By Paul Rifkin
Club Catering Consultant
I visit many kitchens in clubs across both regional and city areas with some being well-equipped while others are skint.
There are clubs with multiple kitchens, built during their heyday in the 1970s and 80s, with most of these dinosaurs in disrepair, taking up valuable real estate that could be repurposed for anything from a new restaurant to a new conference room or staff room.
Old function kitchens
I regularly come across Banquet and Events kitchens with mostly broken and less-than-functional items, from ovens that barely work to broken stoves and hot boxes. And chefs are still expected to produce a quality offering from such spaces. Yes, it can be done, but not to the standard expected these days in modern functions, especially with hot and cold food, served at the correct temperatures, and served quickly.
Equipment as an employment drawcard
With a shortage of good chefs at present, a functional kitchen is definitely a drawcard and can sometimes be the deal-breaker for hiring a good new chef.
“Why would I want to work in a kitchen that requires harder work than necessary …”
Just saying, it’s probably time to rethink your equipment standard in your current kitchen.
I work with many good management teams that recognise the importance of providing staff with the best technology they can afford, their understanding of the correlation of this and retaining good staff is to be commended. Sadly, some regard a kitchen as “Back of House”, out of sight and mind, this lack of previous investment is now making it hard for them to attract the good chefs.
The often-ignored area of the dishwasher is an easy win. A modern machine using advanced technology will save through good prewashing, water-saving and reduced chemical use. It will also save on and kitchenhand time due to staff not having to stand over the machine or sink at all times pre-rinsing and waiting for a load to finish. Some machines can reduce the use of kitchenhands by many hours.
More concerning are the kitchens where there is the latest working equipment, but chefs fail to use that gear to its fullest potential.
For example, where chefs are quizzed about vacuum pack machines lying idle, the reply usually is that the vacuum is weak, so they stopped using it. Such a critical piece of equipment, in good order, can be used for extending product life, cooking and storage. Many times, I train the chefs on the simple procedure of dehumidification of the machine and encourage them to do this weekly. Most are amazed at how vacuum performance quickly goes from 40 per cent to 90 per cent!
Slicing machines with dull blades and chefs ignorant of how to sharpen them is also something so simple and easy to fix.
My biggest annoyance is the proliferation of $20k-$50k combi ovens that are mostly used as a regular oven and seldom maintained correctly. The opportunities for time management through overnight cooking, sous vide and using them to their full potential is massive.
Clubs have the opportunity to attract the best catering staff by providing the best equipment and the right training on how to use it. Look at your back of house! It may be something you really need to consider.
Club Catering Consultant Paul Rifkin has more than 40 years’ experience in large-venue kitchens as a chef and mentor, including 17 years at Campbelltown Catholic Club as Executive Chef.