How to increase speed of service
When you have accomplished operators running a chef-driven dining program, you give them great food and equipment, stand back and let them create.
That’s the plan at UNH Dining at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The university’s remodeled Holloway Commons dining hall includes a grill station with fast, versatile, small-footprint Ovention ovens replacing deep fryers. The new ovens have become important tools for David Hill, assistant director of dining in charge of culinary operations, and his three-member executive chef team.
Prior to the remodel, UNH Dining explored various cooking solutions to make menus healthier and faster to execute, Hill says. One of the pieces they looked at is the Ovention oven, a compact oven that moves food on a conveyor through a cooking chamber with independently controlled forced hot air on the top and bottom. The proper heat level and cooking time for an individual food, whether it’s a pan of french fries, cod fillets or pork medallions, is programmed with a preset button.
Actually, what sealed the deal was the chance for the UNH chefs to cook on the oven. “We started playing with the oven and we were immediately smitten by it,” says Hill. “We said ‘Gosh, this is so cool, so versatile.’”
And you don’t have to be a skilled chef to get great cooking results with the oven, Hill points out. “You can teach anybody to use this,” he says. “The training piece is so easy.”
UNH Dining’s initial goal was to prepare healthier french fries with hot air in the oven, rather than deep-fat frying. However, it was crucial to have great taste to satisfy demanding students. And speed of service was vital as well—the equipment had to keep pace with a lunch volume of about 2,700 students at Holloway Commons.
Hill reports that the equipment is indeed producing fries with the necessary quality as well as throughput. The thin-cut, air-cooked fries taste “exactly like a McDonald’s french fry,” he says. “We never received any pushback from the students about the fries. Never heard a boo.”
Thus, UNH Dining ripped out its fryers and replaced them with two stacked Ovention ovens in the new grill area.
Menu-wise, french fries were just the beginning for the UNH chefs. For example, they use the ovens to craft creative small plates with cod, haddock or pork medallions. This summer, they are brainstorming new menu items for the fall semester, such as Mediterranean-inspired entrée salads, breakfast bowls and Indian dishes.
Another important feature of the Ovention oven is onboard catalytic-converter technology that dispels cooking emissions without a ventilation hood. “That’s part of the beauty,” says Hill. “You can put it virtually anywhere.”
Looking ahead, Hill envisions re-equipping the allergen-friendly station at UNH’s Philbrook dining hall, again with greater speed, versatility and space efficiency in mind. “I’m ready to rip out a flattop griddle and oven and just put in a couple of Oventions there, too,” he says. “You can do anything with them.”