The sheer physical size of the core equipment used in the construction of the Chester Grosvenor’s new state-of-the-art kitchen meant the usual access methods of stairs, lifts and trade entrances were simply not an option for C&C Catering when it began the task of installation.

With several bespoke Charvet cooking suites — which arrived in three-metre-long sections — and a giant Meiko warewashing unit to contend with, C&C and main contractor Andy Thornton Ltd had to demonstrate some serious improvisation from the start.

“There was no other means of access for large equipment other than through the windows in the staff canteen, which meant we had to crane equipment from the loading bay into the building, and even then we had to knock down walls within the building to enable equipment to be turned around corners,” explains Ian Berrow, director at Chester-based C&C.

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“The canteen was only available to us for set times between staff dining periods, so over a space of about seven or eight days we were in and out of that area on 14 or 15 occasions.”

The prestigious Chester Grosvenor, which is almost 150 years old, is situated in the centre of the historic north-west England city, close to the Roman walls and the famous Eastgate Clock.

The Grade II-listed building boasts two main restaurants — the award-winning Michelin-starred ‘Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor’ and ‘La Brasserie’, a relaxed Parisian-style dining venue serving coffees and leisurely meals.

In order to maintain the high reputation of its in-house dining venues, the hotel commissioned FCSI consultant Tim Dunn Design to completely reconfigure the lay-out of the main kitchen and specify the equipment for its first major refit in 23 years.

At the start of 2012 the hotel closed for two weeks and all the existing equipment — apart from some refrigeration systems and standalone appliances purchased within the last couple of years had to be disconnected and removed.

During the refurbishment, the main contactor replaced the floors, underfloor drainage, ceilings and many of the internal walls, and installed new mechanical and electrical services. New ventilation and extraction systems were also fitted in the kitchen.

After that period, the hotel reopened to guests — with room service taken care of by an upstairs banqueting kitchen — and that’s when C&C’s role in the £1.3m project began to gather pace.

Starting in February, the dealer had around four and a half weeks to deliver all the new equipment to the kitchen, fit it, oversee fabrication work, commission and test the kit, and sign the kitchen off to the hotel so that it could go live during the first week of March.

Berrow admits that for a scheme of that size and complexity it was quite a tight schedule. “We would normally expect about six weeks’ clear installation time with other trades out of the area to enable us to do the amount of work that was required given the nature of the equipment, but this simply wasn’t possible to meet the programme required,” he says.

The Chester Grosvenor’s revamped kitchen is primarily built around a bespoke Charvet cooking range specified by executive chef Simon Radley during the initial design stage.

As well as providing the prime cooking function, the Charvet range has allowed Radley and his team to graduate from a gas-orientated environment, which created a lot of additional heat, to a modern set-up with a deliberate focus on induction. The cook range also includes a chrome plancha and a high capacity pasta boiler.

“Charvet is the first and most important part of the kitchen, so getting that element right was important,” explains Berrow. “It was the most involved manufacturer and the biggest equipment physically, so the right planning and preplanning was always going to be top of our list!”

Additionally, the Charvet suites contain bespoke refrigeration units underneath the worktops, eliminating the need for chefs to have to venture to other areas of the kitchen for food items.

The French-built Charvet systems were even built to fit around unique crevices contained in the kitchen walls, while C&C worked with Liverpool-based Fabs4 to meet similar challenges on the general fabrication side. “Where we had 90 degree bends on fabrication, there weren’t 90 degree walls, so there was a lot of onsite welding of the fabrication that had to be done to make it fit the space,” explains Berrow.

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The important thing to note about the new lay-out is that there are effectively two separate kitchens within the same site — one end primarily serves the Brasserie and the other focuses on the Simon Radley Restaurant. While there is ultimately an interaction between the two, they can function independently as and when needed.

Allied to those are service prep areas, with specialist meat and fish zones serving both kitchen areas. Berrow says: “The first stage of preparation and the free prep is done at one end of the kitchen and then it moves along to the Simon Radley pass and the Brasserie pass, where the final cooking is done and the service and plating happens. There is a real function and flow from one end of the kitchen to the other. The equipment is very well laid out, so it does the job it needs to without causing the chefs to bump into each other or cross each other all the time.”

The lay-out devised by Tim Dunn Design has also led to a much brighter and airy environment that makes the kitchen look vast and spacious and increases visibility from one end of the room to the other.

