Seasoned industry professionals will recall a time when cooking suites had a pretty standard – dare we say it, ordinary – look about them. But that’s certainly not the case these days, with an array of colours, finishes and shapes adorning commercial kitchens up and down the land.
If there is one area of the kitchen that dealers can assure their customers they can design exactly to their spec, it’s the cooking suite. Consequently, flexibility is now a core pillar of the product development process for manufacturers.
Toby Magness, sales director at Ambach, says it has tailored its suites to meet a diverse range of design ideas and can accommodate a variety of shapes, angles and curves.
“They can be further customised with a choice of materials, finish, colour, control knobs, pot-racks and flue-covers, so the designers and operators can specify and achieve exactly what they want,” he explains.
“The cooking components themselves are available in a variety of widths and depths, both in gas and electric, and can be configured like Lego bricks with separate upper and lower modules. This results in great flexibility in terms of the layout and maximises the useable space and operational efficiency in the kitchen for all wall suites, islands, double service and show-kitchens.”
French manufacturer Charvet’s cooking suites come in all shapes. UK sales director, Ian Clow, says limitations usually have more to do with things like support pillars and cramped spaces, but the flexibility afforded by its traditional chassis design means the distributor can get round these problems in a practical and hygienic way that looks great to the customer and which won’t cause problems in the future.
“The key to getting the right mix of cooking elements on top of the range is to have a complete choice of full and half-size gas, electric and induction modules – and Charvet has the lot,” he says. “This allows the range to be tailored to the menu but may also allow space to insert additional elements to suit the chef.”
More practical ideas from the manufacturer – which also has its own enamel factory which allows customers to select the exact colour panels they want – include ‘bespoke’ plating shelves which come into use as demand dictates, and extra wide plating areas at the front, one of the differences between Charvet 800 and 900 series ranges.
Says Clow: “The key to our ‘flexibility’ is having a fully welded chassis which provides a heavy duty frame supporting the cooking and other elements such as refrigeration. This allows ranges to be taken apart easily for install and updated later on in life, with new elements such as induction hobs, pasta boilers or planchas added to replace solid tops, for example.”
Charvet has also worked with catering equipment distributors on creating template designs for its cooking suites, putting together a package of options which can be scaled up or down to suit nursing home customers, for example.
A key requirement here is safety and cleanability because care home kitchens are used 24/7 by a variety of staff including cooks and chefs preparing full meals, and care assistants serving hot snacks.
“The benefit for the distributor of having a template to work with is speed. Within hours of an enquiry, they can be presenting design ideas and images to the client,” notes Clow.
Flexibility in terms of equipment, design and installation is at the heart of MKN’s ethos, too. Wayne Bennett, head of sales for the UK & Ireland, says: “With our MKN Individual product line we offer premium customised cooking suites that implement all individual ideas and requirements from our customers. The KüchenMeister and MasterLine offer so many options – more than 200 premium appliances, a one-piece hygienic worktop, welded functional appliances, individual colour options, integration of logos and many other features. MKN’s tailormade equipment ensures more quality time for chefs at work. All MKN cooking suites can be 100% bespoke and within reason, anything is possible as long as it fits for purpose.”
In addition, the company has launched an MKN Digital kitchen configurator. It means the MKN sales team can support partners very fast with a visual, budgetary price and DXF drawing. The tool helps them to create a block together with the customer in real time.
Most manufacturers are able to incorporate third party equipment within cooking suite designs, as is the case with MKN. “It is possible but we like to ensure that we are part of the selection process to check that the product meets our high quality criteria. We often build in refrigeration, heated cook and hold drawers, wok burners or steamer units,” says Bennett.
Tony Aris, managing director of Universal Foodservice Equipment, which brings in the Baron line of equipment, is seeing a shift in what chefs want from their cooking suites and says the latest technologies can be easily accommodated.
“Induction is common now and more chefs want the multipan induction tops so they can use more than one pan at a time, giving more capacity and flexibility,” he says. “With the growth in computer control, the range of multifunction cooking pans can also be included. Likewise, more computerised units such as fryers with exact temperature control, auto-basket lift and built-in automatic filtration are popular and there is now more technological control of power ensuring the most efficient use of energy. Baron’s computerised manufacturing facility can produce almost any size, shape and style with different tops, bases, structures and form. As yet, no project has been too large or difficult anywhere in Europe and further afield.”
