Foodservice – Begining a C-Store Hot Food Program

It’s already a fast pace world, and it’s only going to get faster.  Energy drinks and grab and go food items have been flying off the shelves in Convenience Stores these recent years, it’s time you start your Hot Food Program and get some of those profits for yourself.

According to NACS Online “convenience stores have offered fresh, prepared foods for years, it is only in the last decade that the trend has accelerated. The reason is two-fold:

  1. More and more time-starved consumers want on-the-go meal solutions.
  2. Retailers have found that food service can deliver new customers inside the store and at a higher profit level than for items like gas, which has razor-thin profit margins.

The result is that convenience stores have continued to evolve from gas stations that happen to sell food, to restaurants that happen to sell gas.  The overall food-service category is broad and largely includes non-packaged consumables: food prepared on-site, commissary / packaged sandwiches, hot-dispensed beverages, cold-dispensed beverages and frozen-dispensed beverages.”

Keep it simple, and keep it clean.  Customers become hyper aware of sanitation and cleanliness when they look for food they’re going to potentially ingest.  You eat with your eyes first, and everyone knows quality has a lot to do with perception.  Keeping the total number of food choices available to a relatively small number, around 3-5, will help preventing biting off more than you can chew in terms of keeping up with the flow and cleaning the food station.

Starting your new food program with a simple breakfast menu will ease you into the new waters of serving hot ready to eat food.  A strong coffee program is essential to the success of the new food program you will be starting up.  Customers in store that are purchasing their morning coffee are drastically more likely to purchase the accompanying food, generating more add on sales.  More than likely you already have a decent morning customer base that will be an ideal test platform for your new profit generator.  As for food products to start with, I suggest a breakfast sandwich, breakfast burrito and a seasonal limited time offering.  We want to start small and simple, and not disrupt the already successful routines that have been established in the store already.

A big part of making life and the food program easy, will be purchasing the right equipment that can take the frustration out of the program.  Food Warming Equipment Co. better known as FWE, has developed a specialized low wattage oven that can cook and hold convenience items.  The technology in the cabinet can be used to first gently cook the food up to a safe and tasty serving temperature, then automatically switch it’s settings to become a hot holding warmer for the food.  This means you do not have to wait by the oven for the food to finish cooking, it will stay ready to serve at high quality for hours.  After the food has reached temperature it will be waiting for you to place it on the food serving station or hot food merchandizer.  This will allow staff to stay focused on the number one concern, the customer.

Have patience and most importantly listen to your customers feedback and criticisms.  Give them what they want, just make it better than they expect.

Fun with the Smoker

If I’m not smoking a whole spatchcocked chicken, I’m probably smoking just the chicken thighs.  This dark meat is a juicy fatty piece of meat with a nice skin that crisps up and packs a great flavor punch.  There are a lot of techniques that can make for a great BBQ thigh and presentation, such as Myron Mixons Muffin Tin Chicken.  Cooking with these chicken thighs is a great way to do some learning on a new smoker, BBQ Rub, or flavorings such as wood chips.  The meat is inexpensive, and super flavorful so if you mess up they are still going to be pretty good.  To get started, just find a new or favorite seasoning and coat them badboys up.  I like A.C. Legg’s Old Plantation BBQ Rub when I’m not feeling up to making my own personally.  Smoke the chicken thighs with an apple wood,  cooking at 250F until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165F (I like to cook to about 160F and let them rest out of the oven until they reach 165F).  Once you have made you first batch you’ll know about how long to cook to reach the perfect temperature, and by the taste you will know if you should back off the smoke a bit, or add more.  A fun idea to play with is to soak you wood chips in things like beer or port wine to impart a special flavor profile.  Have fun with them, try new things, and enjoy your food!

Hasselback Potatoes

Soft fluffy potato goodness with a buttery crispy exterior.  The Hasselback Potato is an extraordinary side dish that looks as good as it tastes.  There are a couple of tricks that I would like to share with you to help make this complicated looking starchy vegetable an easy side to make on your next menu.

