Any Way You Slice It

Any Way You Slice It

Mixers are essential for the efficient production of many items, from whipped cream or meringue to mixing dough.

A medium capacity food processor can dice nearly 100 pounds of potatoes or onions in a matter of minutes.

Food needs to be mixed, blended, chopped, sliced or diced in just about any foodservice operation. Any way you slice it, such equipment is bound to be a key labor saver over and over again.

While preparation equipment such as food processors, mixers, and blenders have not quite replaced a cook's knives, kitchen staffs typically depend greatly on automated food preparation equipment for quality, quantity and consistency. Here are points to consider when buying food processors, blenders and mixers.

Food Processors. Many manufacturers offer very basic models that are still highly functional. A simple, versatile, and inexpensive slicer/dicer may be all you'll need. You may even opt for a machine with a variety of interchangeable multisized slicing and dicing plates that operates with a hand crank. This unit clamps onto a countertop and is easily moveable. Such machines are built well and cost only several hundred dollars.

Most food processors, just like home models, have a wide variety of cutting plates that can be used for slicing, dicing, shredding and making julienne cuts. Manufacturers typically make a dozen or more plates with various sized cutting disks. Using the food processor for preparing vegetables can be a true labor saver with medium-capacity units able to dice nearly 100 pounds of potatoes or onions in a matter of minutes or slice the same amount of food in only a few minutes more time.

Where a consistent cut is important, a continuous feed machine is typically used. The continuous feed ejects the cut product through a chute, which can be positioned above a pan or container. The food is cut only once and a uniform consistent product results. Some machines also have a cutter-bowl attachment, which allows the food processor to work like a blender or vertical cutter/mixer.

Food processed in a bowl can be chopped, blended or even pureed. The bowl attachment can be used to mix ingredients or even to knead dough. The cut for vegetables, of course, will be less consistent, but can be a very fine chop. Most bowltype food processors, especially the larger models, are quite fast. For the most flexibility in various types of food processing, choose a processor with both a bowl and continuous feed attachment and a variety of processing plates.

Mixers. The general-purpose mixer is a standard equipment item in most all full-service kitchens. Whether an operation requires a small 5-quart mixer or a unit as large as 60 quarts or even up to 140 quarts, the unit is sure to come in handy for many tasks. A mixer can be used for a variety of tasks from whipped cream or meringue to mixing dough and many jobs in between. Various-sized mixers are often required for a variety of tasks, but purchasing different sized mixers can be expensive. Even a small 5-quart mixer will set you back about $2,000, while a 20-quart model is about $5,000.

If your operation requires a lot of heavy dough mixing, like that of a bakery or pizza shop, pay special attention to the motor sizing. Many standard motors, while sufficient for mixing batter or salad dressing, will not meet the demand of mixing large batches of dough. Some manufacturers have specially equipped dough mixing models or extra heavy-duty motors for these products.

Some manufacturers make a mixer specially designed for dough called a spiral mixer. The mixing action in the spiral mixer is somewhat different than a general-purpose unit and can more effectively knead dough without building up excess friction and overheating the product. There are also horizontal mixers usually used in large food plants or commissaries that mix delicate foods like vegetable or potato salads.

Some mixers come with food processors, which may be ideal for smaller operations. A combo unit is a traditional mixer with a hub that can accept a continuousfeed processor. For some manufacturers the attachment hub is standard, for others it's an option. The attachment can be a costeffective solution for operations using minimal mixing or food processing.

The foodservice manufacturing industry has been very good about building safety features into equipment. All mixers on the American market now have bowl guards preventing hands from getting caught in mixing paddles. All food processors have shutoff devices that will not allow the equipment to run if plates or blades are not together properly. Still, even with these safety features, operators must be careful. This is powerful equipment with sharp blades and spinning parts. Observe proper operating and cleaning techniques and, most of all, train your staff well on how to operate the equipment they will use.

Blenders. Blenders come in a variety of sizes, styles and capabilities to serve different needs. Basic machines are the type that has been around for years and look just like the machine you may have at home. The difference between a home model and a commercial machine, besides the price, is the motor. The commercial model will last longer under much heavier use. A basic machine has a 32- to 44-ounce capacity and is good for mixing drinks in relatively small quantities. Most units are 1/3 horsepower and most have a two-speed motor. Costs are typically in the $200-$300 range, so it's not an expensive piece of equipment.

A model that is the next level up will offer more control of blender speed and production capacity. Such machines are made to deliver fast, consistent mixing and are good for smoothies. These models generally have one-to two-horsepower motors and are able to blend ice, ice cream and fruit to an extremely fine consistency without chunks or separation of ingredients. The added power comes with a higher price tag, about $400-700, but can still be quite a bargain. These midlevel machines will cover most users' needs.

The most powerful machines at the top of the line are the three-and five-horsepower monsters costing $600 to $900. These units are made for high production and will produce a perfectly blended smooth drink every time in a matter of seconds; they are usually much faster than the less powerful models. Some of them have computerized controls that sense the strain on the motor and adjust blender speed accordingly.

How about a hand-held mixer that can also do food processing? There is such an item, and it's one of the hottest for today's kitchen. The power mixer or stick mixer is a hand-held unit that can mix or blend right in a kettle or pot or even a plastic tub. It does a great job mixing batters or pates. It can also perform the jobs of a blender like smoothing soups or sauces or making puree from fruits or vegetables. The hand mixer is versatile and portable. This is one piece of equipment you can take to the product as opposed to taking the product to the equipment. Just an electrical outlet is needed nearby and you are in business.

The mixer, blender and food processor are basic pieces of equipment and a tremendous asset in even the smallest commercial kitchen. Your investment in food processing equipment does not need to be large, but make sure you select the right item for your operation.

Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 301-926-8181.