We’ve heard from manufacturers with plants in Italy, France and Germany so far. Blue Seal’s suites are manufactured all the way over in New Zealand. It even has an enameling plant at the facility so it can look after all stages of manufacture from coils of steel to the finished product.
Its popular Waldorf cooking suites are based around a modular concept using standard sized units that can be positioned wherever the chef would like them. There are no limitations to how big a client can go, other than the space available in the kitchen.
“Each unit within the suite can have either legs fitted for an open appearance, open-fronted cabinets, or solid panel doors,” explains area sales manager Donald Harvey. “The units are supplied with adjustable feet as standard, but can but supplied with plinth interface kits to position on a concrete plinth, castors for maximum flexibility, or we can supply stainless steel kick plates to hide the feet and complete the suited effect. Whilst we don’t supply service ducting or spines, we do supply the end caps at any specified width to complete an island.”
Harvey says the added benefit of using a modular concept is that a unit can be changed at any time, so for example if a new chef arrives and wants everything moved around to put his own mark on the kitchen. If there is a menu change and you need to swap a fryer for a griddle for example – no problem. Pull the fryer out, slot the griddle in.”
Rosinox has a heritage stretching back more than 180 years and is renowned for the outstanding level of craftsmanship behind its products. The brand is represented by Jestic in the UK, and national account manager specification and projects, Richard Norman, says it works closely with customers and consultants specifying its one-piece tops to precisely match their requirements in terms of functionality, size and shape.
Flexibility and versatility also extend to the Rosinox modular ranges, which are designed to fit together to form a suite, and can feature a host of interchangeable elements including fryers, bain-maries, hobs, induction units and planchas.
“Rosinox also produces a range of peripheral products including bratt pans, stock pots and salamanders which are regularly incorporated into the suites,” says Norman. “Developing a wealth of experience from cultures around the world, Rosinox has also developed a number of unique specialist appliances, including a dedicated tempura fryer and a multifunctional tilting bratt pan for maximum productivity and versatility.”
Whether it’s modular or made to measure, Hobart has a solution that can work for most restrictions and in most spaces. Tim Bender, sales director at Hobart Equipment Division UK, says it can adapt to match the environment.
“We offer a number of modular solutions, such as our brand new Ecomax cooking range and Bonnet suites that can be installed in composite parts. When it comes to our larger Bonnet Maestro suites, they are assembled in our factory in France but cut for the restrictions of each site. We simply need to inform the factory prior as they will add cuts depending on the specific site layout.
“This means the suite can be more or less completely dismantled, to ensure they can get through tight doorways. They are then welded and polished on site, ready to go.”
Of course, the flexibility of a suite is one thing – actually getting it to site is another. Dealers will be well aware of the logistical considerations that need to be taken into account. Grande Cuisine, which supplies Athanor suites to the UK, prefers to manufacture every suite in one solid piece wherever possible for simplicity, ease of cleaning and overall appearance, as well as general structural rigidity.
Director Steve Hobbs notes that many kitchens, particularly those in London, are either sited in the basement of an old building – often with restricted access – or ‘up in the gods’ where the only means of access is via a lift, but he says this is never a problem. “In these situations, we work with the project management team to ascertain the access requirements and, where necessary, we construct the suite in sections so that it can be easily maneuvered into position on site ready to be joined and welded to form a one-piece suite.
“The suite would, of course, have been fully assembled and tested at the Athanor factory before being carefully split and stripped down prior to delivery and installation on site.”
Provided all aspects of transport, accessibility, floor levels and services requirements are part of the design and supply package, the best approach to take can always be worked out with the project manager, insist manufacturers.
Universal FSE’s Tony Aris says that getting large suites into difficult places is all part of the job. “A City bank had to have the unit made in sections due to limited lift sizes and the fact that the kitchen was on the sixth floor. We delivered and installed the unit and then invisibly welded the sections on site using their specialist contractors.
“On the other hand, we had to deliver a bespoke unit to a famous golf club restaurant on the first floor with no goods lift, which could take the weight of the unit. With the distributor contracts team, a special crane was employed and windows left out so that the unit could be winched in, positioned, connected and commissioned ready for training.”
In the cooking suite game, it appears there are no barriers for clients when it comes to choosing what they want and where they want to put it.