A Hasselback Potato is pretty similar to a simple baked potato, but they come with bonus crispy potato fins.  These fins are what makes this so special, and a little scary to first attempt.  Not to worry though, I have a couple of quick and easy tips for you.  First you need to cut slices down the potato being very careful not to slice into your previous cut, or not to slice all the way through the potato cutting in two.  A simple hack is to place two chopsticks, or wooden spoons down to act as bumper to insure you can’t cut it all the way through.  Once you have made all of your cuts for the fins, spacing them out evenly as you go, you will want to run the potatoes under water washing out some of the extra starch.  The potato has a good amount of starch in it and if you don’t wash some out it will tend to keep the fins stuck together.  Next, microwave (Yikes! Yes I said microwave) the potatoes for 5 minutes to pre-cook, or par cook the inside.  With a nice par cook we can finish off these hasselback potatoes in the oven on high heat to give us those nice crisp fins.  Add a bit of clarified butter, or oil, salt and pepper and you are ready to put them in a 350F oven until done (about 15-30 min).

Once they are cooked, you can serve them right away, or hold them in a warming cabinet that uses moisture like the FWE MTU-12 for about 2 hours.  Moisture in the holding cabinet helps keep the skin nice an crisp without drying out that fully center.  Many foodservice operations use these cabinets to make food in bulk ahead of service to free up the kitchen staff to work on other tasks.  I talk a little more about this topic in my blog post Foodservice Equipment – Bulk Food Holding.

Foodservice Equipment – Bulk Food Holding

In cases where food needs to be served faster than it can be cooked by a kitchen, such as when a school serves food on a lunch line, bulk food holding cabinets become a necessary piece of equipment to accomplish the job.  Holding cabinets such as a FWE UHS-12 are the workhorses of the warming world and can hold bulk food hot and ready to be served for hours.  Kitchens can cook large quantities of food well before it needs to be served to their customers, and place it in these FWE warming cabinets where it can stay service ready.  This allows the kitchens workload to be spread out during preparations for service, freeing up the cooks and chefs time to perform other vital tasks.  During service, these food warming cabinets are a place for storage of the food before it reaches the serving areas.  Storing food out of the way increases the ease of workflow and helps the service area stay organized and clean.

Many quick service restaurants (QSR’s) utilize similar cabinets to hold bulk food before it reaches a prep area or serving line.  The cabinets on or near a serving line tend to be shorter in size and may even fit under or be built into a counter.  Food in this area is ready for plating, or ready to go on top of the serving line once current food supplies are used up.  As for the actual food that can be held?  Well that is as varied as the restaurants themselves.  Everything from fresh warm sides such as rice, beans, and proteins that are going to fill a burrito bowl or the tortellini special that is ready for the catering pick up at 12:15pm during the lunch rush. 

Foodservice Equipment – Controls

It’s not just about nobs and switches these days, even though some people would prefer it that way.  Foodservice equipment manufacturers have brought us some pretty out of this world technology, such as dazzling touch screens that can control every aspect of a cook cycle while utilizing Wi-Fi to report live HACCP data to a headquarters for review.  But who needs all of these bells and whistles, what happened to just applying temperature to food?  Well depending on your operation, and the size of your company / franchise, eliminating even the smallest step from an employee or Critical Control Point can save millions of dollars at year end. Continue reading

Foodservice Equipment – Retherm Ovens

What is it to Rethermalize? 

Retherming is the process of reheating food that has been previously cooked to a safe temperature and safely cooled to a frozen or refrigerated ”slacked” state of 41°F or less. All food that is being reheated from this state must reach an internal temperature of 165°F for 15 seconds within 2 hours or must be thrown out. In general, cooking times of 90 min or less are preferred to allow for a safe amount of flexible preparation and cooking time.  Retherm ovens are typically found in large institutions such as school, hospitals, and prisons. Retherm ovens allow food preparation to occur off site, catering to centralized kitchens with satellite operation that have a minimum of other expensive cooking equipment, as well as associated kitchen ventilation systems.  Because retherm ovens such as the FWE RH-18, top out at a maximum temperature of 350°F, in most states these ovens are not required to be  under expensive ventilation hoods. Continue reading

January 2015 Challenge, Slow Cooking

Via ChefTalk.com

I came across this challenge while reading through some of the great forums that are on ChefTalk.com and could not resist.  It’s literally freezing outside, and the best way to warm your bones, is with a nice slow cooked meal after a long day.  The set it and forget it cooking method is always a plus during the work week, and it is also great in a professional kitchen.  No reason we can bridge the two right?

