What operator manager hasn’t looked for ways to make the kitchen crew’s job a bit easier and maybe save a little on labor costs along the way?
As far as the food preparation area, one of the first places to look at is how your food is processed. Most operations process at least some food, especially produce. Although there is a big movement in our industry to purchase more pre-processed produce—already washed and cut to order by your supplier—there is still a need to process some product on premises.
Food processing in some way changes the shape, size, or consistency of the food. Chopping, slicing, mixing, grating, and blending are the processes the equipment performs. Much of today’s food processing equipment is versatile and user-friendly. You may also find the latest equipment surprisingly safe considering the hazards of slicing and dicing. Safety features are standard on current equipment models which have inherent dangers, and machine operation is usually simple and straight forward. Look for equipment that is as fool-proof as possible. Many items have various lockout devices preventing the processor from operating if all parts are not securely in place and mounted properly.
There are more than a dozen manufacturers selling food processing equipment to our industry in the U.S. With this number of manufacturers, it is difficult to describe every available item as some are quite specialized and manufactured to prepare a specific product. We will not try to cover the specialized equipment, but will examine several of the major categories of food processing equipment.
The food processor is one of the more versatile equipment items in the kitchen. It has to be. Because of the multitude of applications for food processing equipment, a wide range of processing equipment is needed. The tough part is selecting the model right for your application. While most can perform any cutting action with speed and consistency, it is important to match equipment to your operation. Let’s look at the major types of processors.
First, there is the all-purpose continuous feed processor. Although the unit is capable of doing many other products, vegetables are the most processed food type. Most vegetable processing equipment can perform a variety of cutting functions. The typical unit consists of a motor base, a continuous feed and discharge chute, and space for one of a selection of removable round cutting plates between the chutes. The continuous feed of product ejects the cut food through the discharge chute which can be positioned above a pan or container. The food is cut only once and a uniform consistent product results. Each cutting plate is made to produce a very specific cut.
Food processing machines are available with a wide range of attachment plates. Some manufacturers make as many as 35 attachment plates to meet the special preparation requirements of most any operation. Just like the home model you may have, a wide variety of plates can be used for slicing, dicing, shredding and making julienne cuts. The product size determines the plates and range from 5/64'' up to 5/16'' with various sizes in between.
The sizes of the units and capacity varies widely with units fitting any operation’s needs. The smallest units are about the size of home-style models using 5/16'' to horsepower motors. These small units are adequate for a small restaurant. For the medium to large establishment, a one horsepower model will usually suffice. Even a one horsepower unit takes up less than two square feet of counter space and can process up to 50 servings of vegetables in one minute.
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. Where consistent cut is important, typically one of these continuous feed machines is the unit to use. If you want to save money, buy the smallest unit that meets your needs.
Vertical Cutter & Mixer
A second type of machine is the vertical cutter and mixer. These machines have a cutter bowl with knives at the base that spin and allow the food processor to work like a blender or vertical cutter/ mixer. Food processed in a bowl can be chopped, blended, or pureed. The bowl can be used to mix ingredients or to knead dough. They, like the continuous feed units, cut vegetables, however, the cuts will be less consistent. Instead of a uniform julienne or consistent slice, these machines are better suited for random cuts or a very fine chop. If chopped meat, bread crumbs, or pate is part of your menu, these are the machines to do the job.
Most bowl-type food processors are quick, especially the larger models. Some features to consider are bowls with a clear top or an inspection window so you can tell when food is processed. Another handy feature is a bowl scraper you can use while the machine is in operation. Some units have a scraper built into the bowl.
For the most flexibility, choose a processor with both a bowl and continuous feed attachment and a variety of processing plates. These are the hybrid combination models that are capable of doing both fine, consistent vegetable processing and vertical cutting as well as mixing. These combinations models have a single motor base which can be used with a continuous feed attachment or a bowl for cutting and mixing. The combination unit may be the right choice if there are a variety of products to be prepped.
A new entry into the food processor market is starting to take hold in the U.S. Although they have been around Europe for years, the hand- held mixer/blender has recently been introduced by several manufacturers. The units are basically a portable blender assembly on a shaft connected to a motor. They are ideal for mixing sauces and gravies. They can also puree fruits and vegetables, or mix cake or pancake batters. The machines generally operate at a high speed around, 10,000 rpm. The biggest advantage of the units is that you bring the mixer to the product instead of having to put the food into a mixer. Clean-up is reduced and you can minimize transferring product to different containers. They also take up little space and can be hung on the wall when not in use.
If you choose to do some of your food processing in-house, these machines can be labor-savers and beneficial to even the smallest kitchen. Taking some of the manual knife skill and hard work out of food prep is important to many operators who don’t have the talent, or perhaps any available labor, for the tasks.