For many in the hospitality industry — and, really, for many who aren’t — the constantly changing day-to-day challenges of the last few years led to an outlook primarily focused on the here and now. But as the storm gradually clears, there’s a return to looking forward. With that in mind, we reached out to chefs to talk about equipment on their wish lists, what they’d like to see in the future, and pandemic-inspired approaches that are still making a difference in their operations.
While currently in the middle of a huge renovation at the University Club of Boston, Banusiewicz remains calm — and for good reason. It was only a few years back that he got to build the $1.2 million kitchen of his dreams at this private club in downtown Boston. For this next big change, the addition of a second kitchen on the roof for a new restaurant and bar, he’s pulling from lessons learned on previous projects.
One lesson was the importance of having plenty of refrigeration on the line. “Instead of scooping ice and filling wells, all those wells became refrigeration,” he says, of the refrigerated drawers close to chefs’ hands. “If anyone is building a new kitchen, I’d tell them to put in as much refrigeration as you can or really think about where you can add it in.”
Keeping cool comes up again when Banusiewicz dreams of one day having air-conditioned chef coats and hats similar in theory to air-conditioned seats in cars. “Those guys are working so hard next to super-hot ovens, but we can’t put too much AC in kitchen because the food will get cold.”
In addition to the built-in benefit of having weekends and most holidays off at the club, allowing a better quality of life for his staff, Banusiewicz believes working side-by-side with his chefs helps create better morale. And that’s especially true when creating new dishes. “It’s easier to create a new menu when you are actually making it together instead of writing it on a piece of paper,” he says.
During COVID-19, with the associated rise in takeout at the club, Banusiewicz found his kitchen inundated with paper packaging products. That led to the change of using only plant-based products. “We probably would have done it eventually, but COVID made us move quicker,” he says.
Another COVID change that’s still in place is the switch from buffets for holidays to table service. “Because of COVID and the interaction of people, we did more prix fixe and a la carte dining for holidays,” he says. “We basically brought the buffet to the table, and that turned into food being cooked at the moment. It made the food and experience better.”
A classically trained chef who spent her early culinary career in media recipe development and as a regular on-air TV chef, Brulé now counts two restaurant concepts under her watch: North Carolina’s Davidson Ice House, where she is owner, and Famous Toastery, a 26-unit breakfast, brunch and lunch franchise where she serves as the chief culinary officer.
Fostering an empowering atmosphere at the workplace is a priority for Brulé, who has been impressed with what she’s experienced at Famous Toastery since coming on board this year. “Both our front-of-house and back-of-house staff morale is consistently high and really positive,” she says. She credits progressive attitudes from the managerial team as well as a change in how the kitchen is run. “There’s been a simple evolution of attitude from the old school, militant approach to now of more inclusive and efficient working styles,” she says.
With a focus on traditional, tried-and-true equipment, Brulé isn’t looking for items that are cutting edge or trendy, although durability is top of mind. “It would be amazing to have equipment that could last for years without too much repair needed,” she says. And if someone could create an oilless fryer that “produces crispy, golden products that are healthier than deep fried but just as tasty,” she would be grateful.
During the pandemic, the kitchen learned to function more efficiently and with fewer people. “We had to become nimble,” she says. “Those kitchens that were still lumbering along, trying to do things the same as they had pre-COVID didn’t do as well. We really pulled together as a team and companywide.”
With a career that includes stints as a traveling chef for Sir Paul McCartney, TV show food stylist, catering manager for the Motion Picture & Television Fund, executive chef at a university and executive chef at a hotel and convention center, Burrows has seen her fair share of culinary experiences.
But no matter where she’s worked, including her current role at a country club, it’s the simple things that matter most to boosting morale in the kitchen. “Letting your staff know how they are performing and providing feedback daily is super important for morale,” she says, adding that it’s easy to offer criticism and forget to give credit. “A few kind words can change someone’s attitude in a moment.”
Burrows takes a similar down-to-earth approach when it comes to productivity. “It is important to provide comfortable working stations for my staff to assist them in being as productive as possible.” Having a big kitchen helps her staff be able to spread out and work on several projects at a time. From time to time, music in the kitchen can boost productivity, she says.
To ease labor issues, Burrows has found cross training her team to work in multiple stations helps on days when they are short staffed. Hiring young culinarians — “They are the future of the hospitality industry,” she says — is another thing she plans on doing more of.
Equipment-wise, Burrows is interested in purchasing only American-made equipment and supplies. “It would be great to see more options in the national marketplace,” she says. Her dream piece of equipment? Automatic prep tables that rise and lower to adjust to a cook’s height for proper body mechanics.
