Sometimes the most innocuous of sales leads can very quickly spiral into something quite unexpected.
And that is exactly the case for Court Catering Equipment as a homegrown piece of business culminated in it becoming the installer behind Le Cordon Bleu’s most innovative training institute to date.
A client recommendation led to Court’s managing director, Nick Howe, being asked to make a company presentation to executives from Le Cordon Bleu in which he fielded questions on commercial equipment trends and outlined his vision for how kitchens will look in the future.
A few days later Court found itself invited back to meet the entire Le Cordon Bleu project design team, where the organisation declared its intent to furnish its new London cooking school with state of the art facilities.
Kuni Hasegawa from Tokyo-based K-Net Design flew in to reveal his sketches of the kitchens based upon completed facilities in Japan and other parts of the world, but it soon emerged that putting his creations into practice would present Court with some awkward challenges.
For a start, the slab to slab height of each floor in the new Georgian property that Le Cordon Bleu had purchased in Bloomsbury Square was not as generous as it needed to be, which was to have massive equipment implications.
Andy Fitzwater, director of Court Catering Equipment, explains: “It soon became apparent that a ventilated ceiling was required. Extraction rates were difficult to achieve. Therefore, induction ranges and hobs were being considered. But this was a complete change from the traditional gas equipment that they had in the other 44 schools around the world.”
Additionally, Larry Montack, head of institute at Le Cordon Bleu, made it clear that he wanted to increase each class from eight students to 16, a decision that would have a huge bearing on the way in which cooking and preparation equipment was sited.
After much consultation, it was agreed that 16 induction oven ranges, back to back, was the preferred lay-out, with student prep stations opposite each range. “Having eight induction oven ranges back to back had never been attempted before,” says Fitzwater. “However, we knew that if we could make it work the sustainability and extraction benefits would be immense. This suited the focus for this site as the flagship school for Le Cordon Bleu.”
At this stage of the project, the briefs for some of the areas were still undecided, including the boutique cafe, third floor bakery and food tech kitchen.
As well as having to incorporate input from Le Cordon Bleu directors spread aross the globe, Court was also set the challenge of securing sponsorship from suppliers for catering equipment on the project, a task that eventually led it to strike a deal with Ali Group and a number of its key brands.
Falcon solved the problem that Le Cordon Bleu had faced in the past by offering a reliable induction range with the hob and oven combined, while Mono came up trumps with specialist bakery equipment.
Williams supplied cabinets and counters with CoolSmart controllers — which minimise power consumption by only switching on the system when it is needed — and provided two 10kg and four 40kg blast chillers.
Five cold rooms were installed, too, each purpose-built to store fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, general products and frozen products. Outside of the Ali Group, the site also features Rational combi ovens and KitchenAid food prep equipment.
As if transferring old equipment from the school’s former premises in Marylebone and fitting out nine kitchens over five floors wasn’t enough, Court had to contend with the installation period being reduced from 12 weeks to seven weeks as the overall building project gathered pace.
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A decision was also made to change the use of the third floor experimental kitchen and second floor cuisine kitchens by incorporating Asian cooking equipment on the second floor and a full commercial bakery kitchen on the third. This late change resulted in Court redesigning, respecifying and recosting the two kitchens while the building works continued and the completion date grew nearer.
The design of the student cuisine and polyvalent kitchens proved to be a particularly challenging aspect of the job, as each individual student station had to be of a certain size even though structural supports within the facility allowed for little flexibility.
“The builders — Virtus Contracts — then had to find sensible drainage routes which, in some cases, were located where the student stations were positioned,” says Fitzwater. “One of the drainage meetings took six hours to establish a new route that suited all parties.”
As a result of the testing that Falcon had done at its development area in Scotland, the service distribution spines to the three main cuisine kitchens also had to be modified to ensure maximum ventilation to the induction ranges in rows of eight back to back, which would be critical to ensuring the units operated correctly.
This issue of power proved to be a theme throughout the project, with cold rooms in the basement going in last rather than first because the electrical board needed to remove an electrical head after a dedicated sub-station was installed to serve the site.
In the end, though, the project was finished in time for the school to open ahead of the spring term. And, although the limited timescale and constant redesigns led to plenty of 15-hour days and weekend work for the Court team, Fitzwater insists the facility is now fully equipped to inspire the next generation of leading chefs and culinary professionals.
See pictures of Court’s work at Le Cordon Bleu in our special online gallery here.
Project in numbers
£1.3m Value of all the equipment installed at the site
9 Number of kitchens inside the Le Cordon Bleu building
79 Refrigerated cabinets
51 Induction ranges
21 Induction hobs
8 Salamander grills
8 Countertop fyers
5 Cold rooms
50% Proportion of Le Cordon Bleu students that go onto work at four- or five-star establishments
50 Number of culinary courses offered by Le Cordon Bleu
20,000 Number of students taught annually at Le Cordon Bleu schools around the world