The big squeeze on kitchen space

With reports that some small schools struggle to provide free infant meals due to a lack of space or facilities, CESA’s Keith Warren shares some of the latest space-saving equipment to help small kitchens to still deliver a quality food service.

A well‑planned kitchen will bring major benefits to food service operation – it can mean savings in both staff and food, resulting from increased operational efficiencies and pupil satisfaction as quality of food and service improves.

Space is a critical issue. Often schools have limited kitchen space, but it is essential it is capable of producing the volume and quality of food required. Many manufacturers now offer slimline versions of their standard designs, to help maintain capacity in a small kitchen.

Light catering equipment offers schools the opportunity to buy new appliances when they want to extend their menus, without heavy investment. For example, a panini grill or a potato baker can be used to create a whole new range of foods, with the equipment costing just a few hundred pounds or less.

Multifunctional space savers
Multifunction cooking appliances, such as combi steamers and hi tech bratt pans, which can handle several cooking processes, will be a space-saving benefit in any school kitchen. Multifunctional appliances have evolved considerably in recent years, using innovative technology to combine the functions of conventional equipment into single, self‑contained units, helping to simplify complex procedures and the preparation of large quantities of food. While they are becoming essential for caterers working in large schools, smaller versions of these multifunctional appliances are bringing the benefits to compact kitchens in small schools, too.

The combi steamer has become a ‘must have’ in most commercial kitchens. By balancing the amount of dry heat and steam, the combi can duplicate many different cooking processes, so it can be used to pan fry, roast, steam, poach, bake, grill, and smoke. Meanwhile the programmability of the machine means even untrained staff can load up the combi and cook chef’s signature dish to perfection – at the touch of a button.

Combi steamers are also popular because they use less energy than conventional cooking appliances and thus cut kitchen running costs.

Traditional combi steamers were bulky bits of equipment. Manufacturers have responded to the big squeeze on kitchen space with the development of ever-smaller machines that offer all the programmes and functions of their larger siblings, but in a compact footprint.

Amongst the most innovative pieces of multifunctional equipment are the latest, hi‑tech versions of bratt pans. They are capable of a wide selection of cooking functions, including braising, boiling, steaming, poaching, stewing, roasting and both shallow and deep‑fat frying. One of their main advantages is the ability to cover most steps of cooking recipes where ingredients require different cooking methods. Many manufacturers offer additional optional functions to extend the capabilities even further, including pressure cooking.

Environmental considerations are vital. Sustainability should be at the core of every catering equipment buying decision. It’s not just about minimising impact on the environment, it’s also about minimising running costs.

As of July 1st 2016 all professional refrigerated cabinets carry an energy rating label, so buyers can compare the energy efficiency of different models easily. This is a result of the EUP Eco Design Directive and will apply to other categories of catering equipment in the future. The directive has led to manufacturers developing innovative new technologies to minimise energy consumption, so it’s well worth school caterers revisiting what’s available on the market before making a decision.

The old practice of chefs coming in and turning on the stoves first thing is a huge energy-waster. Modern pan-sensitive equipment, including (but not exclusive to) induction, means equipment only turns on when it senses a pan in the heat-zone.

Similarly, modern heat exchange technology is having a huge impact on energy use, for example in warewashing and ventilation. In the latter, the heat from air that is being extracted from the kitchen can be recycled to ‘temper’ or warm-up the incoming air during colder months, reducing the need for extra heating.

Training staff on new equipment and operational procedures is vital. It should be considered at the planning stage of a kitchen redesign. Talk to the manufacturers and suppliers of the equipment – they should be able to arrange training before the kitchen goes live.

For school caterers wanting a complete understanding of the way a kitchen operates, the CFSP (Certified Food Service Professional) qualification offers the answer. Operated by CESA, it covers every area of food production, including food safety, distribution, kitchen design, new technology and sustainability. CFSP courses are run regularly during the year. The programme is accredited by the University of West London as a Level 4 certificate of continuing professional development. For information on the next course visit

The CESA Conference 2016
CESA’s 2016 conference, taking place on the 17th & 18th November at Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel near Solihull, is once again bringing together a strong and diverse range of speakers from across the industry and beyond to discuss some of the most important issues currently affecting foodservice. 2016 sees the return of Evan Davis from Newsnight and Dragon’s Den as conference chair – his economic expertise and probing questions ensure the event will deliver maximum insight into the conference theme, 'Teamwork and Collaboration'.

A strong speaker platform includes Malcolm Harbour MEP and Oliver Bretz of Euclid Law, who will both take part in a high profile session looking at the economic, political and legal implications of Brexit.

The day will be capped by a keynote address from former England rugby captain Matt Dawson, who will be using his experience both on and off the pitch to consider the nature of leadership, teambuilding and performance culture.

“The conference reflects the need of the whole industry to work together in the post-referendum climate,” says Simon Frost, chair of CESA. “The topics under discussion this year affect everyone, and the kind of connections the conference makes happen can create real change.”

Further information