the chef has got the same firepower as before but in a different configuration.”
While the ‘peninsula-style’ suite has virtually the same footprint as the one it replaced, Hobbs insists the new set-up offers more flexibility to the customer.
“Working with induction meant they had to work 100% of the time with pans, both during mis-en-place and service, but the idea now with the plaque is that they can use it like a solid top in the morning for doing big pan work and then come service time they can use the direct cooking services. It means they can cut down a lot of pan traffic during the service period.”
As well as installing the Athanor unit, CCE was contracted to carry out some additional modification work in the kitchen. This primarily involved fitting variable temperature-controlled Adande refrigeration units into existing workstations that straddle the new suite.
“The previous suite had refrigeration built into it, but that refrigeration had been constantly failing, so the client was sick to death of paying money for it and it not working,” says Costelloe. “As the new kit that came up didn’t have any refrigeration in it, we cut away the fabrication on the veg and sauce sections and fitted Adande refrigeration into it.”
It might not have been the full-scale kitchen renovation that CCE is used to dealing with, but the twin challenges of site access and time constraints meant it was a job that certainly ranked high on the company’s satisfaction scale.