Lamb Barbacoa Taco’s

Place a boneless lamb leg (NAMP234) in a slow cooker / hotel pan, season with Trade East Six Pepper Blend, add cooking liquid (Beef broth and Tropical Rub Glaze) to about half way up the roast.  Cook on Low /200F for 7-8 hours, and after it is cooked you can ether take it out or hold it (if you are in a commercial kitchen) at 150 for up to 8 hours.

This lamb came out tender and juicy.  So tender my bear claws pulled right through it!  I spread it out on a warm taco with some freshly made hot salsa, red onion, cilantro and a squirt of lime juice.   These little spicy Lamb Barbacoa Tacos warmed my bones after shoveling some snow.

The oven I used was a FWE Cook and Hold, the great thing about it is, it can act pretty much like a crock pot on steroids.  You set it for a low temperature and time just like you would at home, plus you get to add a hold temperature that has a little more flexibility than the crock pot, but some idea.

Energy Efficiency ($$$’s not ZZZ’s)

I want to tell you a little about how all of the energy conciseness and the green movement can help you get money in your pocket, the real green movement.  Every time you flip a switch, you are bleeding out money, and helping add to a death by a thousand cuts.  Maybe not that dramatic, but I got to make the power bill entertaining right?

There are a lot of ways to help lower your power consumption and help get those dollars and cents back to the bottom line where they belong.  First, it’s more than that blue sticker on the side of your equipment that you need to help lower your bill.  You need to have a little discipline and a little training to identify potential problems.  I’m not here to give you the discipline, I can’t do that (if I could I would be making a lot more money as a motivational book writer).  What I can do though, is help you identify some problem areas.

Continue reading

Brisket 101

BACKGROUNDFWE Brisket

Brisket is a great example of a cut of meat that bodes well with barbecue.  As we know, barbecue is a method of indirect low and slow cooking.  Meats that are tough and have a lot of connective tissue need this low slow technique to breakdown and become tender and delicious. You might now ask yourself “why is the brisket such a tough muscle?”.  Well, as cattle do not have collar bones, their heavy upper body, over half its weight, is supported by these muscles.  That makes for a well-used Schwarzenegger approved work out. In this post I am going to go over some of the basics that you might or might not already know and how they can be used to help get you best possible product. Continue reading

Why Buy A Cook & Hold

Why buy a cook and hold?  The primary advantage to a FWE cook and hold is the low and controlled temperatures.  This technology helps dramatically reduce loss in many roasted meats.  This reduction improves yields allowing for more servings thus increased revenue.  As much as an additional serving or two of prime rib can be saved with one of these cook and hold ovens.  To achieve this, the product must come up to temperature at a slower pace.  A drawback that chefs face with most low temperature cooking is the loss to the dark, crisp, caramelized outside of meat products.  FWE’s engineering team have worked hard to find that perfect balance of gentle air flow, and even heat distribution, that allows for the Maillard effect to be achieved, giving that desired flavor and texture that many chefs want.

The cook and hold runs at a lower temperature so it requires less energy than typical ovens.  In restaurants that require an electric demand fee, utilizing overnight cooking could offer even more of an expense advantage.  Since the unit is cooking at a low temperature (below 350°) the use of a hood is not required in the majority of the United States.  This flexibility allows large kitchens to save on space and the expense of having to purchase extra ventilation hoods.

Overnight cooking offers labor saving as well.  If a product is started before a shift ends, it will cook to a predetermined setting, and automatically switch to a holding cabinet.  Without a piece of equipment like this, staff may have to come in early and cook before service time, thus extending working hours and payroll.  Kitchen staff will not even need to come in early to preheat this unit, if the Delayed Preheat option is utilized.  Program what time the unit should start, and open the kitchen with hot cooking and holding equipment ready to go.  To save even more on payroll, FWE has advanced upon the preset function that has been helping kitchen staff for years.  With 15 programmable cooking procedures now available, inexperienced staff can cook correctly and consistently to the restaurants standard operation procedures.