A combi oven in itself is designed to centralise many cooking functions in one appliance, performing a variety of tasks within a wide temperature range. But can this multifunctional workhorse be integrated with other foodservice kit at an early stage of the product development process, to ensure smooth operation across a whole kitchen?
According to Jestic Foodservice Solutions’ Lee Cogger, who is the brand manager for both MKN and Venix combi ovens: “Combi ovens have become the backbone of commercial kitchens, utilised for the majority of bulk cooking tasks before either serving immediately or being transferred for hot holding ahead of service or refrigeration as part of a cook-chill system etc, so it is more the case that other categories of catering equipment are adapting to work with combis. For example, refrigeration manufacturers have designed cabinets that can accommodate roll-in racks, so foods can be cooked in a combi and then rolled in to a blast chiller to streamline workflow processes.”
For example, the MKN FlexiCombi range incorporates the FlexiRack system which utilises the whole cooking chamber to offer 50% more capacity than standard gastronorm trays. Until MKN partnered with blast chiller manufacturer Irinox, the German manufacturer did not have a solution for cook-chill operations which maximised the output offered in its FlexiCombis. Cogger revealed: “Irinox MultiFresh blast chillers can accommodate the large MKN FlexiRacks, as well as GN 1/1, so operators can maximise their output and seamlessly move trays from the combi to the blast chiller to save time and energy and improve efficiency. For even larger capacities, 20-rack trays can also be wheeled from a combi straight in to the Irinox blast chiller.”
Another major combi brand working with Irinox and other manufacturers of blast chillers and chilled storage cabinets, including Gram and Williams, is Rational. UK technical sales director Graham Kille commented: “Together we have provided solutions for banqueting and blast chilling operations.
“Some of our trolleys are compatible with roll-in blast chillers and refrigeration cabinets, to make it easy to roll product direct from the iCombi Pro into the blast chiller, for example in cook chill systems.”
In terms of functionality with other cooking appliances, Kille detailed: “There are occasions where the combi steamer will be working alongside other pieces of equipment. Examples include QSR, where accelerated cooking may be required, as well as specific operations such as smokehouses and authentic cuisine restaurants, where the combi steamer is augmented by other specialist catering equipment, which is used to produce the desired results.
“However, Rational iCombi combi steamers are so flexible that they can achieve 95% of all thermal cooking tasks in a professional kitchen – which means that, in an increasing number of cases, kitchens are replacing their conventional appliances with a single combi steamer, so the issue of compatibility doesn’t arise.”
He also emphasised: “Using our ConnectedCooking platform, Rational iCombi Pros can communicate between themselves. They can also be part of a wider network of connected equipment, using specialist software.”
Another manufacturer gearing its combis up for smart kitchen functionality is Welbilt. UK and Ireland sales director Steve Hemsil detailed: “Welbilt’s KitchenConnect is a digital solution for a new generation of connected kitchens. It provides real-time insights, allowing for better equipment performance, reducing costs and food waste, improving work flow and food quality, and limiting downtime. With MenuConnect, operators can set menus for multiple pieces of equipment and upload with KitchenConnect.
“KitchenConnect also allows operators to connect equipment from companies other than Welbilt, additionally, Welbilt equipment can be connected through other already existing or preferred platforms.”
Welbilt’s Convotherm combi oven brand offers a full range of combi steamer ovens, designed for reduced energy and water consumption, lower operating costs, and fast intuitive operation. Hemsil added: “Suitable for the larger or smaller kitchen, there is a Convotherm model that will optimise any kitchen operation. Our Convotherm range is complementary to other cooking equipment and makes the ideal partner to the Merrychef high speed oven. Use the Convotherm for bulk cooking and the Merrychef eikon range for smaller, more individual serves throughout the day.”
Elsewhere, Unox has been focusing on helping to manage power across different appliances and driving energy cost saving, with new UK MD Scott Duncan revealing: “Unox products are compatible with Sicotronic, an intelligent energy optimisation system, which investigates and measures electrical consumption to better manage the power load in the kitchen.”
Sicotronic from Ki-Tech Solutions works by ensuring targeted, short-term redistribution of the individual energy requirements of each piece of equipment without interrupting the operating cycle of that appliance. Duncan detailed: “If the system recognises that the combi oven needs peak power for breakfast, it will redistribute the energy demands accordingly. This could mean turning off another appliance which is not in use but has been left on, for example.”
