Copy and photos courtesy of Catering Insight
It was a desire to develop a true front cooking experience for its customers that led independent contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell to revamp its facilities at the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) headquarters at Millbank, London.
Calling on Ruislip-based catering equipment installers WilcoxBurchmore for assistance, there was already an open kitchen situation where customers could have stir-fries cooked to order, but it was by no means the ideal set-up.
Although orders could be placed directly with the chef at an open counter, the actual stir-frying took place at a gas-powered cooking line along the back wall, denying the customer the chance to fully engage in the preparation of their dish.
Armed with a vision of a cooking station that would strike a balance between improving service levels and increasing energy efficiency, WilcoxBurchmore set about creating a tailor-made lunchtime dining solution within the existing footprint.
Cathy Wilcox, director of the company, worked closely with the caterers to formulate and implement a bespoke design that best answered the needs of the catering staff and the demands of the customers, while at the same time slashing energy use. She also had to bear in mind that with about 1,000 people on site, the nine-strong catering team is tasked with feeding between 500 and 600 customers in the two-hour lunch break on a daily basis.
With WilcoxBurchmore identifying induction as the way forward, the section was equipped with a Varithek front-of-house induction cooking system from BGL Rieber, built into an attractive granite-topped servery.
The self-ventilating unit requires no canopy and features interchangeable slot-in modules for wok cooking, pan work and direct cooking. “The Varithek is a really nice piece of kit as it has different cooking mediums — it has got induction and a griddle,” says Wilcox. “They were looking for design innovation in terms of a solution to the queues they had, but also in providing a different meal experience.”
VIEW FROM THE OPERATOR
As the body that regulates electricity and gas markets in Great Britain, Ofgem understandably has to take a rather firm stance on internal power consumption. So when it came to refurbishing its staff food facility, the immediate priority was to assess how it could provide a service in the most sustainable way.
Jim Beaver, contracts manager for Ofgem, says energy efficiency was the most important factor when selecting new catering equipment. “We have government targets for the overall reductions in energy use we have to achieve,” he says. “The catering operation runs for two hours solid every day all week; that adds up to a lot of hours over the course of a year and makes a significant impact on energy use. Any kit that comes into the building has to be as energy efficient as it can be.”
Additionally, while the kit needs to consume the least amount of power practically possible, it also has to stand up to the rigours of high daily usage during peak dining periods. “One of our key performance indicators is the queuing time for the customer from entering to leaving with their food. It must be no longer than four minutes,” he reveals. “It is now a much quicker turnaround and besides halving the time of serving customers, the interaction between them and the chef is now there.”