A beverage serving area has even been created in one corner of the site, made possible by a redesign of the warewashing area and the incorporation of new dishwashing kit, which achieves a better through-put rate over a smaller footprint.

Additionally, C&C oversaw the installation of new equipment for the busy bakery area of the kitchen, including baking ovens, a spiral mixing machine, bun divider moulder and prover retarders sourced from specialist manufacturers in Europe via Peterborough-based distributor Beam Baking Systems. It also refurbished a series of existing walk-in cold rooms, fitting new floors, evaporators, compressors and controllers.

The end result is a kitchen that should do the historic hotel’s catering operation justice for many years to come.

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The executive chef’s view

Renowned executive chef Simon Radley has been a fixture at the Chester Grosvenor for more than 20 years, overseeing the Arkle restaurant at the time it gained a Michelin star and helping the hotel to develop a reputation for culinary excellence.

In 2008, the Arkle was renamed ‘Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor’ in recognition of his work.

For Radley, having access to the best equipment is vital for delivering an award-winning menu, so when the decision to refurbish the main kitchen was made Charvet was the brand he turned to first.

“We have got a Charvet in our second floor banqueting kitchen and in four and a half years we have never had a problem with it at all,” he says. “It is low maintenance and easy to use, so hopefully the new kit is going to be as responsive as it was upstairs.”

Radley says he was particularly mindful of the fact that the equipment could be serviced by a local partner and that sourcing spare parts wouldn’t be a problem — something that cannot always be said of companies it has worked with in the past.

“You have always got to be able to see past the warranty period. We are running a 24-hour kitchen and we have only got one range for the Brasserie. If that goes down then we need it up and running the same day. Something with a lead time of three weeks getting shipped over from Canada is not an option for us in our environment.”

Radley reveals his main priority from the very start of the project was to “future proof” the kitchen as extensively as possible and reduce the energy footprint of the site. Close to 30 kitchen staff are employed by the hotel and anything up to 500 meals are served on peak days.

“We wanted to move a lot of stuff off gas so that we weren’t constantly just burning in the air in the quiet periods in the afternoon,” he says. “And in terms of the Brassiere we have tried to go completely panless, apart from garnishes, so we are cooking them on plancha grills and charcoal. The rest is induction, so it is a very cool and pleasant environment for the chefs to work in.”

Radley cites the addition of a Josper indoor grill as a particular highlight of the project, as it has allowed the hotel to refresh its menu in terms of how dishes such as steak are cooked.

The manufacturer’s view

As the lead manufacturer in the Chester Grosvenor fit-out, Charvet was involved in the project from day one, building a trio of cooking ranges to meet the ergonomic and functional criteria outlined by executive chef Simon Radley.

The units were bespoke-built in France and Ian Clow, national sales manager at Charvet, travelled to the factory with consultant Tim Dunn and C&C’s Ian Berrow ahead of delivery to ensure all the specifications were met.

Taking up a whopping 17 square metres of the kitchen and giving the hotel a compelling induction cooking option, the suites run through the centre of the kitchen and dominate the venue. Clow says Charvet was able to provide a high quality and value-for-money equipment offering that delivers on a number of fronts.

“There are two island suites with chrome planchas and induction hobs — 22 individual zones in total,” he explains. “One of the main body suites services the Simon Radley Restaurant and the other services the Brasserie. The multi-zone facilitates sequential cooking and the twin-zone gives chefs comprehensive control of the energy efficient hobs. They are only live when the pan is in contact, so they provide an uncluttered one-piece top which can double up as a prep surface.”

The third suite consists of a six-metre wall unit formed around an existing wall structure. It had to be cut specially to fit around 10 internal and external angles, but provides two further cooking sections and preparation areas for both restaurants.

“We also supplied an energy efficient frying suite, which has a gas recovery and heat exchange system that reclaims the hot exhaust gases to boost oil heat-up and recovery times prior to the gas being externally vented.

Spec sheet

Equipment used in the refurbishment of the Chester Grosvenor kitchen includes:

Charvet: Bespoke prime cooking suites
Fabs4 Ltd: Fabrication work
Josper: Charcoal oven
Meiko: Warewashing
Rational: Combination ovens
Williams: Refrigeration

You can see pictures of The Chester Grosvenor’s kitchen in our exclusive picture gallery here.

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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