Combi ovens like those in the Unox Cheftop MindMaps range offer a wide range of cooking functions, but Duncan underlined: “The greatest productivity savings come when you can seamlessly stack combi ovens with other appliances. This can save time in the kitchen by improving the cooking flow and reduce footprint too, which many distributors will be aware is a significant issue in commercial kitchens. One of the best examples is to pair a Unox combi oven with Evereo, a groundbreaking innovation which has redefined hot holding.”
Over at Falcon Foodservice Equipment, the Lainox combi ovens it supplies to the UK market feature standard 1/1 GN racks, so are said to be compatible with most other appliances. Furthermore, the new Williams blast chiller, the WTBC70, is compatible with the trolleys from the floor-standing 20 and 40 shelf Lainox models.
Falcon product development chef Shaune Hall said: “We see Lainox combi ovens as an absolute complement to our Falcon range of horizontal cooking equipment. Combis are incredibly versatile but they can’t replace every other piece of equipment. You still need boiling tops, fryers, chargrills and other appliances to create the unique textures and flavours that can’t be recreated in a combi.
“Combination ovens are a very modern, efficient and flexible piece of equipment that are rightly incredibly popular but it is rare to see a kitchen with only combis. They complement rather than compete, and are a vital part of most kitchen cooklines.”
Retigo, too, pointed to the complementary nature of its combis with other products it offers. The firm has partnered with Swiss manufacturer on the Hold-o-mat range, which is available through Retigo itself.
Retigo’s UK director Aneta Halamickova explained: “The Vision Hold-o-mat is an extensive range of versatile holding cabinets that can sit within a stacking unit, ideal for kitchens with a restricted footprint.
“All Retigo ovens have been developed to be compatible with other categories of catering equipment, to such an extent that we have launched our own Chef Concept Range. We can offer practically all of the product solutions most commercial kitchens will require, including our own Vision Ventilation canopies.
“The Vision Blast Chiller/Freezer is Retigo’s solution for an appliance that is often an essential part of any commercial kitchen. Providing three models, Combi Chill, Comfort and Practic, Retigo has a solution for any kitchen environment or operation.”
She added: “We have had a close customer-supplier cooperation with another manufacturer for many years. We work together on many projects, we develop new features together and support each other at promotion and sales. A powerful relationship helps us both to produce great results.”
For Hobart, UK Equipment Division sales director Tim Bender believes: “A highly innovative equipment pairing that would enhance the workflows of many kitchens is the Bonnet Combi Tower. For the complete accelerated cooking package, Hobart can twin its Bonnet High Speed Steamer together with any Bonnet combi oven to create the perfect cooking station with minimum footprint.
“Cooking in a high-speed steamer means less wastage as well as minimum loss of flavour, nutrients and vitamins – ideal for catering in healthcare. The Combi Tower provides up to an 80% reduction in cooking time, a 25% improvement in quality and 10% less shrinkage on meats.”
On the question of whether the manufacturer sees combi ovens as competing with or complementing other types of cooking equipment, Bender weighed up: “It really depends on the size of kitchen and volume requirement, but combi ovens are definitely becoming an increasingly important part of the catering mix. Traditionally, a kitchen would include upwards of 10 pieces of kit but with the increase of multifunctional equipment, we’re seeing cooklines which may now only have five or six pieces – a reduction of 40%-50%.
“In larger, high volume kitchens, combis are an important and complementary addition to a full cooking suite. An innovative solution like our Bonnet Minijet combi could also be practical to have front of house behind a screen and used to finish dishes off prior to service.”
Other brands are targeting a more entry level market. Pentland Wholesale’s operations director Dean Simpson noted: “The specification of the Blizzard range of combi ovens have been developed with simplicity in mind. Many other combi ovens on the market utilise very high-end technology, allowing interfaces with other equipment and wifi connectivity, but the Blizzard range is the exact opposite with basic mechanical controls. This decision was based on developing a product that was very easy to use for non-technical minded users who only require basic functions with a price to match that does not compromise on build quality.
“The Blizzard combi oven is a standalone product specifically designed to be easy to use and not to compete with full connectivity high end touch screen technology. The smaller RDA105E is a bench top version that sits perfectly on the Blizzard BCF20HC blast chiller, giving an operator full functionality of cooking and blast chilling on an extremely small footprint.”
He concluded: “The Blizzard range of ovens are manufactured in Italy and benefit from all the build quality and know-how of an established factory. The end product was a result of consultation between both businesses and a recognition that not all users of combi ovens need a vast array of options and functions but the basic four options of convection only, full steam with variable temperature, combination with full steam and combination with variable steam are adequate.”