Equipment: A new take on slow food

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From the outside the Swan Inn pub appears traditional, but behind the quaint thatch and white plaster, its part of a food technology revolution. The...

From the outside the Swan Inn pub appears traditional, but behind the quaint thatch and white plaster, its part of a food technology revolution.

The Swan, in the original village of Milton Keynes, Bucks is one of the first sites in the UK to use the Thermodyne heat-transfer system. Pioneered by several US restaurant chains, the system provides heat to 'slow cook' food without subjecting it to high temperatures that cause shrinkage, overcooking and drying out.

This means dishes can be kept in optimum condition for longer periods than with conventional cooking. The advantages for pubs, when it comes to serving dishes such as steaks or Sunday roasts over a full day's service, are clear.

A number of pub groups are planning to roll the system, and as the first pub in the new Little Gems Country Dining pub group, the Swan has been at the vanguard.

Founder and owner Steve Wilkins says that while the Swan keeps the unspoilt essence of a traditional English pub, "everything was dramatically upgraded, including a level of foodservice designed to rival starred restaurants - but at affordable prices".

All the dishes on the menu are made fresh on site, including bread and ice cream, while menus are devised monthly to feature seasonal and local foods. Most of the herbs used are grown in the pub's own garden, and the Swan actively encourages customers to bring in their own home-grown vegetables to barter for drinks or food over the counter.

When Advance Catering Equipment first suggested installing the Thermodyne 1900DWDT dual temperature slow-cooking cabinet, head chef Craig Brown was suitably sceptical about the claims.

However, more and more of the menu is being prepared, cooked and held in the new unit, and it has effectively acted as a new member of staff, removing the need to hire an extra sous chef.

"We use it for almost all our main courses," says Craig. "We'll slow cook whole sirloins, for example, and they end up perfect throughout, maintained at the right temperature on the outside whilst remaining perfectly pink inside. Shrinkage is much, much less. Less, even, than in combi cooking or steaming. "

Unlike conventional ovens, where the heat is introduced to the cabinet cavity, usually by fan, with Thermodyne the heat is transferred by conduction from glycol liquid within the shelves of the oven.

With a two-cabinet Thermodyne unit, typically the lower cabinet is used for slow cooking, at a temperature of about 66C, while the upper cabinet might be for holding foods that are already cooked, at a slightly higher temperature of around 74C.

The three most popular desserts on the Swan menu - vanilla crème brulee, cheesecake with caramelised bananas, and dessert tarts of chocolate or lemon - are all cooked superbly in the Thermodyne,

Installing the Thermodyne has also freed up a lot of space in the kitchen and reduced staffing costs, says Craig Brown. "I need one less person in the kitchen, because it effectively does the work of a sous chef. I expect it to last at least five years for an investment roughly equal to the cost of a chef for six months - that's a huge saving."

Further savings are coming from lower running costs. Because Thermodyne operates at such low temperatures it's much more frugal than traditional energy-hungry cooking equipment.

For more information on the Thermodyne range contact Advance Catering Equipment on 0800 597 7427 or visit www.advancegroupuk.co.uk

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