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Kitchen & Equipment Awards 2020: operator category shortlists, part 2

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Part 2 of the operator categories shortlist for the Kitchen & Equipment Awards 2020 reveals the finalists for the menu development, best new concept and executive chef of the year honours.

Operator of the Year – Menu Development, sponsored by Unox

This award celebrates operators that have enhanced, improved or grown their menus over the past year, recognising the investment that goes into making this happen. Therefore, the shortlist is:

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Butcombe Brewing Co
Tours of its famous Bristol brewery might be suspended until 2021, but the pub chain’s kitchens have been busy strengthening their reputation for quality, seasonal fare that’s sustainable, traceable and local. Despite the current climate, the company has continued to develop its menu with new and innovative offerings that appeal to all age demographics and offer value for money. The company’s desire to cook with its own beers and pair them with food has become a key feature of its menu. River Fowey steamed mussels in cider and bacon, served with crusty white bread and Netherend Farm butter is just one example of the sort of dishes to grace its latest menus.

Caffe Nero
Installation of the latest high-speed ovens and food merchandisers provided the backbone for the most significant menu revamp in Caffe Nero’s history. Its ‘Nero Deli’ offer features open sandwiches with Italian-sourced ingredients and salad bowls that rotate through the seasons to inject colour to mini pizzas and pork and pancetta sausage rolls. 14 new freshly-prepared product lines that can be served hot or cold, as well as a whole new line of vegetarian, vegan and sweet dishes, were also included in the revamp, which has been supported by a detailed review of equipment, crockery and training to ensure the smooth roll-out across hundreds of stores.

Domino’s Pizza Group
With customer preferences changing, Domino’s pizza chefs have been tucked away in its test kitchen perfecting the recipe to ensure its vegan-friendly range recreates the unique taste of the chain’s famous original dough. The results of those efforts have seen the company roll out its Vegan Magherita and Vegi Supreme pizzas to 1,200 stores after an initial trial involving 46 outlets. During the trial, vegan customers asked the company to create a version of its popular Garlic & Herb dip. That was a challenge its food innovation team duly accepted, perfecting a worthy equivalent that has now been introduced to menus nationwide.

Papa John’s
With more people taking on a plant-based diet than ever before, Papa John’s has focused on adding new items to its menu, including Jackfruit Pepperoni and The Vegan Works pizzas, the latter of which is topped with vegan sausage, portobello mushrooms and green peppers. For a limited period it also launched the Breakfast pizza, which came with a beans base, as well as four completely new fiery pizza options that enhanced its summer menu following the earlier success of its Bee Sting pizza. As a brand, Papa John’s actively encourages customer feedback and this heavily influences the work that its new product development team carry out in the kitchen.

TGI Fridays
The launch of TGI Fridays’ ‘Famous at Fridays’ menu gives a nod to the classic dishes that originally helped the chain makes its name, including the return of pot stickers, cobb salad and loaded potato skins. Core to the simplified and enhanced menu is an investment in quality, fresh ingredients and a focus on provenance. The introduction of beef from Scotch Assured farms and Red Tractor-certified chicken to the menu supports the emphasis on quality and sustainability, while a newly-developed burger made with truffle and black garlic aioli, stilton cheese and crispy bacon proved immediately popular with customers. The simplified menu has also led to reduced food wastage among its kitchen teams.

 

Operator of the Year – Best New Concept, sponsored by XpressChef

This award applauds operators that have rolled out a new venture, an especially difficult endeavour this year. The finalists are:

Greene King
Pub operator Greene King optimised its kitchens with the roll-out of delivery and click and collect takeaway services, initially starting with its Metropolitan Pub Company division in London before expanding into other parts of the country, including the North West, East Anglia and East Midlands. A focus on providing customers with their favourite pub dishes such as beer-battered haddock and chips and Sunday roasts without affecting speed of service was central to the model, with chefs adapting to a new way of working and rising to the challenge of moving from a plated operation into a boxed operation while also contending with new hygiene and safety introduced at the height of lockdown.

Neat Burger
The brand that bills itself as the world’s first plant-based sustainable burger chain has brought something new to the fast-casual market in the UK and emphasised the opportunity that exists within the vegan food space. The brand is committed to championing environmental sustainability and playing its part in positively impacting the environment. Its kitchens have already won an army of fans for cooking up a streamlined plant-based menu that features meat-free patties and hot dogs, while a partnership that taps into Deliveroo’s dark kitchens model has allowed the company to establish a customer base beyond the immediate vicinity of its initial London restaurants.

