Combi power: Focus on combi ovens

14/12/2017 - 10:54
Keeping up with the high street is so much easier with a modern combi steam oven, plus you get speed, power and a great finish guaranteed, writes Kathy Bowry.

The combi oven’s in-built advantage over traditional cooking appliances is that it has an integral steam boiler enabling it to use convection and steam individually, or a combination of the two, to cook a wide range of foods quickly, efficiently and consistently. Modern combis can even cook steak as well – if not better – than a griddle, and also replicate frying with barely any oil, enabling operators to serve up low-fat chips and other traditionally fried dishes.

Plus, their small footprint, compared with the room taken up by a cluster of standalone pieces of kitchen equipment they replace, means more floor space can be devoted to the dining area and countering. And more counter space means more opportunities to shift more product; if you can do that, you can pay off the investment quicker too. It’s simple economics.

Martin Porter, managing director at distributor Rexmartins, believes versatility is key when choosing a combi oven.

“Caterers should look for ovens capable of cooking the greatest variety of foods,” he says.

“Best For ovens cook everything from eggs, fish and steak to aubergines and desserts. The big advantage here is that chefs can simultaneously cook different food types on different trays, with no cross-contamination, which is invaluable when catering for vegetarians in addition to meat eaters.”

Porter adds: “Bake Off and Best For combi ovens have a touch screen control panel, which reacts to the heat of your hand, akin to a smartphone, rather than the more traditional pressure sensors, which can wear out over time.

“There’s the added benefit of a USB port in the front of the panel too, where chefs can upload and save recipes, a feature often used by less experienced chefs, who can benefit from cooking food at the touch of a button, still ensuring quality and consistent results.”

Porter believes simplicity is everything, explaining: “Every year the Bake Off and Best For ranges feature upgrades which simplify the operability.

“While the new features are ideal for some chefs, others may prefer to utilise the ‘classic’ cooking option, which does away with the fancy controls to allow manual cooking. The best combi ovens enable a variety of cooking methods.”

David Grundy, government and key accounts manager at Hobart Cooking Solutions, tells Cost Sector Catering that combi ovens are invaluable in this day and age and are a huge help in busy kitchens, especially with the advance in technologies.

“We offer a multitude of combi oven solutions for every kind of kitchen and type of operation – from entry level, which can be upgraded as an establishment grows, to next-generation combis, featuring industry-leading advancements designed to make life that much easier for cost sector caterers,” he says.

According to Grundy, the most compact member of Hobart Cooking Solutions’ combi family, the Bonnet Minijet, delivers real space efficiencies, measuring 40cm less than a standard machine.

“It offers the same build quality and cooking prowess of a standard-sized oven including, importantly, taking a 1/1 gastronorm tray,” he says. “It also boasts one of the fastest automatic cleaning cycles on the market at just 17 minutes, leaving more cooking time in the kitchen.”

Grundy says that one customer seeing the benefits a Minijet can bring is Matthew White, The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) chair and director of catering at Reading University.

“The Bonnet Minijet is a great piece of equipment, which we use front-of-house,” says White. “It’s perfect for the ever-expanding grab-and-go market.

“Not only does it look smart but it delivers as well. It might be small, but unlike other compact combi ovens it doesn’t compromise on features or cooking performance. It does everything that a standard combi does. We couldn’t be without it now.”

Meanwhile, a Hobart Bonnet Combi Tower – the company can package the Bonnet High Speed Steamer with any Bonnet combi oven to create a Combi Tower, says Grundy – is being put to good use at a Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust.

Philip Shelley, facilities manager at the trust and immediate past chair of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), has used a Combi Tower at the Musgrove Park Hospital for the past few years.

He says it has helped to alleviate pressures in the kitchen and is an ideal piece of kit for any kitchen that struggles for space.

“The Bonnet Combi Tower is a great concept which sees both machines working independently of one another and offering contract caterers the appealing combination of flexibility and space in one unique unit,” he says.

“The High Speed Steamer element, in particular, is a favourite with the kitchen team,” he explains. “It offers such a quick cook turnaround and retains crucial vitamins and minerals in food, which also makes presentation easy because of the incredible boost in colour.

“Both pieces of equipment packaged up in one unit is a great solution in this day and age, especially for hospital kitchens which are busy throughout the day.

“As I said, it’s a favourite for the team and integral in the smooth running of our kitchen.”

Falcon, meanwhile, distributes the full range of Lainox combi ovens, encompassing the standard 1/1 and 2/1 GN models plus compact versions, which, despite being only 510mm wide, have almost all of the same features and benefits as the standard combi models.

Top-of-the-range Naboo models feature a 10-inch HD colour tablet-style touch screen, unlimited programme storage, wi-fi connectivity, and include useful cooking modes and functions, such as multi-level, just-in-time and smoke grill.

The company says its manually controlled Sapiens models are aimed at those operators who prefer a more hands-on approach.

The smallest Lainox combi oven Falcon supplies is the compact 6 x 2/3 GN COE 023, which is available with either touch screen or manual controls.

Most of the Lainox compact models can be supplied as single-phase units and all the combis in the range can be fitted with a condenser hood, which enables them to be sited anywhere.

Phil Smith, commercial manager at combi oven maker Retigo, advises prospective combi buyers: “There are so many varieties and models available on the market, which is why it’s advisable that you do your research before making a decision.

“At Retigo, we offer Blue and Orange versions, 47 different model variations, which include stacking options, a self-clean cycle, and minimal use of plastic.

“Specific to our Blue models, you’ll find that they include our award-winning, multifunctional control panel called Vision Controls, with a programmable and customisable main screen.”

Market leader Rational’s managing director Simon Lohse comments on the company’s latest offering, the new-generation SelfCookingCenter XS combi, which he says is ideal for smaller kitchens short on space, or as an additional unit to help out at busy times.

“Despite its compact footprint, it is capable of holding six 2/3 GN pans. It’s an intelligent commercial cooking appliance that actually interacts with caterers, getting to know the way they work so that, together, the caterer and their combi can always deliver the best possible cooking results.”

The SelfCookingCenter XS combi offers the same functionality and performance as previous models, but on a compact footprint at a mere 555x655x567mm.

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