WITH food playing an increasingly important role in outlets across the on-trade, operators need to ensure they not only have a strong menu and quality produce, but also the right equipment to run a busy commercial kitchen.
And according to suppliers and manufacturers, the microwave remains an absolute ‘must-have’ in any commercial kitchen.
Ray Hall, managing director of RH Hall, which is the sole UK distributor for the Sharp range of professional microwave ovens, said combination microwaves offer “huge versatility for cooking a wider range of products”.
“Today’s microwave ovens are sophisticated, yet easy to use and produce excellent cooking results in a fraction of the time it takes to cook foods conventionally,” said Hall.
“Their versatility is underestimated.
“Many foods and dishes can be cooked very, very well in a microwave oven: cakes, sauces, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, pasta, rice, eggs and jams can all be cooked with great results. Meat and pastry products are often better cooked conventionally then re-heated in a microwave oven, but with the versatile combination microwave ovens available, these types of foods can be cooked using microwave technology and still producing excellent results.”
Simon Frost, chair of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA), agreed, saying that as more operators seek to extend and diversify their food offer, combination microwaves can be the right choice.
“The commercial microwave oven is a valuable, very flexible appliance and you won’t find many kitchens without one,” he said.
“These workhorses are used for a wide variety of everyday tasks – from quickly re-thermalising a meal to defrosting food or heating a sauce.
“We have seen a move towards combi-oven cooking in commercial kitchens. “
“There’s an increasing move towards using them for prime cooking too – commercial microwave ovens give excellent results, for example when preparing sauces or steaming foods such as fish and vegetables.”
Iain Phillips of Panasonic UK echoed Frost’s view on the increasing move towards combination microwaves, commenting that those who fully utilise them can take advantage of the many benefits.
He added that, in his view, it would be “hard to imagine a kitchen without one”.
For operators looking to potentially upgrade or replace cooking kit in their commercial kitchens, firms told SLTN there are several factors to consider and steps to take to ensure the new equipment lasts as long as possible.
Hall said the first thing operators must consider is the purpose of the microwave in their commercial kitchen.
“To choose the right kind of microwave, operators should look at their menu and decide what tasks the microwave should undertake,” he said.
If a microwave is to be used mainly for reheating and defrosting food, then Hall said a “straight commercial microwave will suffice”. However, for those intending to reheat and cook various food products, a combination microwave “is well advised” as it can ensure that food such as pastry, which would be rendered soggy if reheated in an ordinary microwave, will instead be cooked until “crisp, golden brown”.
Hall also stressed that operators with commercial kitchens “shouldn’t be tempted to go down the domestic route” when purchasing a microwave.
“When it comes to power requirements, look for a dual power feed for even, consistent cooking.”
“These units simply aren’t built for the rigours of a professional kitchen,” he said.
“It is very important to choose the correct microwave oven wattage.
“You need to choose an oven with sufficient power but, just as importantly, do not over specify. If too low, you can be frustrated by delays, and if too high, it will be difficult to judge the timing of small portions.
“Whilst it is common for caterers to choose speed (the higher the output the faster reheat times), it is also very important to understand that for some food products too much speed will destroy smaller portions of food or the delicate and sugary types of products.”
Hall also commented on the types of controls different models of microwave feature, emphasising that it is not always wise to opt for basic, manual controls. He argued that, while they are simpler to use straight out of the box, they often “lack the advanced features that have become available in recent years”.
Once the type of microwave required has been decided, Phillips of Panasonic UK advised operators to check the power requirements of the specific model as some of the more powerful combination models need to be hard-wired.
And Frost of the CESA advised operators to ensure that they opt for a model that comes with a warranty.
He said: “A good warranty and, longer-term, a service and maintenance package, will keep the appliance in optimum working order. That’s why it pays to buy from an established name and a trusted supplier.”
This was echoed by Hall, who commented that caterers should look for a product that has spares available from the manufacturer, as well as “genuine service back-up”, which he stressed was “absolutely critical” in a commercial situation.
The importance of looking after kitchen equipment was underlined by all of the catering equipment firms, who said proper care could lengthen the lifetime of a commercial microwave and other kit.
Hall said that if annual servicing is put in place, “there is absolutely no reason your commercial microwave oven shouldn’t last between three to five years and even more”.
Never specify a domestic microwave in a commercial kitchen, they are not up to the job.
Cleaning is therefore paramount, and Hall said that ensuring food spillages are cleaned at all times will “avoid cavity burn ups” and ultimately prolong the effectiveness of the microwave.
Phillips, of Panasonic UK, agreed, advising operators to create a regular cleaning regime and ensure that the microwave is included in a maintenance routine.
“You’ve just invested good money on this piece of kit, make sure you spend just a little time every day cleaning it,” he said. “You should remove the air filters and wash them and if your machine has an easily-removed ceiling take that out and wash it too.”
For those still unsure what type of microwave would work best in their commercial kitchen, Phillips said there are a number of factors operators generally look for when upgrading kit.
“Most operators want a combination of speed, reliability and low power usage, as well as a high quality for the finished dish and low costs over the life of the oven – a cheap oven that breaks down frequently may cost customers and is not cost efficient in the longer term,” he said.