Pizza Pilgrims
When Pizza Pilgrims launched a ‘frying pan pizza kit’ concept to bring some cheer amidst the gloom of lockdown, it ended up selling more than 60 times the amount it expected in the first two weeks. The company came up with the idea for ‘Pizza in the Post’ as a way to allow customers to produce their own slice of the company’s pizzas at home and pay for staff while restaurants remained temporarily closed. Orders have come from all over the UK – from Cornwall to Inverness – and the concept has even helped to significantly boost its following on social media. The company has maintained the service following the reopening of its restaurant estate.

Slim Chickens
Boparan Restaurant Group has accelerated the roll-out of the Slim Chickens brand in the UK, where it has brought something different to the fast-casual space with its offer of premium fried chicken that is fresh rather than frozen, hand-breaded and cooked to order. Speed of service is at the heart of the operation, which sets itself a time of 6 minutes for completing orders, whether it is dine-in, takeaway or delivery. As a result, the brand invested heavily in minimising hold-ups at all pinch points of the operation. Kitchens are organised into specific work stations and work has been carried out to ensure the optimum number of fryers.

Sodexo
The Good Eating Company (GEC), a subsidiary of Sodexo, has utilised its central production unit in the heart of London to create a new food concept aimed at providing a workplace food delivery solution fit for the current climate. ‘Good Eating Delivered’ has been created for urban markets and is designed to support businesses as they look to re-engage with their employees and clients in a safe and sustainable way. Menus for the concept have been designed by GEC chefs and build on the company’s ethos of providing high quality workplace food that is freshly prepared and well-executed. The venture is powered by Sodexo’s digital retail app to provide a seamless experience for ordering and payment.

 

Executive Chef of the Year

This accolade honours the group executive chef or food director at professional foodservice businesses that are excelling in their posts. The shortlist is:

Mark Heard, King Edward VII Hospital
Mark Heard runs an immaculate kitchen at London’s King Edward V11 Hospital, overseeing a menu of carefully-planned and freshly-cooked restaurant-standard food. 2020 has thrown up unprecedented challenges for healthcare catering and Mark has ensured that new protocols have been added to the already robust ones it followed. Although it deals in private care, the hospital opened its doors to NHS patients as well this year, requiring Mark to adapt its menu offer and support both kitchen and clinical staff. Praised by colleagues for his man-management skills and professional and flexible manner, Mark has created a team ethic among its brigade that has served it well during the most demanding of times.

Naved Nasir, Dishoom
Dishoom was on the cusp of opening its first Birmingham restaurant just as lockdown struck, but that setback didn’t deter Naved Nasir and his team from making the best out of a difficult situation. Naved’s lovingly curated menu of Bombay comfort food has earned the brand a legion of fans so the creation of a first ever ‘at-home’ cooking kit was always going to be a winner. Additionally, Navid has developed a brand new delivery menu for the business to support its move into off-site delivery kitchens, providing an added revenue stream for the business without burdening existing restaurant kitchens. Dishoom Birmingham is now open with a revamped Covent Garden site set to follow.

Paul Fletcher, Whitbread
As senior quality and innovation chef, Paul Fletcher is all about the detail from farm to fork, but he is also firmly plugged into the ways in which different platforms can be utilised to achieve menu consistency across hundreds of sites and multiple brands. Paul has had a key role to play in the back-of-house design of some of Whitbread’s most exciting new concepts, including Bar + Block, the contemporary steakhouse chain that is gaining scale. This year he has continued to explore how new equipment can make operations more effective and user-friendly for chefs, with fryers, pizza ovens and refrigeration on the agenda. Additionally, the streamlining of core menus has been a vital exercise during the changing climate.

Ross Pike, Oakman Inns & Restaurants
Oakman Inns has been a flag-bearer for the safe reopening of hospitality venues, with the company widely heralded as the first pub group to demonstrate how a socially-distanced restaurant and kitchen might operate. Ross Pike has had an instrumental role to play in the back-of-house set-up, directly overseeing numerous risk assessments, appliance testing and maintenance to ensure its kitchens were equipped to support the recovery. Changes to system processes were smoothly conveyed to Oakman’s brigade, while the consolidation of its menu was meticulously planned to account for operational adjustments in the kitchen. The attention to detail has clearly paid dividends: like-for-like food sales during Oakman’s latest quarter were up 45%.

Seamus O’Donnell, The Alchemist
Working on the principles of ‘honesty, trust and reliability’, Seamus O’Donnell is a force of nature for The Alchemist brand. His energy and presence is felt in every aspect of the business and colleagues credit him with coining the phrase: ‘Why do we have problems? So we can fix them.’ Over the past year Seamus has created a designated development kitchen in the basement of its Liverpool site to stay at the forefront of trends. He is an advocate of green kitchens, investing in self-regulating extraction systems and energy efficient cooking and refrigeration platforms. He has led a major food waste project while energy usage is now tracked at every site and figures reported weekly on BOH digital screens.

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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