One segment of the industry that’s often overlooked is nursing mothers who pump at work. Burrows, a mother of four, is working to change that. “We have created a quiet and private space for them to support this wonderful commitment,” she says.
The last few years left a permanent mark on the hospitality industry, Quasha admits. “Besides accelerating innovation with technology, mobile ordering and ghost and virtual kitchens, the pandemic also made us rethink menu engineering, product purchasing and sourcing,” he says. “I also see a change in not only who, but how, we manage and engage with our staff based on generational expectations.”
Quasha saw the increased use of equipment such as combi ovens, cook-chill applications, app-based ordering and iPads in the kitchens for recipe books, and measuring waste and sustainability. “Staying current on equipment and innovation and designing kitchens to limiting cook’s points of contact in the kitchen all affect productivity,” he says.
To tackle both new equipment education and morale, Quasha recommends making the learning process a team effort. “Feeling like you’re a piece of something is the easiest way to drive staff morale,” he says.
When it comes to ongoing staffing issues, Quasha looks to menu reduction. “Having smaller menus for concepts or stations that allows cooks to make four things that are great instead of 13 mediocre ones is key,” he says. During the pandemic, Morrison Healthcare created new retail spaces and a virtual kitchen to combine technology, such as mobile ordering, pickup and cross-utilization of equipment to produce multiple concepts in the same space.
In the future, Quasha hopes to see the continued development of equipment created for smaller footprints, such as compact ovens that allow for the cooking of multiple proteins at different temperatures at the same time.
Additionally, he’d welcome more technology and innovation focused on mobile ordering, pickup cubbies, ghost kitchen workspaces, quick-chill equipment, sanitation, safety, storage for plates and pans, airflow over prep tables to keep food cold and makeup air from hoods that is cooled to keep hot kitchens safe. “We can always use toys and gadgets, but updating the current kitchens we have is key,” he says.
And his dream piece of equipment? “A mobile inventory or order system that kept track of a product that was removed from the shelf, like an Amazon Prime store, that adds that item to your order list, keeps track of your inventory by depreciation and then alerts you when you’re low, would be cool.”
Executive chef Wesley Tyler has two club houses and operations under his purview that are serviced by one team — all of them working in a kitchen that was originally designed for breakfast and lunch and is now doing a la carte and banquets. “It’s grown into a major operation with close to $5 million in F&B,” he says.
Naturally, Tyler finds himself dreaming of more square footage. “Balancing is quite the challenge,” he says. “We make it work, but space and efficiencies are our biggest things when it comes to the kitchen.”
Part of the balancing process involves being very discriminating when it comes to choosing equipment. “We are very selective on the equipment we have,” Tyler says. “I can’t expand beyond the four walls, so it has to serve a really strict purpose for us.”
A new combi oven helped increase productivity and streamline efficiency, especially for banquets, but it does come with a caveat. Tyler ordered and paid in full for the combi oven in December 2021 and did not take delivery of the unit until August. “Before people develop new stuff, I’d like them to neutralize availability issues and get caught up,” he says. “If it’s a lead time that’s a year out, it’s a challenge to stay ahead of the game.”
Then there’s the new technology itself. “It’s so advanced that it’s kind of a double-edged sword in that it’s something we need in the industry but it kind of takes the fun out of cooking sometimes,” says Tyler. “You could get a piece of equipment like this and hire someone with minimum experience and teach them how to use it, and you’ve eliminated positions. There are a lot of benefits to it, but as a chef, at the end of day, it goes against what we really do.”
What he would welcome, however, is equipment that could increase his footprint vertically, such as a fold-down prep table that operates a bit like a Murphy bed.
When it comes to staffing, Tyler and his executive sous chef spent the last two years hand-selecting their team with the aim of redefining their kitchen’s culture. It was a painstaking process, he admits, but it has paid off. “We wanted to make sure that we were creating that foundation of a team to set us up for the future. That was part of our challenge, and we’re looking a lot better now.” Additionally, Tyler has used staffing agencies to help fill both back- and front-of-the-house positions. “They know menu and we trust them. They’re just as good as any other teammate.”
To keep the staff motivated, Tyler provides plenty of creative opportunities, such as helping to develop new weekly menu items. “I try to spark their creativity and let them have as much input as I can,” he says.
During the challenges of COVID-19, Tyler did discover some positive outcomes. “It gave us time for a much-needed revamp and focus on cleaning, organization and sanitation,” he says. Additionally, he found he was able to take some extra time to teach and train his team and work with them on a hyperfocused level. “We were able to curate what we want to be, how to achieve our goals, and what our vision is for the future of our operation. Now we are seeing a lot of that come to fruition through our hard work.”